Dramatic and Literary Mask
( Europe: 1650- )
John D. Anderson
The evolution of Pierrot extends from the French commedia at the end of the seventeenth century through the twentieth century. The image of Pierrot began as "the quintessential hapless lover, the born loser" ( Ritter195) and evolved into a chameleonic role-player, closely identified with the role of poet and its omniscience. Characteristics associated with the later Pierrot include broodiness, sensitivity, sincerity, isolation, indifference, dreaminess, ennui, selfconsciousness, unmanliness, and a touch of madness.
A comprehensive survey of Pierrot's career such as Robert F. Storey Pierrot: A Critical History of a Mask ( 1978) would extend far beyond article length. Consequently, this entry will focus on five major avatars of the mask, those of the actor Giuseppe Giaratone (?-1697), the painter Antoine Watteau ( 1684 1721), the mime Jean-Gaspard Deburau ( 1796-1846), the writer Théophile Gautier ( 1811-1872), and the poet Jules Laforgue ( 1860-1887).
Pierrot's origins extend to the commedia dell'arte, a form of popular theater that arose in sixteenth-century Italy. Working improvisationally from plot outlines called "scenarios," commedia companies were comprised of about a dozen performers, each of whom specialized in a recognizable type of role. Because most of these types were easily identifiable by the conventional masks they wore, the term "mask" is used as a synonym for character or type in a commedia context. One of the major groups of commedia masks was the zanni, comic valets who often served to complicate the plot by causing confusion,