What is a Harlequin in “The Tale of Two Cities”?

Updated 21 March, 2023
In "The Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens, Harlequin is not a character but a type of costume. Harlequin is a character from Italian commedia dell'arte, known for his distinctive costume, which includes a mask, checkered clothing, and a pointed hat with bells. In the novel, a group of French revolutionaries disguise themselves as Harlequins while storming the Bastille. This is a symbolic reference to the Italian Harlequin, representing the festive and anarchic elements of the revolution.
Detailed answer:

In "The Tale of Two Cities," the character known as the Harlequin is an enigmatic figure who appears several times throughout the novel. He is described as wearing a mask and colorful clothing, which is typical of the traditional Harlequin costume in Italian commedia dell'arte. However, it is uncertain whether the Harlequin is an actual person or a symbol representing a certain idea or group of people.

The first time the Harlequin is mentioned is in Book the Second, Chapter Fifteen, where he is seen observing the funeral procession of Roger Cly, a man who was supposedly murdered by Sydney Carton. Later in the novel, the Harlequin appears again in a scene where he is part of a mob of revolutionaries who storm the Bastille.

The Harlequin's presence in these scenes is significant because it serves as a reminder of the complex political and social forces at play during the French Revolution. The character's mask and costume suggest that he is part of a larger group of people who are similarly hidden or disguised, possibly representing the lower classes who were rising up against the oppressive aristocracy.

Moreover, the Harlequin's appearance at Cly's funeral underscores the idea that justice and truth are elusive concepts during times of political upheaval. The Harlequin's presence in the scene seems to suggest that there are forces at work beyond what is immediately visible, and that the true motives behind Cly's murder may never be fully revealed.

In conclusion, the Harlequin is a fascinating and mysterious character in "The Tale of Two Cities" who represents the complex political and social forces at work during the French Revolution. His appearance at key moments in the novel serves as a reminder of the hidden nature of truth and justice during times of upheaval, and the struggles of the lower classes against the oppressive aristocracy.

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