Stories We Like: Novels For Language Lovers
1660s, name of a cowardly braggart (supposed by some to represent a Spanish don) in traditional Italian comedy, from Italian Scaramuccia, literally "skirmish," from schermire "to fence," from a Germanic source (cf. Old High German skirmen "defend"); see skirmish (n.). According to OED, a vogue word in late 17c. London due to the popularity of Italian actor Tiberio Fiurelli (1608-1694) in the part.
stock character of the Italian theatrical form known as the commedia dell'arte; an unscrupulous and unreliable servant. His affinity for intrigue often landed him in difficult situations, yet he always managed to extricate himself, usually leaving an innocent bystander as his victim. Scaramouche was originally a variation of the commedia character Capitano, a braggart soldier. The role was closely associated with the Italian actor Tiberio Fiorillo (1608-94), who played without a mask. He transformed the military role to that of a comic servant, usually an indigent gentleman's valet. His costume was black breeches, jacket, cloak, and beret.