Send in the clowns: Scaramucci


When I saw the addition of Anthony Scaramucci to the cast of characters already playing at the White House I was dumfounded. This guy is his name. He is a stock character from the history of performing arts going back to the 16th century. He is the personification of his name!

Trump is truly running a Reality TV Show in the White House, but the most recent addition to his cast is an archetypical character with a long history. Commedia dell’arte in Italy and France was a popular performing art style with companies that traveled from city to city performing stock stories using stock characters each having a stock of “bits” associated with their character known as “lazzi”. We still use these characters today such as “Harlequin” and “Pantalone,” but Scaramouche is the same name you hear in Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. It is still a familiar character ‘type.’

The stock character from Commedia dell’arte with the name Scaramouche (with guitar above) is known for certain traits. Scaramuccia, or Scaramouch are other spellings of the character’s name which means “little skirmisher.” His character evolved out of Commedia’s ‘Braggart Soldier’ character known as “Capitano” and is a stock ‘clown’ character as well as a ‘masked henchman’ and sometimes a ‘servant.’ He is portrayed as sly, adroit, supple, and conceited. This character migrated over time from Comedia into the Punch and Judy puppet shows. Punch would regularly punch Scaramouche’s pet dog so the dog puppet’s head could come springing off his body.

The purpose of the “fool” or “clown” character archetype in storytelling has evolved out of older Commedia traditions into a character who provides a foil for the actions or comments of the protagonist or other powerful characters in the story. The king has his jester who is vulnerable to abuse but often provides depth and understanding due to his presumed inferior position. The Shakespearian character ‘Bottom’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is even named for his lowly status. The clown called Feste in Twelfth Night is one of my favorites. He sings this mockingly somber ode to encourage sexual promiscuity amongst the youth:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;

Present mirth hath present laughter;

What’s to come is still unsure:

In delay there lies no plenty;

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

The drunken companions he sings to respond:

SIR ANDREW

A mellifluous voice, as I am true knight.

SIR TOBY BELCH

A contagious breath.

SIR ANDREW

Very sweet and contagious, i’ faith.

What is a contagious breath? It is meant to be funny because the fool’s song is a woeful tune with lyrics ignored by the characters listening to the song. The meaning is masked by the style of delivery, but the audience gets it. Who is the real fool here?

Shakespeare made use of historical character types and improved their use in storytelling, they may still seem to be the stock ‘type’ at first but he makes them deeper and more fully realized. This evolutionary advancement of character in storytelling continues to this day. Unfortunately, Trump is playing to the Commedia-Style Reality TV audience who want simple, easy to understand, stock types without subtlety. Anthony Scaramucci is the contemporary blunt character modeled upon his sly, conceited, historical character’s theatrical name. 

By casting his office with ‘types’ instead of professionals Trump shows us a warped agenda. He was upset that Reince Priebus didn’t fight back. He wants a show, man, send in the clowns! Make them laugh, make them gasp, but be sure to distract. The meaning is supposed to be masked by the style of delivery, and the audience is not supposed to get it this time. ‘Dis ain’t no Shakspeer yous know.’

I question the intelligence behind the deception. Sure, the show is being ingeniously cast, toward what end we aren’t told. Stock shtick gets tiresome quickly and it certainly is not the way to lead a country. The novelty of a foul-mouthed clown is short lived; expect it to get real ugly real soon.

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