From improvised comedies to slapstick

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Commedia dell'arte

Harlequin: a poor young man (sometimes a servant), usually in love with Columbine; cunning and lazy, he can sing, dance, juggle and perform acrobatics.

Columbine: usually the daughter of a rich old man who is trying to marry her to one of his unattractive old friends, Columbine is beautiful, slightly flirtatious and loves Harlequin.

Pantaloon: a selfish, bad-tempered, suspicious and avaricious old man; frequently a friend of Columbine's father.

Pierrot: a servant, often melancholic and usually unlucky in love (and often Pantaloon's stooge), his traditional white clown's suit emphasises his innocence.

El Capitano: a soldier who boasts of his conquests in battle and in love. A swaggerer, he is in fact cowardly and a failure with women.


The Principal Girl: the direct descendant of Columbine, she is usually poor and always beautiful. Often a ridiculous old man is in pursuit of her but she is helped by a Fairy Godmother.

The Principal Boy: traditionally she wears a tunic and tights, fights the villain with panache, woos and finally marries the Principal Girl.

The Dame: antecedents of the modern Dame can be found in such roles as Mrs Noah in the medieval Mystery Plays and Mrs Gamp in Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit. Bossy, gossiping and prone to drink, she is at the centre of much of pantomime's comedy.

The Honest Servant: the modern incarnation of Pierrot, he famously appears in Cinderella as Buttons, and is hopelessly in love with the Principal Girl yet always faithful and often inventive.

The Comic: while other roles (notably Dame and Servant) include elements of the traditional Pierrot or Clown character, it is now common to cast television comedians in a panto, in roles not dissimilar to their screen persona.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now