s Harlequin Design Candle Doubters - Hull Museums Collections

Harlequin Design Candle Doubters

Detail of candle doubter

Don't Doubt the Doubter!

The pair of candle doubters is in the form of a 'harlequin' figure who is wearing a chequered diamond-patterned costume, hat and mask and is holding two rings in the form of snakes. The doubters operate in the same way as scissors with the two rings acting as finger holes. The tool is a 'doubter' rather than a 'snuffer', as it extinguishes the flame by nipping the wick rather than depriving the flame of oxygen by covering. The 'harlequin' design was very popular and was still in production by other makers over a century later.

History of the Harlequin

Harlequin candle doubters

The Harlequin is a fictional character dating back to the Middle Ages and can be found in stories from across Europe. In Italy, Harlequin was one of the characters in stories performed by 'Commedia Dell' Arte' troupes of the sixteenth century. His role in these stories was that of a 'Zanni' or servant and often the storyline centres around him making a mistake that he then has to put right, whilst in the meantime causing confusion and disruption. He also carries a slapstick which he uses on other characters in the storyline!

Harlequin also appeared in medieval French Miracle Plays as 'Hellequin', where he was a messenger of the devil. He was depicted as coming from the centre of the earth and hence had his face blackened. His character took on different guises. Sometimes he played a typical 'clown' role, whilst at other times his purpose was to mimic characters from more 'serious' plays.

He was almost always depicted as being agile, energetic and nimble and so was often played by acrobats. He was often portrayed as a good-natured rogue, a thief, a liar and a prankster, but also had the endearing characteristics of being witty and carefree. Through the centuries the original costume and personality of the harlequin has been adopted for court jester and circus clown characters. The figure that is depicted in the candle doubters is probably an amalgamation of earlier and later characters as he is wearing the garb of the Italian 'Commedia' stories figure, but also is carrying snake rings which may indicate a circus act.

The item forms part of a larger collection of various mainly eighteenth century sugar tongs and other candle doubters.