Friday, October 7, 2016

Poetry Friday: Arlequin

Arlequin by by René de Saint-Marceaux
 photographed at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyon, France,
by Kelly Ramsdell

Who is that masked man? I thought I knew. I'd seen him before. Replicas of this statue are all over Amazon, ebay, and auction sites. A version even appeared on The Antique Roadshow.

If you get a chance to watch that Roadshow video, it gives some background on the original marble sculpture---which I cannot find images of online-- as well as info about the various bronze and plaster casts (in various sizes) that have been made from it, such as the one Kelly snapped a photo of in Lyon.

What I didn't know was how complicated the history of the Arlequin (Harlequin) character was. For one thing, he began as a dark-faced devil character in French passion plays--yes, sadly, as another portrayal of a black man as a demon. His clothes were a slave's rags and patches before they evolved into a more orderly diamond pattern, and he was part of the tradition of blackface clowning in minstrel theater. I think his half mask may be the last remnant of that.

Much of that history is obscured, however, because the Harlequin also became a popular member of the zanni or comic servant characters in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. There, his trope became one of a clever servant who thwarts his master...and courts his lady love with wit and panache. We might recognize bits of him today in our modern romantic hero.

So. That's a lot of stuff packed into one stock character. More than I could handle in one poem. In the end, I wrote what I saw reflected back in his eyes --- but I'm curious: how would you describe what YOU see in him?


A stock character 
takes stock of his life:
always tasked

by the master 
always masked
from his true love

always asked
to repeat
the same lines.

—-and yet—
We never master
our taste for sharp

we are unmasked 
by it, we ask

with applause
for Love in tricked
out plaster, cast

marble to actor;
same lines;
new disaster.

       ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters all wrote about what they saw in our masked man. Find their poems here:

Andi (sitting this one out. See you next time, Andi!)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Violet, who writes enticingly about Poetry Camp.