Harlequin , (Ital. arlecchino; Fr. arlequin), a pantomimic character, transplanted from the Italian stage to other countries, traceable to the earliest times, and more immediately identified with the ancient Roman mimes, who appeared before the public with their heads shaved, a sooty face, unshod feet, and a coat of many colors. The general term zany (It. zanni), which includes most sorts of harlequins, is derived from the Latin sannio, a buffoon. Conspicuous among the characters or masks of the Italian extemporized comedy were the ancient heroes of pantomime, the two zanni. One of them was converted into Harlequin, and the other into Seapino, both satirizing the roguery and drollery of the Bergamese, who were proverbial for their knavery, while other characters were introduced who parodied the Venetians, the Bolognese, and the rival inhabitants of other Italian cities. Harlequin generally figured as a servant of Pantalone, the comic representative of Venetian foibles, and as the lover of Colombina or the arlecchinetta; while Seapino was in the service of the dottore, the loquacious pedant and the burlesque type of the academical pretensions of Bologna. The principal inventor of the pantomimes in which the harlequin was introduced was Ruzzante, who flourished about 1530; and many of the actors who represented the harlequin were artists of distinction.

Rich, in the 18th century, introduced Harlequin on the English stage, and performed the character under the feigned name of Lun. In France Harlequin was converted into a wit, and even into a moralist, and is the hero of Florian's compositions. The German Hanswurst was originally intended as a caricature of the Italian Harlequin, but corresponded more particularly with the Italian Maccaroni, the French Jean Potage, the English Jack Pudding, and the Dutch Pickelherring. The German Hanswurst was as noted for his clumsiness as the Italian Harlequin for his elasticity or the French for his wit, and the Spanish Gracioso for his drollery. Both Hanswurst and Harlequin were gourmands; but the difference between the German and Italian buffoon was, that the latter could eat a great deal without having a glutton-like appearance, while the former grew to Falstaffian dimensions. Gott-sched in the middle of the 18th century drove the Hanswurst from the German stage, and the Harlequin of the Italian became under Gol-doni's hand an entirely new character.