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The zanni were trickster-servant characters who began appearing in the Commedia dell'arte in the 14th century. The name was a Venetian variant of “Gianni,” a common name for the men from the Lombard-Venetian countryside who became servants to wealthy nobles and merchants in Venezia. As the genre evolved, the generic zanni became more specialized as Beltrame, Brighella, Pulcinella, Mezzettino, Truffaldino, Scapino-Mescolino, Scaramuccia, Pedrolino, Giangurgolo, Tartaglia, Trappolino, Burratino, and Arlecchino, each representing a different stereotype and marked by distinctive costumery, props, voices, and actions. A typical scenario had to have at least two zanni, il furbo ("the clever") and lo stupido (the stupid”), including Arlecchino (Harlequin), a light-hearted acrobat who wore checkered clothing. The character may have been created by Zan Ganassa in the late 16th century, an actor-manager whose company was one of the first to tour outside Italy, but Tristano Martinelli was probably the first to use the name Arlequin while working in Paris in 1584–1585; the name came from Herlequin, a devil in popular French passion plays beginning as early as the 11th century. Later, when the character became a stock figure in France, he was called Arlequin. Early in the 17th century, Harlequin went to England, where, a century later, John Rich developed the Harlequinade as a slapstick pantomime adaptation of the Commedia dell'arte that was comic close to a serious presentation with operatic and balletic elements. Instead of being a rogue, as in the Commedia, Harlequin became the central figure and romantic lead.
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