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PANTOMIME

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 686 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PANTOMIME, a term which has been employed in different senses at different times in the history of the drama. Of the Roman pantomimus, a spectacular kind of play in which the functions of the actor were confined to gesticulation and dancing, while occasional music was sung by a chorus or behind the scenes, some account is given under DRAMA. In Roman usage the term was applied both to the actor of this kind of play and to the play itself; less logically, we also use the term to signify the method of the actor when confined to gesticulation, Historically speaking, so far as the Western drama is concerned there is no intrinsic difference between the Roman pantomimus and the modern " ballet of action," except that the latter is accompanied by instrumental music only, and that the personages appearing in it are not usually masked. The English " dumb-show," though fulfilling a special purpose of its own, was likewise in the true sense of the word pantomimic. The modern pantomime, as the word is still used, more especially in connexion with the English stage, signifies a dramatic entertainment in which the action is carried on with the help of spectacle, music and dancing, and in which the performance of at action or of its adjuncts is conducted by certain conventional characters, originally derived from Italian "masked comedy," itself an adaptation of the fabulae Atellanae of ancient Italy. Were it not for this addition, it would be difficult to define modern pantomime so as to distinguish it from the masque; and the least rational of English dramatic species would have to be regarded as essentially identical with another to which English literature owes some of its choicest fruit. The contributory elements which modern pantomime contains very speedily, though in varying proportions and manifold combinations, introduced themselves into the modern drama as it had been called into life by the Renaissance. In Italy the transition was almost imperceptible from the pastoral drama to the opera; on the Spanish stage ballets with allegorical figures and military spectacles were known towards the close of the 16th century; in France ballets were introduced in the days of Marie de' Medici, and the popularity of the opera was fully established in the earlier part of the reign of Louis XIV. The history of these elements need not be pursued here, but there is a special ingredient in modern pantomime of which something more has to be said. From the latter part of the 16th century (Henry III. in 1596, sought to divert the dreaded states-general at Blois by means of the celebrated Italian company of the Gelosi) professional Italian comedy (commedia dell' arte, called commedia all' improviso only because of the skill with which the schemes of its plays were filled up by improvisation) had found its way to Paris with its merry company of characters, partly corresponding to the favourite types of regular comedy both ancient and modern, but largely borrowed from the new species of masked comedy—so called from its action being carried on by certain typical figures in masks—said to have been invented earlier in the same century by Angelo Beolco (Ruzzante) of Padua. These types, local in origin, included Pantalooe the Venetian merchant, who survives in the uncommercial Pantaloon, the Bolognese Dottore. The Zannis (Giovannis) were the domestic servants in this species of comedy, and included among other varieties the Arlecchino. This is by far the most interesting of these types, and by far the best discussed. The Arlecchino was formerly supposed to have been, like the rest, of Italian origin. The very remarkable contribution (cited below) of Dr Otto Driesen to the literature of folk-lore as well as to that of the stage seems however to establish the conclusion (to which earlier conjectures pointed) that the word Harlequin or Herlequin is of French origin, and that the dramatic figure of Harlequin is an evolution from the popular tradition of the harlekin-folk, mentioned about the end of the 1th century by the Norman Ordericus Vitalis. The " damned souls " of legend became the comic demons of later centuries, the croque-sots with the devil's mask; they left the impress of their likeness on the hell-mouth of the religious drama, but were gradually humanized as a favourite type of the Parisian popular street-masques (charivaris) of the 14th and 15th centuries. Italian literature contains only a single passage before the end of the 16th century which can be brought into any connexion with this type—the alichino (cat's back) of canto xxi. of the Inferno. The French harlequin was, however, easily adopted into the family of Italian comedy, where he may, like his costume,' have been associated with early national traditions, and where he continued to diverge from his fellow Zannis of the stolid sort, the Sea pin of French comedy-farce. From the time of the performances in France of the celebrated Fedeli company, which played there at intervals from the beginning to the middle of the 17th century onwards, performing in a court ballet in 1636, Tristran Martinelli had been its harlequin, and the character thus preceded that of the Parisian favourite Trivelin, whose name Cardinal de Retz was fond of applying to Cardinal Mazarin. There can be no pretence here of pursuing the French harlequin through his later developments in the various species of the comic drama, including that of the marionettes, or of examining the history of his supersession by Pierrot and of his ultimate extinction. Students of French comedy, and of Moliere in particular, are aware of the influence of the Italian players upon the progress of French comedy, and upon the works of its incomparable master. In other countries, where the favourite types of Italian popular comedy had- been less generally seen or were unknown, popular comic figures such as the English fools and clowns, the German Hanswurst, or the Dutch Pickelhering, were ready to renew themselves in any and every fashion which preserved to them the gross salt favoured by their patrons. Indeed, in Germany, where the term pantomime was not used, a rude form of dramatic buffoonery, corresponding to the coarser sides of the modern English species so-called, long flourished, and threw back for centuries the progress of the regular drama. The banishment of Hanswurst from the German stage was formally proclaimed by the famous actress Caroline Neuber at Leipzig in a play composed for the purpose in 1737. After being at last suppressed, it found a commendable substitute in the modern Zauber posse, the more genial Vienna counterpart of the Paris feerie and the modern English extravaganza. In England, where the masque was only quite exceptionally revived after the Restoration, the love of spectacle and other frivolous allurements was at first mainly met by the various forms of dramatic entertainment which went by the name of " opera." In the preface to Albion and Albanius (1685), Dryden gives a definition of opera which would fairly apply to modern extravaganza, or to modern pantomime with the harlequinad' ' The traditional costume of the ancient Roman mimi included the centunculus or variegated (harlequin's) jacket, the shaven head, the sooty face and the unshod feet. left out. Character-dancing was, however, at the same time largely introduced into regular comedy; and, as the theatres vied with one another in seeking quocunque modo to gain the favour of the public, the English stage was fully prepared for the innovation which awaited it. Curiously enough, the long-lived but cumbrous growth called pantomime in England owes its immediate origin to the beginnings of a dramatic species which has artistically furnished congenial delight to nearly two centuries of Frenchmen. Of the early history of vaudeville it must here suffice to say that the unprivileged actors, at the fairs, who had borrowed some of the favourite character-types of Italian popular comedy, after eluding prohibitions against the use by them of dialogue and song, were at last allowed to set up a comic opera of their own. About the second quarter of the 18th century, before these performers were incorporated with the Italians, the light kind of dramatic entertainment combining pantomime proper with dialogue and song enjoyed high favour with the French and their visitors during this period of peace. The vaudeville was cultivated by Le Sage and other writers of mark,. though it did not conquer an enduring place in dramatic literature till rather later, when it had, moreover, been completely nationalized by the extension of the Italian types. It was this popular species of entertainment which, under the name of pantomime, was transplanted to England before in France it had attained to any fixed form, or could claim for its productions any place in dramatic literature. Colley Cibber mentions as the first example, followed by " that Succession of monstrous Medlies," a piece on the story of Mars and Venus, which was still in dumb-show; for he describes it as " form'd into a connected Presentation of Dances in Character, wherein the Passions were so happily expressed, and the whole Story so intelligibly told, by a mute Narration of Gesture only, that even thinking Spectators allow'd it both a pleasing and a rational Entertainment." There is nothing to show that Harlequin and his companions figured in this piece. Genest, who has no record of it, dates the period when such entertainments first came into vogue in England about 1723. In that year the pantomime of Harlequin Dr Faustus had been produced at Drury Lane—its author being John Thurmond, a dancing master, who afterwards (in 1727) published a grotesque entertainment called The Miser, ar Wagner and Abericock (a copy of this is in the Dyce Library). Hereupon, in December 1723, John Rich (1692-1761), then lessee of the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, produced there as a rival pantomime The Necromancer, or History of Dr Faustus, no doubt, says Genest, " gotten up with superior splendour." He had as early as 1717 been connected with the production of a piece called Harlequin Executed, and there seem traces of similar entertainments as far back as the year 1700. But it was the inspiriting influence of French example and the keen rivalry between the London houses, which in 1723 really established pantomime on the English stage. Rich was at the time fighting a difficult battle against Drury Lane, and his pantomimes at Lincoln's Inn Fields, and afterwards at Covent Garden, were extraordinarily successful. He was himself an inimitable harlequin, and from Garrick's lines in his honour it appears that his acting consisted of " frolic gestures " without words. The favourite Drury Lane harlequin was Pinkethman (Pope's " poor Pinky ") ; readers of the Taller (No. 188) will remember the ironical nicety with which his merits are weighed against those of his competitor Bullock at the other house. Colley Cibber, when described by Pope as " mounting the wind on grinning dragons " briskly denied having in his own person or otherwise encouraged such fooleries; in his Apology, however, he enters into an elaborate defence of himself for having allowed himself to be forced into countenancing the " gin-shops of the stage," pleading that he was justified by necessity, as Henry IV. was in changing his religion. Another butt of Pope's, Lewis Theobald, was himself the author of more than one pantomime; their titles already run in the familiar fashion, e.g. A Dramatick Entertainment, call'd Harlequin a Sorcerer, with the Loves of Pluto and Proserpine (1725; the " book of the words," as it may be called, is in the Dyce Library). Inanother early pantomime (also in the Dyce Library) called Perseus and Andromeda, with the Rape of Colombine, or The Flying. Lovers, there are five " interludes, three serious and two comic." This is precisely in the manner of Fielding's dramatic squib against pantomimes, Tumble-down Dick, or Phaeton' in the Suds, first acted in 1744, and ironically dedicated to " Mr John Lun," the name that Rich chose to assume as harlequin. It is a capital bit of burlesque, which seems to have been directly suggested by Pritchard's Fall of Phaeton, produced in 1736. There seems no need to pursue further the history of English pantomime in detail. " Things of this nature are above criticism," as Mr Machine, the " composer " of Phaeton, says in Fielding's piece. The attempt was made more than once to free the stage from the incubus of entertainments to which the public persisted in flocking; in vain Colley Cibber at first laid down the rule of never giving a pantomime together with a good play; in vain his son Theophilus after him advised the return of part of the entrance money to those who would leave the house before the pantomime began. " It may be questioned," says the chronicler, " if there was a demand for the return of 20 in ten years." Pantomime carried everything before it when there were several theatres in London, and a dearth of high dramatic talent prevailed in all; and, allowing for occasional counter-attractions of a not very dissimilar nature, pantomime continued to flourish after the Licensing Act of 1737 had restricted the number of London play-houses, and after Garrick's star had risen on the theatrical horizon. He was himself obliged to satisfy the public appetite, and to disoblige the admirers of his art, in deference to the drama's most imperious patrons—the public at large. In France an attempt was made by Noverre (q.v.) to restore pantomime proper to the stage as an independent species, by treating mythological subjects seriously in artificial ballets. This attempt, which of course could not prove permanently successful, met in England also with great applause. In an anonymous tract of the year 1789 in the Dyce Library, attributed by Dyce to Archdeacon Nares (the author of the Glossary), Noverre's pantomime or ballet Cupid and Psyche is commended as of very extraordinary merit in the choice and execution of the subject. It seems to have been without words. The writer of the tract states that " very lately the serious pantomime has made a new advance in this country, and has gained establishment in an English theatre "; but he leaves it an open question whether the grand ballet of Medea and Jason (apparently produced a few years earlier, for a burlesque on the subject came out in 178r)was the first complete performance of the kind produced in England. He also notes The Death of Captain Cook, adapted from the Parisian stage, as possessing considerable dramatic merit, and exhibiting " a pleasing picture of savage customs and manners." To conclude, the chief difference between the earlier and later forms of English pantomime seems to lie in the fact that in the earlier Harlequin pervaded the action, appearing in the comic scenes which alternated throughout the piece with the serious which formed the backbone of the story. Columbine (originally in Italian comedy Harlequin's daughter) was generally a village maiden courted by her adventurous lover, whom village con-stables pursued, thus performing the laborious part of the police-man of the modern harlequinade. The brilliant scenic effects were of course accumulated, instead of upon the transformation scene, upon the last scene of all, which in modern pantomime follows upon the shadowy chase of the characters called the rally. The commanding influence of the clown, to whom pantaloon is attached as friend; flatterer and foil, seems to be of comparatively modern growth; the most famous of his craft was undoubtedly Joseph Grimaldi (1779-1837). His memory is above all connected with the famous pantomime of Mother Goose, produced at Covent Garden in ,8o6. The older British type of Christmas pantomime, which kept its place in London till the 'seventies, has been preserved from oblivion in Thackeray's Sketches and Travels in London. The species is not yetwholly extinct; but, by degrees, the rise of the music-halls and the popularity of a new type of music-hall performer influenced the character of the show which was given under the name of a Christmas pantomime at the theatres, and it became more of a burlesque " variety entertainment," dovetailed into a fairy play and with the" harlequinade " part (which had formed the closing scene of the older sort) sometimes omitted. The word had really lost its meaning. The thing itself survived rather in such occasional appearances of the Pierrot " drama without words as charmed London playgoers in the early 'nineties in such pieces as L'Enfant prodigue. (A. W. W.)
End of Article: PANTOMIME
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