Arlecchino


Character Analysis
Arlecchino is a fictional character who appears in Commedia dell’ arte plays. He is an acrobatic servant important character in the play. Arlecchino provides comedy to the audience, often communicating directly to them. The purpose of doing this is to engage the audience and allow them to understand what he is thinking in a particular situation. Although unintelligent, Arlecchino usually plays a large role in solving the problems within the play.resolve.jpg

Commedia dell’ arte
Commedia dell’ arte theatre emerged as a new form of stage entertainment in Italy in the late 16th Century. Performances took place on temporary stages, which were usually built on city streets. The plays focused heavily on improvisation within a production, and contained many forms of comedy. The comedies consisted of music, dance, clever dialogue, and a high amount of violence. The Commedia dell’ plays consisted of many important characters, but Arlecchino is arguably the most famous character that has been created in Commedia theatre.

Background
The true origin of Arlecchino is unknown, but, different theories exist of the derivation of the character. Many researchers believe Arlecchino is a character that was first popularized in France before 1600 A.D. by Tristano Martinelli from Mantua, which precedes the Italian character introduction, which came in the late 1600’s (Duchartre 130). The character is thought to be first named Harlequin by the French, who used him as a dark spirit as in the unknown play by Adam de la Halle ("Harlequin History"). The etymology of Arlecchino’s name is unknown, but basing it off of the modern French character, Hellequin, he is thought to be a descendant of the devil. Hellequin is sent by the devil to chase damned souls off to hell, and has almost the exact same costume as Harlequin ("Harlequin History").
Another theory is that Arlecchino is an adaptation of the character Alichino, a devil from hell in the epic poem Dante’s Inferno. This connection is primarily a result of a close parallel between these two Italian names. Arlecchino was believed to act sadistically like this devil until his character had been introduced to Commedia dell’arte. It was not until late 16th Century that Harlequin was finally bestowed onto Italian Commedia, and made into a less serious character ("Harlequin History"). The French passed on the character to the Italian zanni or the masked comedic servants. It was in Italy that Commedia changed his name to Arlecchino, matching the ending “ino” sound to his younger brothers. Fritellino, “little brother” and Trivellino, “little agile one” are some examples of the other character names in Commedia play ("Harlequin History").
Another theory is that Arlecchino is an adaptation of the character Alichino, a devil from hell in the epic poem Dante’s Inferno. This connection is primarily a result of a close parallel between these two Italian names. Arlecchino was believed to act sadistically like this devil until his character had been introduced to Commedia dell’arte. It was not until late 16th Century that Harlequin was finally bestowed onto Italian Commedia, and made into a less serious character ("Harlequin History"). The French passed on the character to the Italian zanni or the masked comedic servants. It was in Italy that Commedia changed his name to Arlecchino, matching the ending “ino” sound to his younger brothers. Fritellino, “little brother” and Trivellino, “little agile one” are some examples of the other character names in Commedia play ("Harlequin History").

Personal Characteristics
In Commedia, Arlecchino is a mischievous servant usually to Pantalone, but can also serve Il Capitano or Il Dottore in a play. Arlecchino was generally depicted as an acrobatic and energetic character, which used “slapstick,” a form of physical comedy to engage the audience and provide humor throughout the play ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis"). He was generally portrayed as a greedy servant and unintelligent slow thinker. However, Arlecchino believes he is truly smarter than the other characters in the play. Arlecchino rarely thinks out a productive Arlecchino08.jpgto a problem on his own before reacting in any situation. Instead he acts impulsively, and speaks very quickly. Arlecchino’s speech makes everything he says seem important. Speaking without any breaks in between his sentences delivers a dramatic and urgent feel to the scenes. He either speaks continuously or he doesn’t speak at all ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis").
Although he has less intelligence than most of the other characters in Commedia plays, Arlecchino is never short of spontaneous and creative ideas to solve a problem in the plot. Throughout the play, Arlecchino usually helps the protagonist find a solution to his or her problems ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis"). However, Arlecchino is narrow minded and can only concentrate on one idea at a time, which makes him a terrible messenger. Arlecchino is bound to always find something more interesting than the task he has been given by his master.This sometimes includes following a woman that walks in his path. Arlecchino has a large sexual appetite, and immediately pursues any woman he sees (Rudlin 77). These distractions contribute to Arlecchino’s purpose in the Italian plays. His absentmindedness is often the start of complications among the other characters, and creates a problem to be solved within the plot. However, Arlecchino never fails at completing a task, when it relies on him to be conniving. He always ends up helping develop a plan to resolve these problems by the end of the play ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis"). In accomplishing these plans Arlecchino flaunts his acrobatic abilities.

Stance
Arlecchino’s stance is important to this athletic nature. His character stance is in a continuously crouched position with his feet flat on the floor and pointing forward. His elbows are bent, and his arms are at his side, extended straight forward in a jug-handle position. This makes it easy to access his batacchio, or small wooden paddle when it is needed during a lazzi scene (Rudlin 77). Arlecchino is in this crouched position to remind the audience that he is 215841555-cdb8f5cb-69d2-4b40-9460-e3d389097d57.jpgthan everyone else in social class. This stance also emphasizes his excessive back curvature from repeatedly carrying heavy pails, bags, and sedan chairs. However, this position accommodates Arlecchino’s agile persona because he needs to always be in a position that he can spring up at any moment. He never passes up the opportunity to do a cartwheel, somersault, or flip on stage (Rudlin 77).
Walk
In order to frequently display these acrobatics to the audience, Arlecchino never walks across the stage. Instead, he shuffles his feet in a three-step balletic form. His graceful movements begin with his left foot pointing forward in the direction he is moving. “As his left foot starts to move, the ball of his right foot slides in the same direction to meet the heel of his left foot after the left slides forward” (Rudlin 77). There are four stages in Arlecchino’s shuffle, but he does this in a three-step motion before switching to his right as the leading foot ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis"). This walk is important to Arlecchino’s character in times of fleeing from trouble or in attempt to impress Colombina, the woman he loves. Continuously moving by shuffling his feet allows Arlecchino to move faster than all of the other characters. This is important because he thinks his speed will excite Colombina. Being fast also allows him to prevent from being caught, which leads to a lot of the comedy in the play.
Arlecchino’s Lazzi Scenes
Lazzi are scenes full of improvised action and comedic dialogue. These scenes contained violence and were used to make the audience laugh. This is how the playwright gave the audience a break from constant dialogue, and created a visually appealing scene. Here are some of Arlecchino’s most popular lazzi scenes:
  1. “Lazzo of the Shampoo”- Arlecchino tries to clean Pantalone’s hair with an oversized rake.
  2. “Lazzo of the Glassware”- Arlecchino tips over his basket of glassware or dishes, breaking them, while spying on someone or dancing (Gordon 15).
  3. “Lazzo of the Tooth Extractor”- Arlecchino disguised as a doctor tricks Pantalone into thinking that rotten teeth are causing his bad breath. Using oversized tools, Arlecchino extracts two or more goof teeth from Pantalone’s mouth (Gordon 14).
  4. “Lazzo of Vomit”- To start a performance or right after drinking some of the Doctor’s medicine, Arlecchino vomits (Gordon 32)






Mask and Costume

Arlecchino’s costume and mask are significant because they are a reflection on his energetic personality. He wears a blackcda11_011.jpg mask that resembles the face of a cat, aside from a large boil in the middle of his forehead ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis"). The cat face draws a parallel to Arlecchino because much like a cat, at a moment’s notice he could spring up, and elude trouble if need be. His clothes are very similar to the clothes of a clown. Again, these clothes draw a resemblance to Arlecchino because he serves as the comedic entertainment for the audience, much like a jester. He wears a one piece costume that contains multi-colored patches all over the jacket and trousers (Rudlin 77).These colors are all very bright, assuring that he stands out to the audience. It is crucial to Arlecchino’s stage success to have his clothes fitted. Arlecchino could not wear any baggy clothes because it could restrict him from acting out his acrobatic stunts. He needs to be able to shuffle around with speed, and not get weighed down by heavy clothes. Arlecchino even wore a hat at times with a narrow brim, and the tail of a fox or hare on the back (Duchartre 135).

Aside from Arlecchino’s mask and multi-colored attire, his belt is perhaps the most important accessory that he wears. This is where he kept his batacchio that made up for much of the humor in lazzi scenes. The “slapstick” was two wooden sticks tied together that would make a loud clapping noise when Arlecchino hit someone in the head, face, or on the back side ("Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis"). This sound caused many people to laugh because of the exaggeration of the clap. This tool helped shift comedy away from total intellect, and created a desire to see violence as humor.


Performers

First known performer: Ganassa played the French character Harlequin in 1570.

Second known performer: Simone of Bologna.

Third known performer: Martinelli created the most interest in the Harlequin character, which led to the transformation of the Italian Commedia dell’ arte star, Arlecchino.

First known Arlecchino: Giuseppe Dominique Biancolelli was the most popular Arlecchino. He transitioned Arlecchino into a comedic character. He worked very hard at not changing the traditions of Harlequin’s French etymology. Biancolelli maintained the resiliency in the character, embodying both Harlequin’s body and spirit while playing Arlecchino (Duchartre 152). He created a world renowned interest in the character, and left the heaviest impact on the Arlecchino we know today.


Modern Arlecchino: Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin’s trademark character, “The Tramp,” constantly encounters trouble in his quest for food and money, which leads to many of his comedic adventures (Shackleford). Chaplin is hungry and poor throughout his skits, as well as fond of almost any woman that comes before him. In the film “Gold Rush,” Charlie Chaplin cannot afford food and is so hungry that he humorously tries to eat his boot, as if it is a tasty steak (Shackleford). Similarly, Arlecchino acts this way in a famous Harlequin play, w
here he chases a fly around the stage for almost the entire play; finally catching and eating it (Shackleford). This relates to Arlecchino’s purpose of entertaining the audience through humor, but it is Chaplin’s use of “slapstick” that draws a distinct parallel to Arlecchino.


Chaplin is often bullied by a man of superior power, but usually ends up belittling these men with a multiple kicks to the backside and slaps to the face. Charlie Chaplin also frequently used some form of a club to hit these men over the head for humor, much like Arlecchino with his batacchio.



Modern Adaptations of Arlecchino
Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Buster Keaton (1885-1966)

Harold Lloyd (1893-1971)

Harpo Marx (1888-1964)

Laurel and Hardy - performed 1925-1936

Abbott and Costello – performed 1940- 1956

Bart Simpson – performed 1989-present















Works Cited

Duchartre, Pierre Louis. The Italian Comedy. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1966. 126-161. Print.

"The Harlequin Game." The Harlequin History. The Harlequin Game Limited, n.d. Web. 3 Nov 2012. <http://www.theharlequingame.com/the-harlequin-history.php>.

Commedia Stock Characters: Arlecchino." The Commedia dell' Arte' Character Analysis. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2012. <http://shane-arts.com/Commedia-Arlechinno.htm>.

"l'Arlecchino orHarlequin." Commedia dell'Arte. Squidoo, LLC and respective copyright owners, n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2012. <http://www.squidoo.com/commedia-dellarte>.

Shackleford, Rusty. "The Meaning Behind the Tramp." How Charles Chaplin Fought Capitalist Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2012. <http://voices.yahoo.com/the-meaning-behind-tramp-1309417.html?cat=9>.

Gordon, Mel. The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell' Arte. PAJ Publications, 2001. Print.

Rudlin, John. Commedia dell' Arte An Actor's Handbook. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.