Media Studies

  • noun
    (written as Harlequin)
    a traditional pantomime character who usually wears multicoloured diamond-patterned tights and a black mask


  • (written as Harlequin)
    An acrobatic mischief-making character in the English harlequinadeand thereafter in pantomime. He was usually supposed to beinvisible to all eyes but those of his sweetheart Columbine.

    Traditionally, Harlequin wore a tight-fitting particoloured dress and a mask. The character derives from Arlecchino, a stock character of the commedia dell'arte, whose name probably originated as that of a sprite or goblin (one of the demons in Dante's Inferno is called Alichino).

    The prince of Harlequins was the actor John Rich (seethe Riches).

Origin & History of “harlequin”

Harlequin, a brightly-clad character in the Italian commedia dell’arte, has a murky history. He seems to have originated in a mythical figure known in Old French as Herlequin or Hellequin, who was the leader of a ghostly troop of horsemen who rode across the sky at night. And Herlequin could well be a later incarnation of king Herla (in Old English Herla cyning), a legendary personage who has been identified with the chief Anglo-Saxon god Woden. It seems likely that another piece of the jigsaw could be the erlking, the supernatural abductor of children described in a Goethe poem memorably set to music by Schubert; its name is generally traced back to Danish ellerkonge, a variant of elverkonge, literally ‘king of the elves’, which bears a resemblance to Herlequin that is surely too strong to be coincidental. In early modern French Herlequin became Harlequin, the form borrowed by English (present-day French arlequin shows the influence of Italian arlecchino).