Pierrot the Clown
Pierrot, is not a clown type but a specific clown character from European Pantomime that is associated with a specific costume and make-up appearance.
What is Pierrot?
Pierrot is a hypocroism of Pierre or Peter, little Petey etc... Pierrot is commonly called a stock character which simply means that Pierrot is typecast to a specific role. Although the Pierrot character was originaly created as a fool for Harlequin, he has evolved through clown history and he is easy to recognize by parody because the character's personality has not changed much over time. Simply put Pierrot or Pierrette, (female), is cast as a youthful naive, (not stupid), downtrodden, romantic. Pierrot is often a prankster, can be acrobatic and proficient at tumbling and is often the butt of pranks.
Postcard Depicting Pierrot and His Companion
Original Pierrot Costuming
The original Pierrot characters did not use makeup. Unlike the Zanni
which consisted of characters such as Harlequin, Columbine, Pulcina and others of his day he would be unmasked. He would powder or flour his face. He would wear a white loose fitting blouse or tunic with large buttons and puffy sleeves. The blouse was often slightly too large resembling a hand-me-down as his character was a young lad from a poor family. Wide white pantaloons. Large sometimes frilly collar. Although the rest of the costume was standard the hat could be a couple different styles. Sometimes the hat would have a close fitting crown with a wide brim, sometimes it would be a cone shaped hat similar to a dunce cap.
The Origin of Pierrot
Remembering that Pierrot is a 'character type' will help to understand that the name is really minor. There are records of what we call "Pierrot" with the name of Piero, Pagliaccio, Gian-Farina, then becoming Pedrolino all in the mid 1500's when the character was being developed. Originaly the Pierrot played only a minor role and may have been just a prelude to the actual performance.
Pedrolino and Pierrot
The Commedia dell'arte (comedy of artists) is responsible for the development and success of what was originaly Piero and then changed to Pedrolino by Giovanni Pellesini who played with a company called Pedrolino in the late 1500's.
It is credited to Giuseppe Giaratone 1639-1697 for making what was known as Pirrotto a minor role to Pierrot as a stock character in the Commedia dell'arte In 1665.
Pierrot in the 19th Century
Jean-Gaspard Deburau (July 31, 1796 – June 17, 1846 is credited for introducing Pierrot into the French Théâtre des Funambules between 1819 and 1825. It is with this introduction that the character undergoes a transformation as well. Deburau brought back to Pierrot some of the force and energy of the earlier Italian version of Pedrolino which had been softened over time. The new Pierrot was more agressive with his acrobatics and less of a pushover although still true to character he was a romantic was comically naive, often a servant, honest and mostly good hearted, occasionaly courageous, clever, and daring.
Pierrot's costume underwent a transformation. The oversized cotton blouse remained the same, however the typical hats of the past were replaced with a black scull cap. Jean also abandoned the frilled collaret.
The Pierrot that was introduced by Jean Debarau was strictly Mime. He used no speach only using his arms and a wide range of facial expresions for his act.
Modern Day Pierrot
During the late 19th century through today the Pierrot character has evolved into a meloncholy dreamer that hides his pain from others except for the lone teardrop below his eye.
His character has had a massive influence in modern day culture to include everything from carnivals, circus, stage, movies, operas, poetry, novels, comicbooks, classical, pop and rock music.