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

Tijana Radeska
Joseph Grimaldi
Joseph Grimaldi

There was a time when the harlequin in the theatre plays, was just just “the fool”, and was never the main character. At least not until Joseph Grimaldi invented the harlequin with the face of what we know today as a clown. He was so successful that the clown became to be the character that the audience was going to the theatres. He is the one who invented the make-up of the clown as we know it today.

Grimaldi as Clown, showing his own make-up design. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Grimaldi as Clown, showing his own make-up design.

Grimaldi’s father taught him to act the characters in the harlequinade since Joseph was three.  His first appearance was at the stage of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre was in 1780, and in 1781 the manager of Drury Lane cast him for the pantomime The Wizard of the Silver Rocks; or, Harlequin’s Release. Sheridan employed dozens of children, including Grimaldi, as extras at Drury Lane.

The interior of Sadler's Wells in 1809. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The interior of Sadler’s Wells in 1809.

Grimaldi played the role of the Little Clown in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin’s Wedding at Drury Lane which was a great success for him personally because the show became so popular among the audience that it had to run for an extended period of time.He became an established juvenile performer at Drury Lane and at the same time, he was a prolific performer at Sadler’s Wells.

Joe's debut into the pit at Sadler's Wells, illustration by George Cruikshank for Dickens's memoirs of Grimaldi. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Joe’s debut into the pit at Sadler’s Wells, illustration by George Cruikshank for Dickens’s memoirs of Grimaldi.

While the Drury Lane Theatre got demolished in 1791 Grimaldi was loaned to the Haymarket Theatre, where performed nxt to the tenor Michael Kelly.

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