February 13th, 2021

Harlequin And Columbine

We were talking about Harlequin- and how he's both immortal and amoral- beyond good and evil- and I thought of this...

It's one in a series of satirical plates from The English Dance of Death, by Thomas Rowlandson- with verses by William Combe- which updates the medieval danse macabre to Rowlandson's own Georgian period. A skeleton armed with arrow and hourglass confronts a range of contemporary types, from the fox hunter "gone to earth" and cowering under a table in his hallway to the lecherous old bloke who is about to be undone by the excesses of his honeymoon. In this plate Death looks in on a bunch of characters from the commedia dell'arte.

And Rowlandson gets it absolutely right. Three of the leading players have had their chips. Pierrot is all of a quiver, Punchinello is shocked, Pantaloon has already collapsed- but Harlequin and his lover Columbine are dancing away in the distance- towards the ship that is waiting to carry them off to their Happy-ever-after. Death cannot touch them. Neither are they concerned about the fate of those they've left behind. Human beings die- it's the way things are- and so...?