NABOKV-L post 0018764, Wed, 11 Nov 2009 12:27:23 -0200

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Re: QUERY: Harlequin as Quilty?
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Carolyn Kunin: ...There is a book (The Triump of Pierrot; the Commedia dell'Arte and the Modern Imagination by Martin Green and John Swan) ...Seven pages are devoted to discussing Nabokov's use of this theme throughout his work [...] quote: "In Lolita we have a remarkable version of Columbine in the girl herself and in Humbert Humbert we have an equally remarkable combination or alternation of Pierrot and Harlequin. (We also have a showier, more expressionist pairing of Humbert and Quilty as Pierrot and Harlequin.)"

EDNOTE: Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, “Looking at Harlequins: Nabokov, the World of Art, and the Ballets Russes.” Nabokov’s World. Ed. Jane Grayson, Arnold McMillin, and Priscilla Meyer. 2 vols. London: Palgrave, 2002. Volume 2 (Reading Nabokov): 73-95.

JM: Perfect indication, Carolyn. An external source making explicit what seems to have been merely indicated "in between the lines" qua Harlequin and Pierrot. For a clear reference inside the text we also have editor Beth Sweeney's other article, "Ballet Attitudes", Nabokov's Lolita and Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty ( Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, A Case Study, Ed. E. Pifer, 2003, Oxford University Press, pages 121 and 134).
I quote from SES:
"Nabokov's novel alludes to various modes of theatrical production, from pantomime, puppetry, commedia dell'arte, opera and cinema..."; "The title of another book that Humbert brings Lolita, Clowns and Columbine, alludes to two stock characters in classical ballet (242); indeed, Harlequin, Columbine, Pierrot, and Pierrete are the first storybook charaters to greet the newly married prince and princes in the Ballet Russes' 1921 production of The Sleeping Beauty (Beaumont 472)"

My original questions, though, remains: why did Nabokov twice mention the commedia dell' arte as "low Italian comedy"? In this case, Harlequin is not an agile conjurer, but a servant (zanni)*.
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Items about the commedia actors, including a reference to "Gratiano" ( Cf. AL,p 248:Dr. Gratiano Forbeson, Mirandola, NY. Its Italian Comedy connotations), thereby inviting Nabokov's readers to pay attention to servants, faux savants, tumblers and even his recurrent theme concerning cinderella, doves ,ie: columb(a/bines), dove-gray and blue flowers. www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A593589 -

Il Dottore or Gratiano ('The Doctor'): either a doctor or lawyer etc; poorer than the merchant and driven by aspiration to riches...The Doctor is invariably a 'Renaissance man' ...He is frequently portrayed as a 'cuckolded' husband.
Arlecchino ('Harlequin')
The sharpest and wittiest of the Zanni, Harlequin can frequently be a main character in a Commedia plot, or have his own storyline...The name Arlecchino is thought to be derived from the Italian for 'Little Devil5. Normally Harlequin is accompanied by Pedrolino as either a fellow servant or companion...Like Franceschina, Harlequin speaks directly to the audience at times.Harlequin is both hedonistic and insatiable...He forms the head of the eternal triangle with Pedrolino and Columbina. Pedrolino loves Columbina, who in turn loves Harlequin. Harlequin either loves Columbina - but frequently strays - or merely lusts after her.In some troupes, the Harlequin is the typical 'clown' or buffoon whose antics include 'slapstick' routines, visual comedy, 'pratfalls' and other simple comedic forms. In this role Harlequin is invariably hampered by some impediment, whether it is his inability to read and write, or his being a foreigner.. Many Commedia plots rely on Harlequin causing or making an error, which he then spends the entire performance putting to rights...
Pedrolino ('Pierrot')
Typically seen as the straight-man for Harlequin, this image cheapens the character of Pedrolino. Were the world as it should be, Pedrolino would be the 'lover'. Typically Pedrolino would be portrayed as the lowest of the low, either a street urchin, or the youngest son of the family...Good natured if lacking in intelligence, Pedrolino is constantly put down by the other characters, but never sinks for long...The only time Columbina bothers with him is to get him to tell her about Harlequin, or convey a message to him. Buttons from Cinderella, Baldrick from 'Blackadder' and Harpo Marx are all derived from the Pedrolino character.
Columbina ('Columbine')
Usually a maidservant of one of the Vecchi, or a companion to the female Amorata. Columbina's name means 'little dove'. She typically loves, or eventually falls for, Harlequin; she can see through him, but believes she can change him in time. She is flirtatious, spirited yet sensitive, interfering and above all a gossip, nosy and an intriguer. She is essentially lazy and dreamy, but believes she is overworked and indispensable to her master or mistress. Like Franceschina she is promiscuous, but uses her wiles to get information or service, rather than for monetary gain; she draws the lines at actually 'delivering the goods' though.

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