Types of Clown

The Auguste character, also known as the 'red clown', was created by Tom Belling senior (1843–1900). Auguste became the template for the modern stock character of the circus or children's clown, based on a lower class or 'hobo' character, with red nose, white makeup around the eyes and mouth, and oversized clothes and shoes. The character as developed by the late 19th century is reflected in Ruggero Leoncavallo's 1892 opera Pagliacci (Clowns). Belling's Auguste character was further popularized by Nicolai Poliakoff's Coco in the 1920s and 30s.

The Auguste character often acts as a foil to the more sophisticated white or whiteface clown.

Harlequin is the best–known of the comic servant characters (zanni) from the Italian commedia dell'arte. The role is traditionally believed to have been introduced in the late 16th century by the actor–manager Zan Ganassa, and was definitively popularised by the Italian actor Tristano Martinelli in Paris in the 1580s. It became a stock character after Martinelli's death in 1630.

The Harlequin is characterised by his chequered costume. His role is that of a light-hearted, nimble, and astute servant, often acting to thwart the plans of his master. He pursues his own love interest, Columbina, with wit and resourcefulness, often competing with the sterner and melancholic Pierrot. He later develops into a prototype of the romantic hero. Harlequin inherits his physical agility and his trickster qualities, as well as his name, from a mischievous 'devil' character in medieval passion plays.

The Harlequin character first appeared in England early in the 17th century and took centre stage in the derived genre of the Harlequinade, developed in the early 18th century by John Rich. As the Harlequinade portion of English dramatic genre pantomime developed, Harlequin was routinely paired with the character Clown. As developed by Joseph Grimaldi around 1800, Clown became the mischievous and brutish foil for the more sophisticated Harlequin, who became more of a romantic character.

Pierrot is another stock character of pantomime and commedia dell'arte, whose origins are in the late seventeenth–century Italian troupe of players performing in Paris and known as the Comédie–Italienne. The name is a diminutive of Pierre (Peter). His character in contemporary popular culture is that of the sad clown, pining for love of Columbine, who usually breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin.

Pierrot traditionally appears unmasked, with a whitened face, wearing a loose white blouse with large buttons and wide white pantaloons. Since his reincarnation under the Bohemian–French mime artist Jean–Gaspard Deburau (1796–1846), he usually wears neither collar nor hat, only a black skullcap. The defining characteristic of Pierrot is his naïveté: he is seen as a fool, and is often the butt of pranks, but remains trusting.

© Haydn Thompson 2021