From Pedrolino to a Pierrot: The Origin, Ancestry and Ambivalence of the British Pierrot Troupe

Dave Calvert


In this article, I consider the British development of the seaside Pierrot troupe, arguing that its construction is consistent with the notion of invented tradition, and the associated concerns with identity and nationality. Tracing the history of the character from its origins as Pedrolino in the commedia dell’arte, the article considers the traditional and novel elements of the British form. This also allows a brief account of the origin and aesthetics of the British tradition.

In reflecting on the synthesis of the archaic and contemporary dimensions of the form, I propose that the new structure constructs an ambivalent class of character. The composition of both troupes and audiences is drawn from across the range of social strata. Through its collectivity and its treatment of contemporary social themes, I argue the British Pierrot troupe approaches and negotiates questions of a cultural and national identity in the late Victorian period.

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