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Although the origins of the Harlequin are obscure there are several theories for how the character came to be.One theory posits that the name is derived from a bird with polychromatic feathers called a Harle Another theory suggest that the name Harlequin is taken from that of a mischievous "devil" or "demon" character in popular French passion plays.

Harlequin inherits his physical agility and his trickster qualities, as well as his name, from a mischievous "devil" character in medieval passion plays.

In the Comèdie itlaienne Arlecchino would parodie French tragedies as well comment on current events.

Duchartre lists the following as variations on the Harlequin role: Trivelino or Trivelin.

The Harlequin is characterized by his chequered costume.

His role is that of a light-hearted, nimble, and astute servant, often acting to thwart the plans of his master, and pursuing his own love interest, Columbina, with wit and resourcefulness, often competing with the sterner and melancholic Pierrot.

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