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Arlecchino

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Arlecchino (also known as Harlequin in English, Arlequin in French) is the most popular of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell'Arte.

Arlecchino traditionally wore an outfit of patches and rags which evolved into the lozenge-shaped motley seen today. His mask was black with a large red blemish on his forehead similar to a boil.


The primary aspect of Arlecchino was his physical agility. While generally depicted as quite stupid and greedy (in a gastronomic sense) his acrobatics were what an audience expected to see. The character would never simply perform an action when the addition of a cartwheel or backflip would spice up the movement.

Within these restrictions the character was terribly elastic. Various troupes and actors would alter his behavior to suit style, personal preferences, or even the particular scenario being performed. One of most famous actors was Visentini (17th century).

He is typically cast as the servant of an innamorato or vecchio much to the detriment of his master's plans. Arlecchino often had a love interest in the person of Columbina, and his lust for her was only superseded by his desire for food or fear of his master.

The origins of the name are uncertain: some say it comes from Dante's Commedia (Inferno, XXI, 118) where one of devils is called Alichino. Others say it could come from Harlenkoenig, a Scandinavian hero. In another hypothesis it comes from Harlay, an English gentleman of the court of Henri III, who had protected an Italian actor.

In Goldoni and in Gozzi, Arlecchino is sometimes called Truffaldino; other names: Traccagnino, Bagattino, Tabarrino, Tortellino, Naccherino, Gradelino, Mezzettino, Polpettino, Nespolino, Bertoldino, Fagiuolino, Trappolino, Zaccagnino, Trivellino, Passerino, Bagolino, Temellino, Fagottino, Pedrolino, Fritellino, Tabacchino.


Arlecchino is also the name of an opera by Ferruccio Busoni; see Arlecchino (opera).

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