Stage Buffoons

SCHLEGEL has remarked that every stage has had its merryman or jester. Man, being the animal who laughs and weeps, has required, in every country in which the drama has been developed, that this form of entertainment should offset the tears. Perhaps it was because there was so much weeping that the clown became indispensable to the dramatis personœ. In general characteristics he has been the same everywhere, but in smaller topical details he has changed according to his country. The inquiry as to the nature of histrionic buffoons is more interesting than the world, to judge by its literature on the subject, has ever imagined. To know a man by his companions is a very feeble indication of character. " Tell me what thou laughest at,” is far more searching. The inexplicable laughter of Ashmodai, or Asmodeus, before the Rabbis is the most dramatically unearthly touch in all the Talmud. The laughter of women at witless remarks, like that of a negro beholding Niagara, or of a Spaniard at seeing a horse disemboweled, suggests that the ideal jesters of each of these types of mankind would he strangely different.

The contrast between Indian and Greek thought is nowhere more forcibly marked than in the conceptions of the dramatic merryman evolved by these two great branches of the Aryan race. In the Hindu theatre, in some particulars singularly like the English, the rôle of jester is given to a Brahman. He who by right of caste is entitled to religious respect is on the stage made ridiculous. The Vidushaka, as he is called, is the companion and friend of the hero of the play, whom he loves with the devotion of a Sancho Panza. He is not quite like the clown of any other theatre, but combines the peculiarities of the Greek parasite and the Italian Pantaleone with a clerical piety all his own, and an incomparable greediness. If Queen Mary thought the word Calais would be engraved on her heart, because of the foremost place it occupied in her thoughts, by the same rule the word Food would be stamped in large letters on that of the Vidushaka; that is, if his stomach leaves him room for one. His insatiable appetite unfits him for any higher or even lower emotions. Much of the humor peculiar to jesters in all ages and countries has depended upon their grotesque appearance.

If the Greek gods, as represented by Homer, could laugh at Vulcan because he was lame, it is not surprising that mortals have felt justified in making merry over the physical deformities of their fellow-men, until noses large out of all proportion and crooked backs have become badges of buffoonery. But the grotesqueness of the Vidushaka’s exterior is usually caused by his costume, and not by any natural unsightliness ; perhaps because to the Hindus bodily malformation is so associated with the idea of divinity that it seems beautiful. Another source of amusement to the majority of men is the sight of physical suffering. The pleasure Romans found in the combats of gladiators, that Spaniards derive from their bull-fights and English and Americans from prize-fights, is given in a lesser degree by the rude practical jokes and the tumblings and writhings of buffoons. As a rule, it makes very little difference who gets the beating. But it is natural that the Hindu jester should be always the victim of the joke, since for a Brahman to chastise another man would never have been remarkable. This has happened only too often in real life. Yet to see a Brahman fooled and ill treated must always have been honey and nectar to proud Vaisyas and poor crushed Sudras ; their delight, no doubt, being enhanced when, as in the play of Ratnavali, or The Necklace, the attack was made by women.

There was no special jester in the old Greek comedy, where all were comic, and where the principal jesting consisted in personal satire. But the law finally forbade the dramatist to satirize any one by name, and after the time of Aristophanes comedy acquired a form more familiar to moderns. The new dramatists, instead of confining themselves to the mythological world, borrowed characters from human life, and presented them in every-day situations. In the end, they contented themselves with a certain number of dramatis personæ, whose individual line of action never varied, the only change being the manner in which they were grouped together. The slave of the new comedy was the real buffoon, though the part played by the parasite was farcical enough. The facetiousness of the slave was not particularly brilliant. Attic wit in his case, seems to have consisted in a comic mask and garments of corresponding exaggeration. In addition to looking ridiculous, his duty was to tease, torment, and deal out blows. If, as Athenæus tells us, the Tyrrhenians flogged people to the sound of the lute, the Greek jester acted to the accompaniment of Hogging. Sometimes he was a simpleton and coward ; at others, a rogue and a braggart. Occasionally the Pantaloon or scapegoat of the farce was represented by a Scythian, who to the Greeks and Romans was a delightful subject for laughing-stock. He was their Irishman or Dutchman, and they enjoyed his broken Greek or Scyth-pidgin. It is a curious fact that Lodge, the old English dramatist, makes the clown in one of his plays talk broken French, to add to the comic effect.

The Greeks, who loved life, aimed at making it as beautiful and harmonious as possible. Therefore, when popular taste called for a buffoon, the part was assigned to a slave, who, as the meanest member of society, properly ministered to the lower emotions. All the harmony of social life would have been destroyed had those whom the people respected become typical of licentiousness or stupidity. But in India the Brahmans, who teach life to be a delusion and activity a snare, are, through their superiority of caste, heirs to by far the greatest share of those earthly pleasures which they pronounce unreal. The falseness of their position has apparently never struck them, and their simplicity, born of too great sensuality, has fitted them to the rdle of Vidushaka, or priestly jester. In a life where nothing is real, he who is most deceived by the illusion is the greatest fool. This is the lesson taught by the pious clown of the Hindu theatre. In one country Lilliputians laughed at a captured Gulliver; in the other it was the giant who was amused by the pigmies. Both these countries have had additional buffoons or mountebanks, not unlike the jugglers and tumblers still to be seen at our country fairs. In Greece the Magodos was a great favorite with the people. He did not belong to the regular theatre, though his performances, as Aristoxenus said, were like comedy. He traveled alone up and down the land, capering like a Satyr and joking like a Momus, and was most glorious during the Lenæan festival, when, seated on a wagon, “ he sang low songs to drums and cymbals loud, and jested with the idle passers-by.” In India the Bhanrs, who correspond to the Magodi, are even to-day popular jesters. Then there is another buffoon, who appears only in the pantomimes, or Gatras, the Hindu " Mysteries ” which illustrate the adventures of Krishna. Among the Bengalese, during these representations, two characters, called respectively Narada and Vasyadeva, go through a series of tricks interspersed with songs and dances, very much in the manner of some of our Western burlesque actors. In fact, Krishna himself is a very jovial jester, as befits the god of genial pleasure.

Latin comedy was derived from the Greek, and Plautus and Terence were direct imitators of Hellenic comedians. But Italy had her own jesters. The Romans borrowed the famous Atellanæ Fabulæ from the Oscans, the aboriginal inhabitants of Italy. They were rude, improvised dialogues, with no object but burlesquing and lively satire of popular vices and follies. Born before Roman civilization, they have survived to our times. Even their gestures, which form a very copious sign language, appearing on thousands of Etrusco-Greek vases, are all preserved at the present day in Naples, as is shown by the canon Andrea de Joris.1 One might almost rewrite their farces from these hand hieroglyphs. Maccus, Bucco, and Pappus were the most famous, and their antics and jests were always welcomed as a cheerful relief, after the gloom attendant upon the performance of a tragedy. Their costumes answered the purpose of the Prologue in Bottom’s play of Pyramus and Thisbe, since they announced the part each was to enact. These jesters were at once recognized by the audience, just as Punch and Harlequin are to-day : the one by his large nose and hump ; the other, by his party-colored dress, his wand, and his mask. Maccus was always the hero, though all were equally buffoons. He was insolent, vulgar, and witty, with a little of the comic ferocity of his successor, Pulcinello. He was represented with bald head, enormous ears, and nose of the Jewish type, and was doubly hump-backed. His ugliness was keenly enjoyed by a race of warriors like the Romans, who necessarily prided themselves upon straight limbs and fine physiques. He wore a tunic and slippers, and at each corner of his mouth were small silver coins. His malicious nature, gross as his face, led him into adventures in which he was not always successful. Bucco was a glutton, boaster, and bare-faced liar, who would have cheerfully committed any felony or folly for the sake of a good supper. Pappus was a jealous, avaricious old man, defiant and credulous. He was the original, probably, of Tartaglia and Pantaleone. Besides these, there were Dossemus, a pompous pedant, like the later Italian Dottoce; Manducus, a frightful ogre, who opened his mouth and showed all his teeth, as if he would like nothing better than to swallow the whole world; and Lamia, an ogress, whose pleasant duty was to devour little children. Some archæologists have disputed as to the origin of Maccus. They argue, from the Jewish cast of features in those representations of him which have been preserved, that the Hebrews had carried into their Egyptian captivity little puppets or dolls, which were their children’s playthings, and which their captors appropriated. From Egypt these could easily have passed into Greece or Italy, and this possibly was the case. There were one or two points of resemblance between the Egyptian and the Greek and Roman buffoons. The fox’s tail was one of their most characteristic emblems, as indeed it was of jesters throughout the East. Reynard had early become a type of cunning, and he entered largely into ancient symbolization. His tail was the insignia of jesting ; and to this day the licentious buffoons who accompany the Ghawazi into Egypt either carry in their hands or fasten to their nether garments this badge of the profession. The Mimes and Sannios of Rome, who could be hired to contribute entertainment at public festivals or at private banquets, must be mentioned in any account of histrionic clowns. From the former descended the jesters, who, during the early ages of Christianity, penetrated into almost every European country, and kept alive the old buffooneries, until these were again given a place in the drama ; while the latter is the original of Harlequin, who in some parts of Italy, as in England, is still known as Zani. The Sannio wore a particularly grotesque mask, the mouth of which was not unlike that of the gargoyles on mediæval cathedrals. He carried the wand, without which the ancient jester would have been as incomplete as a bishop without his crosier.

“ The people will amuse themselves,” D'Israeli says, in his Curiosities of Literature, “ though their masters may be conquered; and tradition has never proved more faithful than in preserving popular sports.” Even after the new civilization had destroyed the pagan theatre, and while the new drama was not yet formed, the Atellani continued their performances and retained their popularity, and the merryman was everywhere a welcome guest. For though people lived in daily expectation of the end of the world, and religion taught that all earthly pleasures were evils, men could not subdue their desire for laughter. In addition to the fool, who, during the Dark Ages and early mediæval period, occupied such an important post in royal courts, in papal and episcopal palaces, and in squires’ halls, there were the wandering jongleurs and minstrels, who united to their song-singing and harp-playing the duties of jugglers and buffoons. At court festivities and at the country fairs, then the great occasions for merry-making, they performed in pantomimes, and often improvised comic dialogues. The church and her clergy inveighed against them, but monks and nuns, even the professors of asceticism, received them with open arms. So great was the monastic attachment to these emissaries of Satan that the brethren of an English convent once thrust from their gates two poor mendicant friars, who at first sight had been mistaken for minstrel mountebanks. Indeed, it was to wean the affection of the people from such worldly entertainments that the Mysteries were made ludicrously lively. This end was so successfully attained that markets and mysteries became terms for pleasure, and the same amount of amusement was derived from Playes of Miracles and Marriages.

In the Mysteries we have the beginning of the modern drama, and in them Satan, a queer combination of Ahriman, Loki, and Pan, as jester outrivaled the buffoons of market fairs. The jolly horned and cloven-footed satyr-demon, who grinned from gray cathedral walls and jested in legend and romance, became the Merry-Andrew of the stage. The German proverb, Der Teufel ist Gott’s Affe, (the devil is God’s ape), was thus verified. Just as the Hindu loves to ridicule the Brahman, who is his master. so the European, in the ages of faith, amused himself at the expense of Satan, his greatest enemy. Jean Paul has said that it is only when men firmly believe in their religion that they can ridicule it. It was when Satan was most feared that he was most travestied and caricatured. A queer proof of this lies in the fact that to-day, while the comic demon is omitted from the Passion Play at Oberammergau, he is still retained in the same representation in Spain, which is the most truly devout of all Catholic countries. The devil, as jester, was so popular that sometimes, as in a German Mystery of the fifteenth century, eight were introduced into one performance. Hans Sachs, in his sacred plays, still retained him as chief jester. There is a bill of a painter, who was employed at the playhouse in the Dutch town of Alkmaar, which testifies to the importance of this character: —

Imprimis, made for the clerks a hell.

Item, the pavilion of Satan.

Item, two pairs of devil’s breeches.

Item, a shield for the Christian knight.

Item, have painted the devils whenever they played.

Item, some arrows and other small matters.

Even after the clown took his place on the English stage, there seem to have been regrets for the old favorite. Ben Jonson, who gives such life-like pictures of the people and customs of his times, makes one of his characters exclaim, " My husband, Timothy Tattle, — God rest his poor soul ! — was wont to say, there was no play without a fool and a devil in’t; he was for the devil still, God bless him ! The devil for his money, would he say. I would fain see the devil.” The thrashing of one demon by another was considered irresistibly laughable. Gross ribaldry was often introduced into the rôle, and scurrilous indecencies were indulged in, even in connection with the Crucifixion. The mere mention of sin or the flames of hell made the demon-jesters " readie to burste with laughter.” In an English Mystery, a devil tells us the ne plus ultra of a joke, that

“ Soules cam so thyk now late unto helle,
As ever
Our porter at Helle gate
So halden [held] so strate [strict],
Up erly and downe late,
He rystys [rests] never.”

Occasionally, some other character was introduced as buffoon, as, for example, the jester of King Herod’s court, in the Massacre of the Innocents; but the devil was always the favorite.

In the Moralities his part fell to Vice, who carried a wooden sword instead of a wand, and who, says Ben Jonson.

“ in the fit
Of mimicry gets th’ opinion of a wit.”

In the oldest Moralities Satan still appeared, and was teased and badgered by evil, as it was only just he should be, after his long reign as chief tormentor and distributer of blows. This was probably the origin of Punch, in the puppet show, making off with the devil. The custom of associating jollity and laughter with Satan led to extraordinary results. Misery and sin were joined in a grotesque, but to us repulsive, fellowship with mirth, and finally even death was allied with folly. It was as if rank poisons and healthy fruits, growing side by side, had become so intertwisted as to be inseparable. In dances, satires, and pictures, Death, as the symbol of drollery, was a favorite jest or jester. Men and women in skeleton masks danced in the very graveyards, while their painted and embroidered representations adorned the walls of churches and castles. This famous Danse Macabre culminated in Holbein’s Dance of Death, which is an expressive witness of the unnatural extremes to which morbid fancies, under the cloak of religion, can be carried.

Mysteries and Moralities gradually degenerated into coarse burlesques of Scripture. Under the influence of the Reformation and the Renaissance, the people pronounced them stupid and in bad taste, and the clergy condemned them as immoral and irreverent. Thus attacked on all sides, they and their devil and death buffoons perished before the advance of the new culture. With the modern revival of the drama usage at first required a merryman of the stage. The mediæval spirit of grotesque and child-like mirth grew doubly strong immediately before its disappearance. In proportion as the public became more refined the folly of professional jesters seemed to grow coarser, and the pleasure of the people in it greater. In England the clown continued to be so popular that he was the principal personage in every sport and amusement. It was the fashion, among all who could pay for it, to keep a private jester, who, says Lodge, in his Wit’s Miserie, “ laughes intemperately at every little occasion, and dances about the house, leaps over tables, outskips men’s heads, trips up his companion’s heeles, burns sack with a candle and hath all the feats of a lord of misrule in the countrie.” So it followed that liveliness, superior or at least equal to that he had at home, should be required at seasons and places of public merry-making. No court pageant was complete without a clown. He danced in the morris, capered around the Maypole, played in the pantomime of country fairs, and every great holiday was the signal for him to don the motley coat. “ There’s nothing in a play like to a clown,” was the then prevailing opinion. In France, the Enfans Sans Soucis, with their sottises, drove the Confrérie de la Passion and the Clercs de Bezoche from the dramatic boards. Tabarin, with wit of coarseness far beyond that of Rabelais, collected crowds around the stand of the charlatan Monor, the seller of a wonderful balm, while the theatres were deserted. “ All amusement has disappeared since Tabarin departed from us,” the Parisians declared, when this farceur, to whom Molière is said to have owed many of his best points, left the city.2 Cardinal Richelieu laughed immoderately over a farce played by Gros-Guillaume, Gautier-Garguille, and Turlupin, in which the first named, a very Daniel Lambert in size, was dressed up like an old woman. His eminence was so pleased with the talents of these three friends that he enrolled them with the regular comedians of the theatre. Actors and audiences have never given themselves up to such intemperate raillery and such foul jokes as they did at the Hôtel Bourgogne, in Paris, at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

It was not only natural, but imperative, that a character so keenly appreciated by all classes as the buffoon should be assigned a place in the new drama. In Spain, the rôle fell upon the Gracioso, a facetious and familiar servant. It was his special function to swear in a manner that would have satisfied Panurge, in his wrath against Tronillogan; and the drollery of his oaths was increased for the devout Spaniard by the fact that every saint in the calendar, as well as many out of it, was called upon. In England, the jester appeared in tragedy as well as in comedy, and the part was given to a professional fool or to a clownish servant. But already in Shakespeare’s time we find the privileges of this character, which at first had “ as large a charter as the wind,” more and more restricted. “ Let those that, play your clowns,” Hamlet says to the play-actors, “ speak no more than is set down for them,” — which shows that the license originally allowed them was fast losing favor. The giving and taking of blows, and the ridiculous situations, which had constituted much of the fun of the clowns and droll servants in his early plays, were later exchanged for more refined and purer wit. There is a great contrast between the humor of the two Dromios, or of Launce and Speed, and that of Touchstone, or the fool in King Lear. In Germany, the buffoon, though retained in the scriptural dramas which succeeded the Mysteries, was not always countenanced. As early as 1585, Duke Albert, of Prussia, forbade by decree the appearance of “ stage devils, fools, and other abominable masks.” in these performances. In France, tragedy and comedy were separated by a line as distinct as that which divided the aristocracy from the bourgeois, and the presence of a jester was permissible only in the latter. Molière, in the Italian style which had become fashionable, relied for success upon the conventional situations in which ridiculous valets, pedants, and braggarts were placed. But even he and his admirers recognized that witty dialogue and keen, satirical humor are truer elements of genuine comedy than burlesque parody. People have not yet ceased to laugh at absurd costumes, monstrous masks, and grotesque posturings, but the laws of modern taste require that these should not be presented on the legitimate stage. The sphere of the real merryman or clown has long been limited to farces, in which all his surroundings are as ridiculous as himself, to pantomimes, and to puppet shows.

Italy was the cradle land of the modern species of jester, quite as truly as she was the home of the papacy. In that country, the old Sannio, or Zany, and the Mimes, who had survived as favorite carnival characters, were, in the fourteenth century, introduced on the comic stage. Like the legendary dragon, which, when one of its heads is cut off, can produce seven to replace it, each buffoon, when restored to something like his old dignity, reappeared with fresh energy in several new varieties. It was a sign of awakening interest in this world and in human life that men who had been wont to laugh their heartiest at the expense of the other world and the things of religion began to hold up for derision the faults and short-comings of their fellow-beings. The name of the Italian jesters is legion. Their masks and costumes, immortalized by the etchings of Callot, were in themselves ridiculous, and the fun peculiar to each was so well known to the spectator that

“The very peeping out of one of them would have
Made a young man laugh though his father lay a-dying.”

The dialogue was so subordinate to appearance and droll situations that it was often left to the improvisation of the actors. The Italians, with their strong dramatic instinct and powers of improvising, usually made it sprightly enough ; but witty conversation never was the important factor it is in real comedy. It would be impossible to enumerate all these buffoons, since each Italian city has had its special types, differing from the others in titles and attributes. But there are a few who have been made specially prominent because the follies they typified were world-wide, and not peculiar to certain cities or provinces.

Thus, there was the Dottore, first created to ridicule the doctors of Bologna, but who in main characteristics is brother to all quacks. He always carried a volume of Aristotle in his hand, and from it read passages, which, serious in their actual signification, became farcical through his interpretation. He interspersed his conversation with quotations, delivered in a manner worthy of a Mrs. Malaprop, and was profuse in Latin and Greek phrases of startling construction. Every theatre has had its Capitano Spavento, or Bobadil. On the Italian comic stage it was the Capitano, who, in anticipation of danger, could not be stopped by “ a river of blood,” but who, when the reality came, turned and fled at the first attack with a garden-squirt.

“ We are never made so ridiculous by the qualities we have,” says the wise Rochefoucauld, “as by those we affect to have.” The absurdity of the Capitano’s cowardice was forgotten in the exquisite drollery of his vaunted bravery.

In words he was a Hotspur ; in action, a Bob Acres. All the names given to him were indicative of his poltroonery. He was known as Spavento, “ horridly frightful; ” Spezza-fer, “ shiver-spear ; ” and Spavento de Val Inferno, “ terror from the infernal regions.” Later, when the Spaniards were in Italy, his titles were Sangre e fuego, “ blood and fire,” and Matamoro, “ Moor-killer.” Though the French had their own Capitano in Molière’s Sganarelle, who armed himself with a coat of mail, and then explained it to be a protection against possible rain, and who never attacked his enemy until the latter’s back was turned, still the Italian jester was borrowed by them. He retained his old name, and was usually known as Le Capitaine Matamore, though this was sometimes changed to Le Capitaine Fracasse. Like the Spanish hero, he wore a large nose, which has been very generally made indicative of cowardice. Underneath his pictures these two lines are always found: —

“Tout m’aime ou tout me craint, soit en paix,
soit en guerre,
Je croquerais un prince aussi bien qu’un oignon.”

(All love or fear me, in war and in peace, for I would crunch a prince as readily as an onion.)

Tartaglia and Pantaleone were two foolish old dotards, who had not learnt the art of growing old gracefully. The former, who was always represented as very large and fat, was a Neapolitan creation. His peculiarity was an inability to express his ideas in words, which far exceeded that of the household dog or the young Briton, though the powerlessness of expression in these two has been declared to be the most pathetic on record. When speech was granted to Tartaglia, it came in a torrent of inane witticisms and vile jests, which he delivered with an air of great propriety and seriousness. The combination of senility, sensuality, stupidity, cowardice, and obscenity in one rôle seems to have had a demoralizing effect on the actor. As a rule, Tartaglias off the stage have spent much of their time in prison, but no one has thought the worse of them ou that account; the reality, bad as it may have been, being infinitely better than the acted part. There are growlings and grumblings to - day about unruly servants ; if the Scapin and Scaramouch of the stage are faithful types, our maids and footmen are angels compared to those of earlier ages. To judge by the swarms of comic valets in the old theatres, the only attendants to be had in the good old days of chivalry and romance were, if clever, wicked, and if good so stupid that their goodness availed nothing. When a master was honest, his servants conspired against him; when the former was a rogue, the latter joined in league with him. Scapino, converted by the French into Scapin, was the most celebrated of the roguish crew, and usually waited upon the Dottore, who gave him plentiful opportunities for sly joking. He originally used the dialect of Bergamo, which at one time was proverbial for the number of cheats and knaves among its population. He was witty and cunning, and, if not absolutely a coward, thought discretion the better part of valor, and when in danger relied upon his legs for safety. Liar, pander, and thief, he was as fond of changing his master as his Irish successor is to-day, and his best beloved pastime was laying waste the hearts of susceptible soubrettes. Then there was Scaramouch, who, according to his own account, had been a nobleman, but was now reduced by cruel reverses of fortune to menial servitude. More unconscientious than Scapin, he also excelled him in cowardice. Fear paralyzed him, but, while trembling from head to foot, he would maintain a show of valor. “ Who’s afraid ? ” he would cry, when, crouching under chair or table, he tried to evade the blows of Pulcinello. " Away with the weak courage of the lamb, I say ! Mine is the daring of the wolf! ” It was in this character that Tiberio Fiurelli succeeded in making Louis XIII., gravest of all men, laugh. Poor, stupid Pierrot, with his occasional outbreaks of keen, wicked humor, and Brighella, stupidest of all stupid valets, intriguer, and pander, but as brave as the Capitano was cowardly, often disputed the honors with Scapin and Scaramouch. As if these characters were not droll enough, a regular clown was usually added to the dramatis personæ ; and it was in filling this part that Salvator Rosa achieved a success of which he was almost as proud as of his fame as painter.

But among all the Italian jesters there are two who have always occupied the foremost rank in the affections of the people, and who have been so thoroughly domesticated all over Europe and America that they seem like natives in lands which have adopted them. Pulcinello and Harlequin are to their fellow-actors what Achilles and Ulysses were to the heroes of the Homeric epics. In Italy, the adventures of Pulcinello are not confined to the performances of puppets ; the part is played by men quite as often as by marionettes. On the Neapolitan stage alone there are two: one, stupid and awkward, the victim of every one’s mischief; the other, a cheat and a cunning fool, who indulges in practical jokes at the expense of his nearest and dearest associates. In proof of his popularity, D’Israeli tells the story of an Italian gentleman, a scholar and a man of refinement, who, when living in London, so missed the jokes of Pulcinello that at great trouble he had a company of puppets brought from Italy, for his own private delectation. And, adds D’Israeli, the sentiment awakened in him by the tin whistle, though of a different nature, was equal in intensity to the tenderness aroused in the Swiss patriot by the Ranz des Vaches. To account for the English name Punch given to Pulcinello, some scholars contend that it is derived from the Indian-Romany word panj, — that is, five, — and that this buffoon was first brought to England by gypsies. Further confirmation of their theory might be found in the fact that this hero’s costume is always red and yellow; and, as all versed in gypsy lore know,

“ Blue and pink for the Gorgiee
But red and yellow for Romany.”

Though Punch is never seen off the pup pet stage except in Italy, he must be included in the list of modern jesters. In the old times puppets were as popular as living actors, and their répertoire was not as restricted as it is now. Legend hath it that it was from a puppet performance of Faust that Goethe first derived the idea of writing his play. Dr. Johnson saw no reason why marionettes should not perform Macbeth; and indeed Henry Rowe, better known as the “ York Trumpeter,” had his own version of that tragedy arranged for his troop of puppets. Punch at first appeared indiscriminately in any play, even in those of a scriptural character. One of his most famous jokes, at one time, was his remark to Noah, in the puppet version of the Flood, when the patriarch was safely housed in the ark : “ Hazy weather, Master Noah! ” The truth is, the plot has ever been of little account,

“Provided Punch — for there’s the jest —
Be soundly maul’d and plague the rest.”

Every one is familiar with the modern hero of the puppet stage, who beats his dog, kills Scaramouch, murders his child because it cries, slays poor faithful Judy, who commits the crime of asking for her offspring, hangs Jack Ketch, and, as a last stroke of diplomacy, puts an end to the devil himself, after which he sagely remarks he has nothing more to fear. He is gayly mischievous or stolidly brutal, according to the nationality and temperament of his showman.

A French paper, some years since, feelingly commented upon the great brutality of the English Punch, when compared with the more polished villainy of the French Polichinelle, or Guignol. The writer of the article concluded by declaring that the wickedness of the former could not possibly be represented in France, as it would make all the dear little French children faint in their nurses’ arms ! Of the comparative indecency of Guignol and Punch, who is, if murderous, at least “ moral.” he says nothing.

In Germany, Punch is often replaced by the national buffoon Hanswurst, or Jackpudding, to whom a part was given in the old popular dramatic version of Faust.

Harlequin has passed through a varied and checkered career. On his first appearance on the Italian stage, he was a greedy, stupid valet, always blundering and stumbling; but Goldoni converted him into a “ child of nature,” bright, witty, and jolly, and without the least vulgarity. In France, he lost his chief roguish characteristics, and figured as a moral wit; while in England, as Fielding says, the “ gentleman of that name is not at all related to the French family, for he is of a much more serious disposition.” Christmas harlequinades are entirely an English invention, and in the present form are credited to Weaver, a dancing - master in Shrewsbury iu the last century. They are a faint revival of the old court pageants, which were given during the holiday season. A hidden meaning has been discovered in these pantomimes, and the adventures of the actors therein have been carried back into the dim dawn of history, and connected with the rites of Egyptian, Cabiric. and Mithraic mystics. Harlequin is no less a personage than Hermes; Columbine is Psyche, the soul ; and Pantaloon is Charon, who, shamefully neglecting his office as ferryman, engages the services of the clown, or Momus, in the pursuit of Psyche, This may be, and perhaps, when looking on at a pantomime, we are unconsciously participating in Mysteries that were celebrated in caverns and shielded with secrecy. But if so, how the gods have

“ Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
Fallen from their high estate ” !

In our degenerate days the clown, and not Harlequin, is the central figure of the pantomime. As the electric light outshines gas, so have his more sprightly charms overshadowed the magical powers of Harlequin and the grace of Columbine. The last survival of a “ goodlie and merrie companie,” he has combined in his one person almost all the traits of his predecessors. His costume is usually that of the old court fool ; his whitened face is his inheritance from Gros-Guillaume, who was the first to use this substitute for a mask; his greediness is like that of the Hindu Vidushaka. As Pantaloon’s servant, he bears some kinship to the Greek slave and French valet; and his “ Here-weare-again ” is an echo of the “ Halloe ” with which the devil of the Mysteries greeted his audience. Just as it is impossible to tell wherein lies the charm of certain beauty, so it is difficult to define the humor of the pantomime clown. Mere skill as an acrobat or grimacer is not in itself sufficient. Above and beyond this there must be a bonhommie, a spice of Falstaffian good fellowship, which is as indispensable as it is indescribable. Grimaldi possessed this attraction to a wonderful extent. Once, owing to illness, he had been replaced at Sadlers Wells Theatre by a man named Bradbury, who was such an excellent gymnast that Grimaldi feared his own popularity had been destroyed. The first night he acted, after his recovery, he and Bradbury were to appear in alternate scenes. The latter began the performance; but when he attempted to continue the part, after Grimaldi had been on the stage, the people hissed him off, and would have nothing more to do with him, though it was his benefit night. Grimaldi could not compete with him as a leaper or jumper, but he had that nameless charm which brought him at once en rapport with his audience.

In the circus, the clown divides the honors with the crowds of Amazons, wild riders of the prairies, giants, dwarfs, and all the great natural and artificial wonders. He is always in the ring; he tumbles and talks, jests and jumps, laughs and leaps. His gymnastic feats are subordinate to his “gift of the gab.” Like Athenæus, he prepares a “ delicious feast of words.” Some poets have lived solely through the merits of one poem, and many clowns become famous from one very poor joke. There was one American favorite who was popular for years, owing to an absurd story of an experiment to convert pancakes into bed-coverings ; the experiment failing because, when he awoke, shivering, it was always to find that he had eaten his counterpane. Another made his reputation simply by joking in Pennsylvania " Dutch.”

The clown as assistant of the itinerant doctor or merchant is not a new creation. He was in existence among the Greeks. A satirical picture on an old Greek vase represents Apollo carrying on a brisk business as a quack mountebank. He was known in the times of Charlemagne, and, as we have seen, it was in this character that Tabarin distinguished himself. To-day, in the East, especially in Japan, it is common for street venders to entice patrons to their stalls by the tumblings of acrobats and the jokes of jesters. The quack, or the “ fakir,” in America sets up his stand in the busiest part of the town, as his prototype did, long ago, in the sunlit streets of Athens. The clown lolls by his side, making hideous faces and playing inane tricks, whereby he attracts idlers and pleasure - seekers. Like the chorus in Greek tragedies, he gives his explanation and opinions of the words and actions of the principal actor. His remarks are usually delivered sotto voce, and accompanied by a feint of suffocated and uncontrollable mirth. His volubility is most astonishing. He out-Herods Herod, while the ease with which his partner can keep up a steady flow of conversation about nothing has no parallel in history, save perhaps in the Goliards of the Middle Ages.

There is, it is true, no buffoon in the legitimate drama of the present day, but this, unfortunately, may not imply purer and more refined dramatic taste in the public. Among the most popular and paying performances now are spectacular pieces and burlesques, the actors in which compare rather unfavorably with the clowns of the Elizabethan age. The latter were often coarse enough, but their fun was that of exuberant animal spirits, whereas that of their modern successors is too often the outcome of vulgarity. Theatre-goers in our age, however, can sit through a comedy or tragedy unenlivened by the presence of a clown, and this would have been an impossibility in the old times.

Elizabeth Robins.

  1. In La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Napoletano, Naples, 1832. For a reproduction in English of all that is important in this work, with much additional matter of interest, vide Sign Language among North American Indiana, by Lieutenant-Colonel Garrick Mallery, U. S. A., Washington, 1881.
  2. Vide Les Œuvres de Tabarin et Autres Pièces Tabarinique. Préface et Notes par Georges de Hermonville. Paris. 1858.