The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year. - Mark Twain
Clowns, fools and jesters have been an integral part of many cultures
since ancient times. As early as 2500 BC, references have been found
about a pygmy clown who performed as a jester in the court of Egypt's
Pharaoh. Court jesters have much freedom of speech in China ever since
1800 BC. Even Native American tribes are known to have a clown character
that plays an important role in their social and religious life and are
believed to be able to cure certain diseases.
By the late Middle Ages, professional comic actors and clowns traveled
and entertained people by imitating the tricks of the court jesters. In
Italy, the Commedia del Arte was born that introduced famous Harlequins
to the world by the latter half of the 16th century. Harlequins are
acrobatic tricksters that wear black domino masks and carried a noisy
slapstick to spank his victims. Shakespeare gave new height and
popularity to the trend of introducing a smart and witty clown or fool
type character in his classics, plays and literature in general.
Pierrots, the French clowns, were the first one to make an appearance
with a bald head and a white face (with flour as the whitener) in the
latter half of the 17th century. Introduced as a counterpart to
Harlequin, Pierrot's white face became traditional makeup for the
clowns. With time, Pierrot softened and acquired more sentimentalists'
attitude. It was in the early 19th century that the pantomimist
Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard Deburau created the famous lovesick, pathetic
clown that imparted its melancholic looks to the modern clown tradition.