Reference > Brewer’s Dictionary > Harlequin

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E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
means a species of drama in—two parts, the introduction and the harlequinade, acted in dumb show. The prototype is the Roman atellnæ, but our Christmas pantomime or harlequinade is essentially a British entertainment, first introduced by Mr. Weaver, a dancing-master of Shrewsbury, in 1702. (See below.)   1
“What Momus was of old to Jove,
The same a harlequin is now.
The former was buffoon above,
The latter is a Punch below.”
Swift: The Puppet Show.
   The Roman mime did not at all correspond with our harlequinade. The Roman mimus is described as having a shorn head, a sooty face, flat unshod feet, and a patched parti-coloured cloak.   2
   Harlequin, in the British pantomime, is a sprite supposed to be invisible to all eyes but those of his faithful Columbine. His office is to dance through the world and frustrate all the knavish tricks of the Clown, who is supposed to be in love with Columbine. In Armoric, Harlequin means “a juggler,” and Harlequin metamorphoses everything he touches with his magic wand.   3
   The prince of Harlequins was John Rich (1681–1761).   4
   Harlequin. So Charles Quint was called by François I. of France.   5

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