The History of the Harlequin Logo

The History of the Harlequin Logo

The Harlequin figure sat inside a diamond shape playing a lute on the cover of Harlequin’s first published book in 1949. He graced book covers for years, inviting readers into stories about interesting people, exotic places and passionate desire.

Harlequin’s modern-day logo still uses the diamond shape. But who was the Harlequin character in the original logo and what did he represent?

Excerpts from Harlequin’s 30th anniversary publication, Thirty Years of Harlequin: 1949–1979, tell the ancient story of the Harlequin:

The Harlequin figure has a long history—it is not just a symbol created for our books. Although his origins date back to ancient Rome, Harlequin came to us from the Italian theatre of the sixteenth century.

At the time, Italian actors formed themselves into traveling troupes that became known as the Commedia dell’Arte. Each troupe had almost the same cast of characters: Pulcinella, the hunchback; Il Capitano, the soldier captain; Pantaloon, the miserly merchant; Il Dottore, the pompous doctor; and two clowns, or zanni, Brighella and Harlequin. Thus, from one play to the next the characters would be the same; only the story would change.

The Harlequin was a valet—or servant—and definitely the most entertaining character of them all. He could be called the comic relief in the sort of play that was light and easy to enjoy.

As Harlequin changed and developed over the centuries, so did his costume. The earliest we can trace is a long jacket and breeches covered with sewn-on dark varicolored patches. On his shaved head Harlequin wore a soft cap topped with a rabbit’s tail. During the early seventeenth century, the patches became red, blue and green triangles arranged symmetrically and joined by slender yellow braid. Toward the end of the century, the patches became diamond shaped and Harlequin’s soft cap was replaced with a double-pointed hat.

Ever since the time of the Commedia dell’Arte, Harlequin has represented a combination of humor and sadness, romance and entertainment.

Learn more about Harlequin’s history on our 70th Anniversary page!

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