Harlequin; Or, the Rise and Fall of a Bergamask Rogue

Harlequin; Or, the Rise and Fall of a Bergamask Rogue

Harlequin; Or, the Rise and Fall of a Bergamask Rogue

Harlequin; Or, the Rise and Fall of a Bergamask Rogue

Excerpt

For me, drama is the most exciting manifestation of the human spirit, and its history the only one I can read without boredom or despair. To be a theatre addict, a somewhat different creature from a theatregoer, is to give oneself over to an endless enjoyment, since the ramifications of drama are multitudinous and embrace all the activities, emotions, traditions, and vital impulses of mankind. If this seems a large claim, an examination of the origins of drama throughout the world will sustain it.

From such an addiction has come the present book. No theatre- lover could avoid falling under the spell of Harlequin, one of the most magical figures ever created. The four hundred years of his life cover a personal and a dramatic history as fascinating and as entertaining as any known in the theatre, where fascination and entertainment abound. Pantomime, where he reigned for so long, is perhaps frivolous: but it has a deeper significance, expressed so vividly by Théophile Gautier: 'Pantomime is true human comedy. . . . With four or five characters it covers the whole range of human experience. Cassander represents the family; Leander, the foolish and monied fop approved of by parents; Columbine, the ideal; Beatrix, the haunting dream, the flower of youth and beauty; Harlequin, with the phiz of a monkey and the body of a snake, with his black mask, his motley diamond- shaped patches, and his glittering spangles, embodies love, wit, mobility, daring, all the shining qualities and all the shining vices; Pierrot, pale, slender, in ghostly dress, always hungry and always beaten, is the slave of old, the present-day proletarian, the outcast, the passive and disinherited creature who, dejected and crafty, witnesses the drunken orgies and follies of his masters.'

Yet perhaps my grandfather should be held responsible for this book. At the end of the nineteenth century he danced Harlequin at . . .

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