The Dadaists’ play with the harlequin motif was not unintentional. Besides its theatrical roots in the commedia dell’arte, the harlequin was enacted as a double-faced and black-and-white-coloured figure. Furthermore, the harlequin is a hybrid figure, not only by mask and costume, but also by gender. In Arlequin Lingére du Palais (Harlequin the Linen Vendor 1682, Gherardi), he fights him-/herself as a female and male character, a scene that combines both comedic cross-dressing with the myth of the hermaphrodite. Out of all commedia dell’arte figures, the harlequin is, nevertheless, the most constant and symbolic character: “Beyond what was normal and known, Harlequin became the symbol of life in its most mysterious essence. His plebeian origins and magical power blended to make of him the élan vital that lifts man beyond that of the animals … he represents the sublime, the unattainable … The world had no bounds for him, time no limits.” (Niklaus 186)
Therefore it becomes easily understandable why Michel Serres, in his Tiers-Instruit also chose the figure of the harlequin as allegory for a perfect hybrid. For Serres, the figure reflects different origins, wears multiple cloaks, and his skin is tattooed and consists of multiple pigmentations. [...] When asked for proof, he strips off his multicoloured coat. But instead of seeing him naked, the audience discovers that he wears multiple cloaks, and that his flesh is as multi-layered as an onion:
The Harlequin is multiple and diverse, undulating and plural … Harlequin is a hermaphrodite, a mixed body, male and female … Monster? A sphinx, beast and girl; centaur, male and horse; unicorn, chimera, composite and mixed-bodied … But above all, when the skin and flesh appeared, the whole world discovered his mixed origin: mulatto, half-caste, Eurasian, hybrid in general, and on what grounds? Quadroon, octoroon? And if he was not playing the king, even as comedy, one would have the urge to say bastard or mongrel, crossbreed. Mixed blood, mestizo or mestiza, diluted.
Harlequin symbolizes the space in-between cultures and times, and as such embodies nobody and everybody. His patchy robe becomes a metaphor for hybridity.
– Markus Hallensleben, “To be educated is to become a Harlequin”: Cross-Skinning as Carnivalesque Hybridity in Michel Serres, Hannah Höch’s Dada, and Orlan’s Body Art