Word Origin & History
1590, from M.Fr. harlequin, from O.Fr. Herlequin, Hellequin, etc., leader of la maisnie Hellequin, a troop of demons who rode the night air on horses. He corresponds to O.E. Herla cyning "King Herla," mythical character sometimes identified as Woden; possibly also the same as the Ger. Erlkönig "Elf
King" of the Goethe poem. Sometimes also associated with Herrequin, 9c. count of Boulogne, who was proverbially wicked. In Eng. pantomime, a mute character who carries a magic wand. His It. form, arlecchino, is one of the stock characters of commedia del'arte. From his ludicrous dress comes the Eng. meaning "particolored" (1779).