This paper aims to explain the features and uniqueness of Harlequin (Arlequin) in Lesage’s 1713 fair theater: Arlequin, roi de Serendib, performed at the fair St. Germain; Arlequin Thétis, performed at the fair St Laurent; and Arlequin invisible, performed at the fair St. Laurent.
During the early eighteenth-century, performances at the fairs of Paris were very popular. The Commedia dell’arte’s characters, especially Harlequin, took center stage in these performances. When Lesage wrote these three plays, speaking parts were prohibited on stage at fairs. Under these circumstances Lesage presented silent drama in which the audience sings the words that should be said by actors. So, in three plays written in this form, the corporality is particularly emphasized, and it is Harlequin that has a particularly important role. Traditionally, the body language is one of the most important elements of this character; furthermore, in this period, Harlequin’s image, nature, and gestures are shared by the audience: common codes function during performance. By using effectively Harlequin’s well-known character and gestures, Lesage tries to create his own silent drama in a difficult and particular condition for playwrights.
In Lesage’s three works, Harlequin moves around freely in a fantasy world influenced by Italian comedy performed in seventeenth-century Paris. Traditional features of this character (gluttony, greed, lust for women) are adroitly integrated into each story. In all cases, Lesage’s Harlequin concentrates on mimes each action, because he cannot say anything meaningful on stage: In this situation, the audience concentrates intensely on his mimic function. By combining the well-known commedia gestures (lazzi) and traditional plot features of Harlequin, Lesage creates his own world, which pivots on corporality.
In the official theater of eighteenth-century France, Harlequin becomes more “human,” but Lesage’s works demonstrate that this character appears differently at the fair because of his use of body language. Lesage’s attempt in his early career has not been considered outstanding work when compared to form his opéra-comiques later in the century. Yet his early works are important from the perspective of the development of body language and pantomime—important features of later eighteenth-century drama. His experiment in this particular theatrical form is only temporary, yet his efforts influence later popular theater, and especially nineteenth-century theater in France. Lesage’ss Harlequin only appears at “non-official” places, but he still plays an important role in the history of French theater.
Caryl Churchill’s collaborative work A Mouthful of Birds is regarded as a significant effort on the representation of gender. The play, which is based on Euripides’ The Bacchae, exhibits transgressive androgynous bodies illustrated in the figure of Dionysus or Herculine Barbin through effective choreography. After the play debuted in 1986, it inspired academic research on the representation of the gender-bending body. Further, critics such as Elin Diamond and Janelle Reinelt have been particularly enthusiastic in their praise of the play and its representation. However, this perspective cannot be applied to certain parts of the play where the female characters suffer. Based on an issue raised in previous studies, the essay attempts to explore A Mouthful of Birds through the perspective of theatrical self-awareness, given that the process of possession, which enables the characters to change, holds various implications on theatrical representations.
In the play, seven characters living in modern Britain are suddenly possessed by spirits or impulses, and they are simultaneously possessed by characters from The Bacchae, including Pentheus or Agave. Through an analysis of possessions at these two different levels, this essay aims to examine how the dynamics of representation occurs in the play. At The Bacchae level, possessions display two contrasting qualities of representation. The possession by Pentheus demonstrates the process of becoming a character. Meanwhile, the possession by Agave and the Bacchae displays the violent power of the body that is not reduced to signs. However, these antagonistic relations of representation are not designed to show binary opposition via complex operations. Meanwhile, transforming into another person/form and being dominated by forcible powers are also explored in the possession of the seven characters living in modern Britain.
As in the possession of characters in The Bacchae, a variety of power relations such as that between subjects and objects, or the interior and the exterior, are investigated by juxtaposing seven different types of possessions, respectively. By depicting various possessions, which uncover the premised binary of the paradigm of recognition, such as the interior and the exterior, the playwrights intended to destabilize the framework of representation. Consequently, any attempt to deliver a fixed evaluation of the play inevitably fails.
In conclusion, the essay argues that the play offers a significant investigation of the complex dynamics of theatrical representation.