Previous posts about the traditional carnival masks have referred to characters from the commedia dell’arte, the theatrical tradition that goes back to 16th century Italy. Of those principal characters, two can be categorised as clowns; Harlequin and Pierrot, the latter being the template for the whiteface clown who in circus troops took the role of leader and straightman.
I use the past tense because clowns seems to be a dying breed, perhaps as our love of circuses has been killed off by a combination of alternative entertainments and a distate for those involving animals.
When I was young I never liked the whiteface. They were always pompous and serious, and because they didn’t make me laugh I failed to see that they had an important role in the overall performance. These were the guys who were a bit scary.
Of course in the decades that have passed since even the traditionally funny red-nosed clown has been subverted. Stephen King’s It, Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons, and Ross Noble’s eponymous ghost clown in Stitches are just some examples.
So when I looked at this Pierrot mask I wondered at the black lines drawn upon its face. My first thought was that they might represent scars or wounds, and I couldn’t come up with an alternative explanation. Is that because we associate clowns with evil more than laughter now?