Joseph Grimaldi – the man who turned the role of the clown into the main character in the Harlequinades.

Tijana Radeska

“Day after day,” writes Andrew McConnell Stott, “he sat before the mirror, brush in hand, marking his features, wiping them clean, and starting again, until finally, a face emerged from the candlelight that bore a grin so incendiary it refused to be erased.”

Satirical depiction of Giuseppe Grimaldi, 1788. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Satirical depiction of Giuseppe Grimaldi, 1788.

The production was a hit, and the new costume design was copied by others in London. Despite Dubois’ “endless bag of tricks and a vast array of skills”, his performance appeared artificial, in contrast to Grimaldi, who was better able to “draw the audience into believing the essential comedic qualities” of Clown.

Grimaldi with his son, JS, who had a brief pantomime career. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Grimaldi with his son, JS, who had a brief pantomime career.

In 1806 he joined Covent Garden Theatre, where, in the pantomime Harlequin Mother Goose, and again he enjoyed the success of his performance. In this production, he created a new type of clown combining rogue and simpleton, criminal and innocent dupe in one character, a role subsequently adopted by many other English clowns. His whiteface makeup and impudent thievery became the norm for all pantomime clowns (“Joeys”) who came after.

The rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre (later renamed the Royal Opera House) in 1828; Grimaldi started a long collaboration with the theatre in 1806. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre (later renamed the Royal Opera House) in 1828; Grimaldi started a long collaboration with the theater in 1806.

The Times noted in 1813:

“Grimaldi is the most assiduous of all imaginable buffoons and it is absolutely surprising that any human head or hide can resist the rough trials he volunteers. Serious tumbles from serious heights, innumerable kicks, and incessant beatings come on him as matters of common occurrence, and leave him every night fresh and free for the next night’s flagellation.”

Joseph Grimaldi. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Joseph Grimaldi.

In 1816 Grimaldi terminated his relationship with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre but two years later purchased a part interest in it.

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