Harlequin is the best known of the comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell’arte, a form of pantomime theatre popular in Italy, and later France, from the 1500s. The character is generally depicted as stupid and gluttonous, but nimble and acrobatic. In early renderings of the genre, Harlequin often had a love interest whom he would pursue, generally without success. He eventually became something of a romantic hero, and by the 18th century, a new style of pantomime, the Harlequinade, gave him a leading role.
The Harlequinade revolves around a comic incident in the lives of its five main characters: Harlequin, who loves Columbine, her greedy father Pantaloon, who tries to separate the lovers in league with the mischievous Clown, and the servant, Pierrot. There was often a chase scene with a policeman, and much slapstick and acrobatics.