A HISTORY OF PANTOMIME
R. J. BROADBENT
Author of "STAGE WHISPERS," etc.
WILLIAM WADE, ESQUIRE.
This book is dedicated as a small token of the Author's esteem and regard.
One of the most important factors in the making of Theatrical History has been that of Pantomime, yet in many of the published works dealing with the History of the Stage it has, with the exception of a passing reference here and there, been much neglected.
It is with a view of conveying to the reading public some little, and, perhaps, new information about this ancient form of entertainment that I am tempted to issue this History of Pantomime in the hope and belief that it may not only prove interesting, but also instructive, to all lovers of the Stage.
Liverpool, December, 1901.
Origin of Pantomime
Origin of Tragedy and Comedy—Mythology—The meaning of the word Pantomime—The origin of Harlequin, Columbine, Clown, and Pantaloon—Grecian Mythology—Transformation Scenes—The rise of Grecian Tragedy and Comedy—The Satirical Drama
The origin of the Indian Drama—Aryan Mythology—Clown and Columbine—Origin of the Chinese Drama—Inception of the Japanese Drama—The Siamese Drama—Dramatic performances of the South Sea Islanders, Peruvians, Aztecs, Zulus, and Fijis—The Egyptian Drama
"Dancing," i.e. Pantomime—Grecian Dancing and Pantomimic Scenes—Aristotle—Homer—Dances common to both Greeks and Romans
Thespis—The Progress of Tragedy and Comedy—Aeschylus—The Epopee—Homer—Sophocles—Euripides—Grecian Mimes—The First Athenian Theatre—Scenery and Effects
Roman Theatres—Description—"Deadheads"—Pantomime in Italy—Livius Andronicus—Fabulae Atellanae—Extemporal Comedy—Origin of the Masque, Opera, and Vaudeville—Origin of the term Histrionic—Etruscans—Popularity of Pantomime in Italy—Pantomimists banished by Trajan—Nero as a Mime—Pylades and Bathyllus—Subjects chosen for the Roman Pantomimes—The Ballet—The Mimi and Pantomimi—Archimimus—Vespasian—Harlequin—"Mr. Punch"—Zany, how the word originated—Ancient Masks—Lucian, Cassiodorus, and Demetrius in praise of Pantomime—A celebrated Mima—Pantomimes denounced by early writers—The purity of the English stage contrasted with that of the Grecian and Roman—Female parts on the Grecian and Roman stages—The principal Roman Mimas—The origin of the Clown of the early English Drama
Introduction of the Roman Pantomimic Art into Britain—First English reference to the word Pantomime—The fall of the Roman Empire—The sacred play—Cornish Amphitheatres—Pantomimical and Lyrical elements in the sacrifice of the Mass—Christian banishment of the Mimis—Penalties imposed by the Church—St. Anthony on Harlequin and Punch—Vandenhoff—what we owe to the Mimis
Pantomime in the English Mystery or Miracle Plays and Pageants—A retrospect of the Early Drama—Mysteries on Biblical events—Chester, Coventry, York, and Towneley Mystery Plays—Plays in Churches—Traces of the Mystery Play in England in the Nineteenth Century—Mystery Plays on the Continent—The Chester series of Plays—The Devil or Clown and the Exodiarii and Emboliariae of the Ancient Mimes
The Clown or Fool of the early English Drama—Moralities—The Interlude—The rise of English Tragedy and Comedy—"Dumb Shews" in the Old Plays—Plays suppressed by Elizabeth—A retrospect
The Italian Masque—The Masque in England—First appearance in this country of Harlequin—Joe Haines as Harlequin—Marlowe's "Faustus"—A Curious Play—The Italian Harlequin—Colley Cibber, Penkethman—Shakespeare's Burlesques of the Masque—Decline of the Masque
Italian Pantomime—Riccoboni—Broom's "Antipodes"—Gherardi—Extemporal Comedies—Salvator Rosa—Impromptu Acting
Pantomimical Characters—Neapolitan Pantomime—The Harlequin Family—The Original Characters in the Italian Pantomimes—Celebrated Harlequins—Italian and French Harlequins—A French view of the English Clown—Pierrots' origin—Pantaloon, how the name has been derived—Columbine—Marionette and Puppet Shows
Italian Scenarios and English "Platts"—Pantaloon—Tarleton, the Clown—Extemporal Comedy—The Poet Milton—Ben Jonson—The Commonwealth—"A Reign of Dramatic Terror"—Robert Cox and his "Humours" and "Drolleries"—The Restoration
Introduction of Pantomimes to the English Stage—Weaver's "History of the Mimes and Pantomimes"—Weaver's Pantomimes—The prejudice against Pantomimes—Booth's counsel
John Rich and his Pantomimes—Rich's Miming—Garrick, Walpole, Foote—Anecdotes of Rich—Pope—The dance of internals in "Harlequin Sorcerer"—Drury Lane—Colley Cibber—Henry Fielding, the Novelist—Contemporary Writers' opinion of Pantomime—Woodward, the Harlequin—The meaning of the word Actor—Harlequins—"Dr. Faustus," a description—William Rufus Chetwood—Accidents—Vandermere, the Harlequin—"Orpheus and Eurydice" at Covent Garden—A description—Sam. Hoole, the machinist—Prejudice against Pantomime—Mrs. Oldfield—Robert Wilks—Macklin—Riot at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre—Death of Rich
Plots of the old form of Pantomimes—A description of "Harlequin and the Ogress; or the Sleeping Beauty of the Wood," produced at Covent Garden—Grimaldi, Pere et Fils—Tom Ellar, the Harlequin, and Barnes, the Pantaloon—An account of the first production of the "House that Jack built," at Covent Garden—Spectacular display—Antiquity and Origin of some Pantomimic devices—Devoto, Angelo, and French, the Scenic Artists—Transparencies—Beverley—Transformation Scenes
Pantomimic Families—Giuseppe Grimaldi—James Byrne, the Harlequin and Inventor of the modern Harlequin's dress—Joseph Grimaldi, Junior—The Bologna Family—Tom Ellar—The Ridgways—The Bradburys—The Montgomerys—The Paynes—The Marshalls—Charles and Richard Stilt—Richard Flexmore—Tom Gray—The Paulos—Dubois—Arthur and Charles Leclerq—"Jimmy" Barnes—Famous Pantaloons—Miss Farren—Mrs. Siddons—Columbines—Notable Actors in Pantomime
Popular Pantomime subjects—Poor Pantomime Librettos—Pantomime subjects of our progenitors—The various versions of "Aladdin"—"The Babes in the Wood"—"Blue Beard"—"Beauty and the Beast"—"Cinderella"—"Dick Whittington"—"The House that Jack Built"—"Jack the Giant Killer"—"Jack and the Beanstalk"—"Red Riding-Hood"—"The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood"—Unlucky subjects—"Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"—"The Fair One with Golden Locks"—The source of "Sindbad the Sailor" and "Robinson Crusoe"
Pantomime in America
Pantomimes made more attractive—The Restrictive Policy of the Patent Houses—"Mother Goose" and "George Barnwell" at Covent Garden—Lively Audiences—"Jane Shore"—"Harlequin Pat and Harlequin Bat"—"The first speaking opening"—Extravagence in Extravaganzas—The doom of the old form of Pantomime—Its revival in a new form—A piece of pure Pantomime—Present day Mimetic Art—"L'Enfant Prodigue"—A retrospect—The old with the new, and conclusion
Origin of Pantomime.
From the beginning of all time there has been implanted in the human breast the Dramatic instinct full of life and of vigour, and finding undoubtedly its outlet, in the early days of civilization, if not in the Dramatic Art then in the poetry of motion with that necessary and always essential concomitant of both—Pantomime. Indeed, of the Terpsichorean Art, it has been truly observed "That deprived of the imitative principle (i.e., Pantomime), the strength, the mute expression, it becomes nothing but a series of cadenced steps, interesting merely as a graceful exercise." Equally so in every way does it apply to the Dramatic Art, which minus its acting, its gestures—in a word, its Pantomime—we have nothing but, to quote Hamlet, "Words, words, words."
In observing "That all the world's a stage, and the men and women merely players," Shakespeare doubtless included in the generic term "players," Pantomimists as well: Inasmuch as this, that when, and wherever a character is portrayed, or represented, be it in real life or on the stage—"Nature's looking-glass," and the world in miniature—the words that the individual or the character speaks, are accompanied with gesture and motion, or, in other words, Pantomime, when "The action is suited to the word, the word to the action."
To trace the original origin of Pantomime, or Mimicry, we must go to Nature herself where we can find this practised by her from the beginning of all time as freely, and as fully, as ever it was, or ever will be, upon the stages of our theatres. What better evidence, or instances, of this can we have than in those studies of her handiwork? as the larger species of caterpillars, when, by stretching themselves out in imitation of, and to make their foes think that they are snakes; tigers and lions choosing a background in keeping with, and in imitation of, the colours of their bodies, in order to seize their unwary prey; and for the same purpose crocodiles imitating a rotting log; the green tint of the lizard's skin for the sake of concealment; the playful imitativeness of the mocking bird; the hysterical laugh of the hyaena; the gaudy colours of tropical snakes imitated by others, besides many other examples of Mimicry, in such as butterflies of the species Danaidae and Acraediae, the Heliconidiae of tropical America; and hornets, wasps, ants, and bees. All this, it may be urged, is only instinct. True; but is it not also Mimicry—the Pantomime of Nature, and, though, of course, of a different kind, and for very different objects, is, nevertheless, of a kind of instinctive Pantomime or Mimicry which each and every one of us possesses in greater or lesser degrees, and as much as we do the Dramatic instinct.
The very name Pantomime itself signifies Nature as Pan was amongst the Ancients, the allegorical god of Nature, the shepherd of Arcadia, and with Mimos, meaning an imitator, we have, in the combination of these two words, "an imitator of Nature," and from whence we derive the origin of our word Pantomime.
"Pan taught to join with wax unequal reeds; Pan loves the shepherds and the flocks he feeds."
"Pan," says Servius, "is a rustic god, formed in similitude of Nature, whence he is called Pan, i.e., All: for he has horns in similitude of the rays of the sun and the horns of the moon; his face is as ruddy as the imitation of the aether; he has a spotted fawn skin on his breast in likeness of the stars; his lower parts are shaggy on account of the trees, shrubs, and wild beasts; he has goat's feet to denote the stability of the earth; he has a pipe of seven reeds on account of the harmony of the heavens, in which there are seven sounds; he has a crook, that is a curved staff, on account of the year, which runs back on itself because he is the god of all Nature."
Bernardin de St. Pierre observes of Pantomime, "That it was the first language of man; it is known to all nations; and is so natural and so expressive that the children of white parents learn it rapidly when they see it used by the negroes."
Of the Pantomimic language—a universal language and common to the whole world from time immemorial—Charles Darwin says in his "Descent of Man," that "The intellectual and social faculties of man could hardly have been inferior in any extreme degree to those now possessed by the lowest savage; otherwise primeval man could not have been so eminently successful in the struggle for life as proved by his early and wide diffusion. From the fundamental differences between certain languages some philologists have inferred that, when man first became widely diffused, he was not a speaking animal; but it may be suspected that languages, far less perfect than any now spoken, aided by gestures, might have been used, and yet have left no traces on subsequent and more highly-developed tongues."
With the progress of, and also as an aid to, civilization how could the traveller or the trader, not only in the beginning of time, but also now, when occasion demands, in their intercourse with foreign nations (unless, of course, they know the language) make themselves understood, or be able to trade, unless they were or are able to use that "dumb silent language"—Pantomime? Civilization undoubtedly owes much of its progress to it, and, also the world at large, to this only and always universal language. To both the deaf, as well as the dumb, its advantages have ever been apparent.
Therefore, from prehistoric times, and from the beginning of the world, we may presume to have had in some form or another, the Pantomimic Art. In the lower stages of humanity, even in our own times, there is, in all probability, a close similarity to the savagedom of mankind in the early Antediluvian period as "This is shown (says Darwin) by the pleasure which they all take in dancing, rude music, painting, tattooing, and otherwise decorating themselves—in their mutual comprehension of gesture language, and by the same inarticulate cries, when they are excited by various emotions." It naturally follows that even if there was only dancing, there must necessarily, as a form of entertainment, have also been Pantomime. Again, all savage tribes have a war-dance of some description, in which in fighting costume they invariably go through, in Pantomimic form, the respective movements of the Challenge, the Conflict, the Pursuit, and the Defeat, whilst other members of the tribe, both men and women, give additional stimulus to these representations by a rude form of music.
The Ostyak tribe of Northern Asia give us a specimen of the rude imitative dances of early civilization in a Pantomimic exhibition of the Chase; the gambols and habits of the wolf and other wild beasts. The Pantomimic dances of the Kamchadales are in imitation of birds, dogs, and bears; and the Damaras represent, by four of the tribe stooping down with their heads together, and uttering harsh cries, the movements of oxen, and of sheep. The Australian Bushmen Mimic the leaping of calves, the antics of the baboon, and the buzzing of swarms of bees. Primitive Pantomimic dancing is practised amongst the South Sea Islanders, and other races, and just as it was, presumably, at the beginning of the world.
Having briefly traced the origin of Pantomime, and the source of dancing, let us, in order to further amplify my subject, look at also for a moment the origin of music, in the time of prehistoric man.
From Nature also do we derive this art, as "The sighing of the wind passing over a bed of reeds is Nature's first suggestion of breath," and of music. The clapping of hands and the stamping of feet is man's first element in the making of music, which developed itself into the formation of drums, bells, and cymbals, and the evolution of the same primary principle.
It has been argued, and also ridiculously pretended, that in the Antediluvian period mankind only lived in caves with the hairy mammoth, the cave bear, the rhinoceros, and the hyaena, in a state of barbarous savagery; and that only since the Deluge have the Arts been known and cities built on this terrestrial sphere of ours. Could anything be more fallacious?
We know, from the Bible, that the first man was created about six thousand years ago, and some sixteen hundred and fifty-six years afterwards the inhabitants of the world, with the exception of Noah and his family, consisting of eight souls all told, were destroyed by the flood. Noah and his family, we can take it, were of the same race of mankind then on the earth, of the same descent and of the same flesh and blood (as we all are) of our common father and mother, Adam and Eve; yet we are not told that Noah (he was six hundred years old when he went into the Ark) and his family were savages. In the 4th chapter, 21st verse of Genesis, of Jubal-Cain, we learn that "He was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ"; and in the following verse, Tubal-Cain is described as "An instructor of every artificer in brass and iron."
We learn, also, that magnificent statues were made in Egypt some six thousand years ago; and that mention is made of a statue of King Cephren, said to have been chiselled about this period, and many learned men also affirm that letters were known to the inhabitants of the Antediluvian world. All this, however, hardly looks like the work of a barbarous race, and points to an acquaintance with the Arts, at any rate of Music and Sculpture, and that of the artificers and workers in brass and iron.
To follow, for my subject, this reasoning a little further, if there was music (which, doubtless, there was) there must also have been dancing, and, if dancing, there must, in the Antediluvian age, as a form of entertainment, have also been Pantomime. On the other hand, even supposing that man, at this period, was nothing else but a complete savage, the words of Darwin, that I have quoted on a previous page, conclusively proves, I think (on a common-sense like basis), of the existence of dancing, a rude form of music, and, of course, Pantomime at this epoch.
Ingersoll's doctrine was that "The distance from savagery to Shakespeare must be measured not by hundreds, but by millions, of years."
Finally, why, and for what reason, should the Lord God, in His all-seeing goodness and mercy, punish the inhabitants of the Antediluvian world if they were only poor unenlightened savages? Was it not because they were idolaters and worshippers of idols, "And that every imagination of the thoughts of his (man's) heart was only evil continually," as the sixth chapter and fifth verse of Genesis tells us? This then being so, we know also that in every ancient form of religion dancing was one of the acts of worship, and if dancing, there must as previously stated, have also been Pantomime.
Origin of Tragedy and Comedy—Mythology—The meaning of the word Pantomime—The origin of Harlequin, Columbine, Clown, and Pantaloon—Grecian Mythology—Transformation Scenes—The rise of Grecian Tragedy and Comedy—The Satirical Drama.
In the year 2347 B.C., in Chapter 9, verse 20, in Genesis, there occurs: "And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard." This is one of the first acts that Noah did after the Deluge, and it is, as history tells us, from the rites and ceremonies in celebration of the cultivation of the vine, that we owe the origin of Tragedy and Comedy.
After the Deluge God placed His bow in the heavens as His covenant with man that the world should no more be accursed; and in the first ages of this world's history, Noah and his descendants celebrated their deliverance from the Ark, the return of the seasons, and the promise of plenty in their several religious rites and ceremonies. The children of Shem had in general Asia as their portion; Japhet had Europe; and Ham, Africa.
Soon, however, religion began to lose its purity, and it then began to degenerate very fast. Men began to repair to the tops of mountains, lonely caves and grottoes, where they thought resided their gods. To honour them they erected altars and performed their vows. Amongst the Ancients their Mythology went no further than the epoch of the Deluge, and in honour of which, and also of the Ark, they erected many temples called Aren, Theba, Argus (from whence was probably derived the Argo of the Argonauts, and the sacred ship of Osiris), Cibotus, Toleus, and Baris.
The symbol by which the Mythologists represented the Ark was an immense egg. This was supposed to have been produced by Ether and Chaos, at the bidding of Time, the one ethereal being who created the universe. By Nox (Night) the egg was hatched, which, being opened into two parts, from the upper part was formed heaven, and the lower earth.
In the sacred rites of Osiris, Isis, and the Dionysia of Bacchus, the Ark or Ship was introduced. The Dove, by many nations, in their celebrations, was looked upon as a special emblem of peace and good-will. Theba, in Egypt, was originally one of the temples dedicated to the Ark. Both priests and sooth-sayers were styled Ionah or Doves. To Dodona, in Epirus, was brought this and the first Grecian oracle all the rites and history of the Thebans. The priestesses of this temple were known in the Latin as Columbae. It is from this word that we derive the name Columbine, which means, in the Italian, "little dove." Homer alludes to the priestesses as doves, and that they administered to Zeuth (Noah). Nonnus speaks of Cadmus, and others of Orpheus, as introducing into Greece the rites of Dionysus or Bacchus.
The Ancients, mentions Kennedy in his work on "Mythology," have highly reverenced Noah, and designated him as Noa, Noos, Nous, Nus, Nusas, Nusus (in India), Thoth, Hermes, Mercury, Osiris, Prometheus, Deucalion, Atlas, Deus, Zeus, and Dios. Dios was one of the most ancient terms for Noah, and whence was derived Deus—Nusus compounded of Dios and Nusos, which gives us Dionysus, the Bacchus of the Greeks, and the chief god of the heathen world. Bacchus was, properly speaking, Cush (the son of Ham, and grandson of Noah), though both Dionysus and Bacchus are, by ancient writers, frequently confounded with one another.
The resting of the Ark upon Mount Baris, Minyas, the Ararat of Moses in Armenia, the dispersal of the flood, the multiplication of the families of the earth, and the migration from the plains of Shinar of the descendants of the sons of Chus or Cush (as it is sometimes written), and called Chushites or Cushites, to different parts of the world, being joined by other nations, particularly those of the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. They were the first apostates from the truth, but being great in worldly wisdom and knowledge they were thought to be, and looked upon as a superior class of beings. Ham they looked upon as a divinity, and under the name of Ammon they worshipped him as the Sun, and Chus likewise as Apollo, a name which was also bestowed by the Ancients upon Noah. The worship of the sun in all probability originated the eastern position in our churches.
Another of the ancient deities worshipped by the Ammonians was Meed, or Meet, the Cybele of the Phrygians, the nurse of Dionysus, and the Soul of the World.
Nimrod, the "mighty hunter" (who possessed the regions of Babylonia and Chaldee), and one of the sons of Cush, was the builder of that seminary of idolatory the City and Tower of Bel, and erected in honour of the god Bel, and another name for the sun. Upon the confusion of tongues when hitherto "The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech," it came to be known as Babylon, "The City of Confusion." Homer introduces Orion (Nimrod) as a giant and a hunter in the shades below, and the author of the "Pascal Chronicles" mentions that Nimrod taught the Assyrians or Babylonians to worship fire. The priests of Ammon, named Petor or Pator, used to dance round a large fire, which they affected in their dancing to describe. Probably from this the Dervish dances all over the East may be traced to this source.
Kennedy observes, of the confusion of tongues at Babel, that it was only a labial failure, so that the people could not articulate. It was not an aberration in words or language, but a failure and incapacity in labial utterance. Epiphanius says that Babel, or Babylon, was the first city built after the flood.
The Cushites were a large and numerous body, and after their dispersion from Babylon they were scattered "Abroad upon the face of the earth." They were the same people who imparted their rites and religious services into Egypt, as far as the Indus and the Ganges, and still further into Japan and China. From this event is to be discovered the fable of the flight of the Grecian god Bacchus, the fabulous wanderings of Osiris, and the same god under another name, of the Egyptians. Wherever Dionysus, Osiris, or Bacchus went, the Ancients say that he taught the cultivation of the soil, and the planting of the vine. Dionysus, Bacchus, or Osiris, as I have shown in a preceding page, were only other designations for Noah.
Of the Hindu heathen deity, Vishnu, Father Boushet mentions an Indian tradition, concerning a flood which covered the whole earth, when Vishnu made a raft, and, being turned into a fish, steered it with his tail. Vishnu, like Dagon, was represented under the figure of a man and fish.
Strangely enough, the regions said to have been traversed by Dionysus, Osiris, or Bacchus were, at different times, passed through by the posterity of Ham, and in many of them they took up their residence. In his journeyings the chief attendants of Osiris, or Bacchus, were Pan, Anabis, Macedo, the Muses, the Satyrs, and Bacchic women were all in his retinue. The people of India claim him as their own, and maintain that he was born at Nusa in their country. Arrian speaks of the Nuseans as being the attendants of Dionysus. In all traditions Dionysus appears as the representative of some power of Nature.
The first who reduced Mythology to a kind of system were, in all probability, the Egyptians. Egypt was ever the land of graven images, and under the veil of Allegory and Mythology the priests concealed religion from the eyes of the vulgar. In the beginning, brute animals and certain vegetables were represented as the visible symbols of the deities to which they were consecrated. Hence Jupiter Ammon was represented under the figure of a Ram; Apis under a Cow; Osiris of a Bull; Mercury or Thol of an Ibis; Diana or Babastis of a Cat; and Pan of a Goat. From these sources are derived the fabulous transformation of the gods celebrated in Egyptian Mythology, and afterwards imported into Greece and Italy to serve as the subjects of the Grecian and Roman Pantomimes.
Pantomime as we now know the term, means, not only the Art of acting in dumb show, but also that of a spectacle or Christmas entertainment. (I may add in parenthesis, that in the early part of the last century—the nineteenth—the dictionaries only refer to Pantomime as meaning the former of the above two definitions, and not the latter.)
Pan, regarded as the symbol of the universe, was also the god of flocks, pastures, and shepherds in classic Mythology, and the guardian of bees, hunting and fishing in his Kingdom of Arcadia. His form, like the Satyrs, both supposed to have been the offsprings of Mercury, was that of a man combined with a goat, having horns and feet like the latter animal.
Mimos (Gr.), as I have stated in the beginning, means an "imitator," or a "mimic," and from which word we have the derivation of the words "mimicry," "mimetic," and the like.
Pan was the traditional inventor of the Pandean pipes, and also from his name we derive many words that are in our language, such as "panic" (Pan used to delight in suddenly surprising the shepherds whilst tending their flocks), and the other attributes of this noun, including that recently coined term of the Americans, "panicy."
Pan is said to have been the son of Mercury, or even Mercury himself, and others say that he was the son of Zeus. Mercury and Zeus, it will be remembered in Mythology, were only names for Noah. Pan is unnoticed by Homer.
A heathen deity of Italy, Lupercus, the guardian of their flocks and pastures, has also been identified with Pan, and in whose honour annual rural festivals, known as Lupercalia, were observed.
The Lupercalian festivals were held on the 15th of the Kalends of March. The priests, Luperci, used to dance naked through the streets as part of the ceremonies attached to the festival.
Mention has been made by Dr. Clarke, in his "Travels," Vol. IV., that Harlequin is the god Mercury, with his short sword herpe, or his rod, the caduceus (which has been likened to the sceptre of Judah), to render himself invisible, and to transport himself from one end of the earth to the other, and that the covering on his head, the winged cap, was the petasus. Apropos of this, the following lines in the tenth Ode, of the first book of Horace, will probably occur to the reader:
"Mercury! Atlas' smooth-tongued boy, whose will First trained to speed our wildest earliest race, And gave their rough hewn forms with supple skill The gymnast's grace.
"'Tis thine the unbodied spirits of the blessed, To guide to bliss, and with thy golden rod To rule the shades; above, below, caressed By every god."
Mercury, as we have seen, was among the Ancients, only another name for Noah. "Indeed," says Dr. Clarke, "some of the representations of Mercury upon ancient vases are actually taken from the scenic exhibitions of the Grecian theatre; and that these exhibitions were also the prototypes whereon D'Hancarville shows Mercury, Momus, and Psyche delineated as we see Harlequin, Columbine, and Clown on our stages. The old man (Pantaloon), is Charon (the ferryman of hell). The Clown is Momus, the buffoon of heaven, the god of raillery and wit, and whose large gaping mouth is in imitation of the ancient masks."
Amongst the Aryans, Medians, Egyptians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, and other nations (including our own, as did not Lilly predict the execution of Charles I., the plague, the great fire of London, and other events) was astrology practised. The Egyptians peopled the constellation of the Zodiac (the first open book for mankind to read), with Genii, and one of the twelve Zodiacal signs was Aries (the Ram). The ram is of the same species as the goat, and the god Pan was the Goat god, as we know. The astrologers, in their divinations and rulings of the planets placed the various parts of the body under a planetary influence. The head and face were assigned to the house of Aries, and therefore the face notably for the Pantomimic Art was placed by the ancient astrologers under the influence of this particular planet.
The heathen worship of Pan was not only known in Arcadia, but also throughout Greece, although it did not reach Athens until after Marathon.
Of Pan's death Plutarch tells the story that in the reign of Tiberius, one Thamus, a pilot, visiting the islands of Paxae, was told of this god's death. When he reached Palodes he told the news, whereupon loud and great lamentations were heard, as of Nature herself expressing her grief. The epoch of the story coincides with the enactment of that grim, and the world's greatest tragedy on the hill of Golgotha, and the end, and the beginning of a new world. Rabelais, Milton, Schiller, and also Mrs. Browning, have allusions to this story of Plutarch's.
The ambitious family of the Titans (the bones of the "giants on the earth" before the Deluge, gave rise to the stories of the Titans found in caves), and their scions and coadjutors Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, Diana, Bacchus, Minerva, or Pallas, Ceres, Proserpine, Pluto, and Neptune furnish by far the greatest part of the Mythology of Greece. Tradition says that they left Phoenicia about the time of Moses to settle in Crete, and from thence they made their way into Greece, which was supposed at that time to be inhabited by a race of savages. The arts and inventions were communicated to the natives, and the blessings of civilization in process of time inspired the inhabitants with admiration. They, therefore, relinquished worshipping the luminary and heavenly bodies, and transferred their devotion to their benefactors. Then into existence sprang the most inconsistent and irreconcilable fictions. The deified mortals, with their foibles and frailities, were transmitted to posterity in the most glorious manner possible, and hence accordingly, in both the Odyssey and the Iliad of Homer, we have a strange and heterogeneous mixture of what is not only mighty in heroes, but also that which is equally mean.
In the Grecian Mythology the labours of Hercules, the expedition of Osiris, the wanderings and transformation of Io, the fable of the conflagration of Phaeton, the rage of Proserpine, the wanderings of Ceres, the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Orgia, or sacred rites of Bacchus, in fine, the ground work of Grecian Mythology is to be traced to the East, from where also all our nursery tales, and also our popular Pantomime subjects; (which is the subject of another chapter) perhaps, with the exception of our own "Robinson Crusoe," originated.
The nine Muses called Pierides in Grecian Mythology were the daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne (Memory), supposed to preside over the liberal Arts and the sciences. They were Calliope (Heroic Poetry), Clio Euterpe (Music), Erato (Love Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Muse of Singing and Rhetoric), Terpsichore (Dancing), Thalia (Comedy), and Urania (Astronomy). Mount Parnassus, Mount Helicon, and the fountains of Castalia and Aganippe were the sacred places of the Muses.
The Eleusinian Mysteries are of a period that may be likened to the 7th century B.C., and at these Mysteries as many as 30,000 persons, in the time of Herodotus, assembled to witness them. The attributes of these Grecian Mysteries, like those of the Egyptians, consisted of processions, sacrificial offerings, purifications, dances, and all that the Mimetic and the other Arts could convey; add to this the various coloured lights, and the fairy-like grandeur of the whole, we have something that may be likened to the Transformation, and other fairy-like scenes of English Pantomimes and Extravaganzas.
At the Orgia, or sacred rites of Bacchus, the customary sacrifice to be offered, because it fed on vines, was the goat. The vine, ivy, laurel, asphodel, the dolphin, lynx, tiger, and ass were all sacred to Bacchus. The acceptable sacrifice to Venus was a dove; Jupiter, a bull; an ox of five years old, ram or boar pig to Neptune; and Diana, a stag. At the inception of the Bacchanalian festivals in Greece, the tragic song of the Goat, a sacred hymn was sung, and from which rude beginning sprang the Tragedy and Comedy of Greece. The Greeks place every event as happening in their country, and it is not surprising that they claim for themselves the inception of Tragedy and Comedy, which they undoubtedly were the originators of in Greece, but the religious festivals of Dionysus, Osiris, and Bacchus, to which we are supposed to owe the inception of Tragedy and Comedy, were known long before the Greeks knew them. (Dionysus was the patron and protector of theatres.) "The purport of the song was that Bacchus imparted his secret of the cultivation of vines to a petty prince in Attica, named Icarius, who happened one day to espy a goat brouzing upon his plantations, immediately seized, and offered it up as a sacrifice to his divine benefactor; the peasants assembled round their master, assisted in the ceremony, and expressed their joy and gratitude in music, songs, dances, and Pantomime on the occasion; the sacrifice grew into a festival, and the festival into an annual solemnity, attended most probably every year with additional circumstances, when the countrymen flocked together in crowds, and sang in rustic strains the praises of their favourite deity."
Amongst the reported followers of these Bacchanalian festivals were those fabulous race of grotesque sylvan beings, previously referred to, known as the Satyrs. They were of a sturdy frame, in features they had broad snub noses, and appeared in rough skins of animals with large pointed ears, heavy knots on their foreheads, and a small tail. The elder Satyrs were known as Sileni. The younger were more pleasing and not so grotesque or repulsive in appearance as the elder Satyrs. To the Satyrs can be traced the variegated dress of the modern Harlequin, as in ancient Greek history mention is made of the performers enacting Satyrs being sometimes habited in a tiger's skin of various colours, which encircled the performer's body tightly, and who carried a wooden sword, wore a white hat, and a brown mask. According to Servius (as we have seen) Pan had also a bright spotted dress "in likeness of the stars."
From these rustic festivals originated the Satyr, or Satirical Drama, as did its Italian prototype, the Fabulae Atellanae or, Laudi Osci. These rural sacrifices became, in process of time, a solemn fast, and assumed all the pomp and splendour of a religious ceremony; poets were employed by the magistrate to compose hymns, or songs, for the occasion; such was the rudeness and simplicity of the age that their bards contended for a prize, which, as Horace intimates, was scarce worth contending for, being no more than a goat or skin of wine, which was given to the happy poet who acquitted himself best in the task assigned him.
From such small beginnings Tragedy and Comedy took their rise; and like (as the best writers on these subjects tell us) every other production of human art, extremely contemptible; that wide and deep stream, which flows with such strength and rapidity through cultivated Greece, took its rise from a small and inconsiderable fountain, which hides itself in the recesses of antiquity, and is almost buried in oblivion; the name alone remains to give us some light into its original nature, and to inform us, that Tragedy and Comedy, like every other species of poetry, owe their birth to Religion.
Appropriately does Horace observe:—
"Nor was the flute at first with silver bound, Nor rivalled emulous the trumpet's sound; Few were its notes, its forms were simply plain, Yet not unuseful was its feeble strain, To aid the chorus, and their songs to raise, Filling the little theatre with ease, To which a thin and pious audience came Of frugal manners, and unsullied fame."
The origin of the Indian Drama—Aryan Mythology—Clown and Columbine—Origin of the Chinese Drama—Inception of the Japanese Drama—The Siamese Drama—Dramatic performances of the South Sea Islanders, Peruvians, Aztecs, Zulus, and Fijis—The Egyptian Drama.
Of the Indian Drama we learn that the union of music, song, dance, and Pantomime took place centuries ago B.C., at the festivals of the native gods, to which was afterwards added dialogue, and long before the advent, out of which it grew, of the native drama itself.
The progenitors of the Indo-European race, the Aryans—in Sanscrit meaning Agriculturists—who crossed the Indus from Amoo, where they dwelt near the Oxus, some two thousand years before Christ, were the original ancestors and people of India.
The Aryan race (Hindus and Persians only speak of themselves as Aryans) laid the foundation of the Grecian and Roman Mythology, the dark and more sombre legends of the Scandinavian and the Teuton; and all derived from the various names grouped round the Sun god, which in the lighter themes the Aryans associated with the rising and the setting of the sun, in all its heavenly glory, and with the sombre legends the coming of the winter, and marking the difference between lightness and darkness.
In India the origin of dramatic entertainments has been attributed to the sage Bharata (meaning an actor), who received, it is said, a communication from the god Brahma to introduce them, as the latter had received his knowledge of them from the Vedas. Bharata was also said to be the "Father of dramatic criticism." Pantomimic scenes derived from the heathen Mythology of Vishnu—a collection of poems and hymns on the Aryan religion—are even now in India occasionally enacted by the Jatras of the Bengalis and the Rasas of the provinces in the west, and, just as their forefathers did ages and ages ago. An episode from the history of the god Vishnu, in relation to his marriage with Laxmi, was a favourite subject for the early Indian Drama. Of Vedic Mythology Professor Max Mueller observes that in it "There are no genealogies, no settled marriages between gods and goddesses. The father is sometimes the son, the brother, the husband, and she who in one hymn is the mother, is in another the wife. As the conceptions of the poet vary so varies the nature of these gods."
The Hindoo dramatic writer, Babhavnti—the Indian Shakespeare—introduced with success in one of his dramas, like in our "Hamlet," "a play within a play," and much in a similar way as our early dramatists used in their plays, the "dumb shows."
Between the native Tragedy and Comedy, as in China, there was no definite distinction, and, although both contained some of the best and noblest sentiments, yet the racial philosophy of caste enters greatly into the construction of each.
In the Hindoo Mythology we have prototypes of the gods of the Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman Mythologies. The god Vishnu, who, in Aryan Mythology, is the wind and "Traverses the heavens in three strides," is the greatest of all heathen deities. His dwelling-place was "The aerial mountains, where the many horned and swiftly moving cattle abide." In Grecian Mythology Hermes or Mercury took on some of the characteristics of Vishnu.
In the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Greeks, the signs and symbols that marked the worship of Vishnu by the Aryans, are apparent; and in the British Museum the scenes of the vases of the Hamilton collection agree closely with the Sacti rites of Hindustan.
After having briefly noticed and introduced Vishnu or Hermes to the notice of the reader, we will now take another of the Aryan deities—See-Va, the Wine god. This myth was the Dionysus, or Bacchus, of the Greeks, and the expedition of this "immortal" through the world to instruct mankind in agriculture, is likened as well as the god himself by the Egyptians to their deity Osiris—the god of the Nile. The worship of See-Va, Bacchus, or Osiris extended over Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy.
The visit and advent of the Wine or Pleasure god Bacchus to India, with his accompanying train of sylvan and rural deities, and nymphs, is supposed to have conquered the Hindoos, and taught them civilization, besides the cultivation of the vine. Strange to relate that when Alexander and his army reached the present Cabul they found ivy and wild vines (both sacred to Bacchus) growing in abundance, and they were met by processions dressed in parti-coloured dresses, playing on drums like the Bacchic festivals of Greece and Lower Asia of that time.
Female parts were acted by women, but it was not a general custom; and the Clown of the piece was always a Brahma, or if not, at any rate a pupil of Brahma.
Also among the minor characters was the Vita, "the accomplished companion," a part sometimes played by men and sometimes by women. Probably in this in the latter instance we have the origin of the Columbine and Soubrette part in after years of the European stage as the term "accomplished companion," would equally apply to both. It is only a surmise, yet history as we know is continually repeating itself—even in Soubrette parts, and in more senses than one.
Of scenic displays that it possessed there was little or none, though the exits and entrances to the stage had probably some device to denote them. What they possessed in the way of properties it is more than useless to speculate, as, whatever could be said, could only be conjectural. In dressing their parts propriety in costume, and in adhering to the habits of the Indian Drama, seems to have been observed with some show of consistency.
The Chinese Drama also arose from the Hindoo developing itself as time rolled on from Pantomimes and ballets. A very ancient Pantomime is said to have been symbolical of the conquest of China by Wou Wang. Others were on subjects of the Harvest, War, and Peace; whilst many were only of an obscure nature. With the rise and progress of the native drama about five hundred years before Christ Pantomimes fell into disrepute.
It is interesting to note that one of the penal codes of the Celestial Empire was, that those who wrote plays with vicious, or immoral tendencies, should stay in "purgatory" as long as their plays were performed. This precept was all right in theory, but in practice it was more honoured in the breach than in the observance, as amongst the whole of the Celestial dramatic writers only one in about ten thousand seems to have conformed to this rule.
The dramatic writers of China duly observed the question of rank and priority, and just as much as the native Hindoo writers observed that of the various phases of caste.
Plays were divided into acts and scenes, and occasionally were prefixed by a prologue. Performances took sometimes a single day, and favourite plays oftentimes longer.
The Japanese type of drama seems to have originally evolved itself from that of the Chinese, though its singing, dancing, historical, and Pantomimical displays are, of course, purely native.
A native of Japan, though of Chinese descent, Hadu Kawatsa, at the close of the 6th century (A.D.) gave dramatic entertainments in Japan. The Japanese claim for the Pantomimical dance Sambaso as a preventative of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; and this dance, it is said, that within recent years, is used as a prelude to dramatic entertainments.
Isono Zenji is thought to have been the originator of the Japanese Drama, but her performances were more those of the Mima—dancing and posturing.
In the seventeenth century Saruwaka Kanzaburo introduced the drama proper into Japan by the erection, in 1624, of a theatre, and nearly fifty years later than the first permanent theatre that was erected (1576) in England.
Popular historical subjects were chosen for the plays, though the names of the characters were transformed. Fancy plays, operas, ballets, which in the latter women appeared, became also very popular.
Within sight of the closing years of the last century (the nineteenth), Japanese actors were more or less under a ban when the same was happily removed.
Siam was content with the Indian style of dramatic and Pantomimic entertainments. Theatrical performances were also slightly known—though no regular type of drama is known—amongst the South Sea Islanders, the Peruvians, the Aztecs, the Zulus, and the Fijis, the two last named having a similar version of our popular Pantomime subject, "Jack and the Beanstalk."
The Egyptians possessed no regular type of drama, yet in both the Books of Job and Ruth the dramatic element is strongly marked. At the rustic festivals of the native gods, as in Greece and Italy, there was, however, the dramatic elements of the union of song, dance, and Pantomime, and we are told that the priests not only studied music, but also taught the art to others. Again in the rites of the dead the Mysteries of the sepulture over the transmigration of souls, the dramatic element entered largely into these mystic rites and celebrations. Amongst the Pagan Greeks, as I have previously stated, and the Romans, we learn of similar celebrations, carried out with great pomp and ceremony, such as the apotheosis of the soul departing from its earthly to its heavenly abode.
"Dancing," i.e. Pantomime—Grecian Dancing and Pantomimic Scenes—Aristotle—Homer—Dances common to both Greeks and Romans.
In tracing the History of Pantomime it becomes a matter of considerable difficulty, and, as Baron, in his Lettres sur la Danse, observes that when the word Dancing occurs in an old author, that it should always be translated by "gesticulation," "declamation," or "Pantomime." When we read that an actress "danced" her part well in the tragedy of Medea, that a carver cut up food dancing, that Heligobalus and Caligula "danced" a discourse for an audience of state, we are to understand that they—actress, carver, and emperor—declaimed, gesticulated, made themselves understood in a language without words. Acting is also oftentimes confounded with dancing, and it is, therefore, manifestly impossible to distinguish now one from the other.
"The Greeks," mentions Butteux, applied the term "Dancing" to all measured movements, even to military marching. They danced anywhere and everywhere; and we are told that both their limbs and bodies spoke.
Cybele was supposed by the Greeks to have taught dancing on Mount Ida to the Corybantes, and they also say that it was in their country that Apollo revealed the Terpsichorean Art, and that of Music and Poetry.
After all this, it is not very surprising that they make claim for the innovation of Pantomime. This, of course, we know is different, as we have seen that, from time immemorial Pantomimic scenes and dances have been represented. Cassiodorus attributes its institution to Philistion; Athenaens assigns it to Rhodamanthus, or to Palamedes.
With the Greeks, Pantomimes became very popular, and they were distinguished by various names. Before they began their Tragedies the Greeks used to give a Pantomimic display. The principal Pantomimists were known as Ethologues, meaning painters of manners. One of the most celebrated of these Mimes was Sophron of Syracuse. In depicting the conduct of man so faithfully, the Pantomimes of the Greek Mimes served to teach and inculcate useful moral lessons. The moral philosophy of the Mime, Sophron, was so pure that Plato kept a book of his poems under his pillow when on his death-bed. Besides these Moralities, as they were termed, there were, in addition, light pieces of a farcical kind, in the portrayal of which the Mimes were equally as successful as in the other species.
The dancing of the Greeks was an actual language, in which all sentiments and passages were interpreted. By the aid of the Terpsichorean Art, Professor Desrat says, "That the Greeks, a nation of heroes, trained themselves in the art of hand-to-hand combat."
"Dancing," says another writer, "and imitative acting in the lower stages of civilization are identical, and in the sacred dances of ancient Greece we may trace the whole Dramatic Art of the modern world. The Spartans practised dancing as a gymnastic exercise, and made it compulsory upon all children from the age of five."
And we are also told that religious processions went with song and dance (and, of course, Pantomime), to the Egyptian temples; the Cretan chorus sang hymns to the Greek gods; David danced in procession before the Ark of the Covenant; and that we are to "Praise the Lord with the sound of the trumpet, praise Him with the psaltery and the harp; praise Him with the timbrel and the dance."
Aristotle speaks of Mimetic dances three hundred years before the Augustan era. He also says that dancers want neither poetry or music, as by the assistance of measure and cadence only they can imitate human manners, actions, and passions.
Again, "Homer, describing the employment of the Delian priestesses, or Nuns, of the order of St. Apollo of Delos, that they were great adepts in the Art of Mimicry, and that part of the entertainment which they afforded to the numerous people of different nations; who formed their congregations was, as the poet expresses it, from their being skilled to imitate the voices and the pulsation or measure of all nations, and so exactly was their song adapted that every man would think he himself was singing."
Homer also mentions a dance invented for Ariadne. In the midst of the dancers, there were two dancers who sang the adventures of Daedalus, supplementing their singing by gestures, and explaining in Pantomime the subject of the whole performance.
The Pyrrhic dance of the Greeks was a sort of military Pantomime. The Greeks had several kinds of Pyrrhic dances, the names of which varied with the character of the performance.
The Hyplomachia imitated a fight with shields. The Skiamachia was a battle with shadows, The Monomachia was an imitation of single combat.
Some of the Mimetic dances common to both Greeks and Romans were The Loves of Adonis and Venus, the Exploits of Ajax, the Adventures of Apollo, the Rape of Ganymede, the Loves of Jupiter and Danae, the Birth of Jupiter, Hector, the Rape of Europa, the Labours of Hercules, Hercules Mad, the Graces, Saturn devouring his Children, the Cybele in honour of Cybele, the Cyclops, the Sorrows of Niobe, the Tragic End of Semele, the Wars of the Titans, the Judgment of Paris, Daphne pursued by Apollo, the Bucolic Dance, and the Dance of Flowers.
Thespis—The Progress of Tragedy and Comedy—Aeschylus—The Epopee—Homer—Sophocles—Euripides—Grecian Mimes—The First Athenian Theatre—Scenery and Effects.
When Thespis first pointed out the tragic path, and when (as Horace tells us in his Odes) that "The inventor of the Art carried his vagrant players on a cart," by his introduction of a new personage, who relieved the chorus, or troop of singers, by reciting some part of a well-known history, or fable, which gave time for the chorus to rest. All that the actors repeated between the songs of the chorus was called an episode, or additional part, consisting often of different adventures, which had no connexion with each other. Thus Pantomime, the song, and the dance, which were at first the only performances, became gradually and insensibly a necessary and ornamental part of the drama.
From this time, the actor, or reciter, was more attended to than the chorus; however, his part was executed, and it had the powerful charms of novelty to recommend it, and quickly obscured the lustre of the chorus, whose songs were now of a different nature, insomuch that the original subject of them, the praise of Bacchus, was by degrees either slightly mentioned, or totally passed over and forgotten; the priests, who we may suppose for a long time presided over the whole, were alarmed at so open a contempt of the deity, and unanimously exclaimed, that this was nothing to Bacchus; the contempt grew into a kind of proverbial saying, and as such is handed down to us.
From the origin of Tragedy and Comedy, and to the days of Thespis, and from this time to that of Aeschylus, all is doubt, conjecture, and obscurity; neither Aristotle, nor any other ancient writer, gives us the least insight into the state and progress of the Greek Drama; the names of a few, and but a few, tragedians, during this dark period, are handed down to us; such were Epigenes, the Sicyonion, and Pratinas, who wrote fifty-two plays, thirty-two of which are said to be satirical. After Thespis, came his scholar Phrynicus, who wrote nine tragedies; for one of which, we are told, he was fined fifty drachmas, because he had made it (an odd reason) too deep, and too affecting; there was another, also named Phrynicus, author of two tragedies: to these must be added Alcaeus, Phormus, and Choeritas, together with Cephisodorus, an Athenian, who wrote the "Amazon," and Apollophanes, supposed to have been the author of a tragedy named "Daulis," though Suidas is of another opinion. Tragedy had, during the lives of these writers, probably made but a slow progress, and received but very little culture and improvement; when at length the great Aeschylus arose, who, from this rude and undigested chaos, created as it were a new world in the system of letters.
Poets, and perhaps epic poets, there might have been before Homer (the latter, who, in all probability, lived within fifty years of the Fall of Troy—1250 B.C.). Dramatic writers there certainly were before Aeschylus the former notwithstanding, we may, with the utmost propriety, style the inventor and father of heroic poetry, and the latter of the ancient drama, which, before his time, does not appear to have had any particular form but that of Pantomime, song, and the union of song and dance. Aeschylus first introduced dialogue, that most essential part of tragedy, and by the addition of the second personage, threw the whole fable into action, and restored the chorus to its ancient dignity.
Aeschylus having, like a tender parent, endowed his darling child with every mental accomplishment, seemed resolved that no external ornaments should be wanting to render her universally amiable; he clothed her, therefore, in the most splendid habit, and bestowed upon her everything that Art could produce, to heighten and improve her charms. Aeschylus, who being himself author, actor, and manager, took upon him the whole conduct of the drama, and did not neglect any part of it; he improved the scenery and decorations, brought his actors into a well constructed theatre, raised his heroes on the cothurnus, or buskin, invented the masks, and introduced splendid habits with long trains, that gave an air of majesty and dignity to the performers.
From the time when Tragedy began to assume a regular form, we find her closely following the steps of epic poetry; all the parts of epopee, or heroic poem, may be traced in tragedy, though, as Aristotle observes, all the parts of tragedy are not to be found in the epopee; whence the partisans of the stage with some reason conclude, that perfection in the former is more difficult to be attained than in the latter. Without entering into a dispute, we may venture, however, to say that from Homer the tragedians drew the plan, construction, and conduct of their fables, and not unfrequently, the fable itself; to him they applied for propriety of manners, character, sentiment, and diction.
From this era then, we are to consider Tragedy as an elegant and noble structure, built according to the rules of art, symmetry, and proportion; whose every part was in itself fair, firm, and compact—and at the same time contributed to the beauty, utility, and duration of the whole edifice.
Sophocles and Euripides carefully studied the plan laid down by Aeschylus, and by their superior genius and judgment, improved it in a short time to its highest state of perfection, from which it gradually declined to the rise of the Roman Drama.
Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were the three great tragic poets; and from the works of these three illustrious writers, and from them alone, we must draw all our knowledge of the ancient Greek Tragedy.
Comedy, like Tragedy, owes its origin to the union of music, song, dance, and Pantomime; Tragedy to the dithyrambick, and Comedy to the phallica; and each of them (emulating Pantomime), began to form themselves into dramatic imitations; each studied to adopt a measure suited to their purpose:—Tragedy, the more lofty, chose the tetrameter; and comedy, which aimed at familiarity, the iambic. But, as the style of tragedy improved, Nature herself, says Aristotle, directed the writers to abandon the capering tetrameter, and to embrace that measure which was most accommodated to the purposes of dialogue; whence the iambic became the common measure of both Tragedy and Comedy.
Sophocles brought on a third actor, which number was not exceeded in the Greek tragedies during the same scene. Horace alludes to this, "nec quarta loqui persona laboret," (Let not a fourth person strive to speak): but it was not observed in comedy. Players of second parts were obliged to speak so low as not to drown the voice of the chief actor. Tyrants were always played by subalterns. The women were only dancers (and Pantomimists). Female parts were performed by eunuchs.
On the Grecian stage, those performers who devoted themselves entirely to the Art of Miming originally came from Sicily and southern Italy, though the exact period is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty.
The figures of tragic or comic actors were known by the long and strait sleeves which they wore. The servants in comedy, below the dress with strait sleeves, had a short cassock with half-sleeves. That the characters might be distinguished (a difficulty in this respect arising from the size of the theatres) parasites carried a short truncheon; the rural deities, shepherds, and peasants, the crook; heralds and ambassadors, the caduceus; kings, a long, straight sceptre; heroes, a club, etc. The tunic of tragic actors descended to the heels, and was called palla. They generally carried a long staff or an erect sceptre. They who represented old men, leaned upon a long and crooked staff.
The first Greek theatre at Athens (says Fosbroke, in his "Antiquities,") was a temporary structure of boards, removed after the performances were closed. This fashion continued till the erection of the theatre of Bacchus, at Athens, which served as a model for the others. The Greek theatre was no more than a concave sweep, scooped out of the hollow side of a hill, generally facing the sea. The sweep was filled with seats, rising above each other, and ascended by staircases, placed like the radii of a circle. This semi-circular form was adopted not merely for convenience of vision, but for an aid to the sound. This range for spectators was called the coilon or hollow. The area below was the conistra, or pit. There was no superstructure for a gallery, but around the rim of the building were porticos, by which the spectators entered, and whither they could retire, if it rained. The portico just about the highest corridor, or lobby, was denominated the cercys, and used by the women. Where is now the orchestra, was a platform, called by that name; and here, among the Greeks, were stationed the musicians; chorus and Mimes; among the Romans, the Emperor, Senate, and other persons of quality. Seven feet above the orchestra, and eleven above the conistra, or pit, was the front stage, or proscenium, upon which stood an altar to Apollo. Here the principal actors performed, and the site of the altar was devoted to the dances (of the Mimes) and songs of the chorus. The part called the scena was in line with the ornamental columns, upon the sides of the stage.
The ancient scenery at first consisted of mere boughs, but afterwards of tapestry, not painted canvas. The Greek stage consisted of three parts, the scena, across the theatre, upon the line of the curtain in our theatres; the proscenium, where the actors performed; and the post-scenium, the part behind the house, before-mentioned. To form parts of the scenes there were prisms of framework, turning upon pivots, upon each face of which was strained a distinct picture, one for tragedy, consisting of large buildings, with columns, statues, and other corresponding ornaments; a second face, with houses, windows, and balconies, for comedy; a third applied to farce, with cottages, grottoes, and rural scenes. There were the scenae versatiles of Servius. Besides these, there were scenae ductiles, which drew backwards and forwards, and opened a view of the house, which was built upon the stage, and contained apartments for machinery, or retirement for the actors. As to the patterns of the scenes, in comedy, the most considerable building was in the centre; that on the right side was a little less elevated, and that on the left generally represented an inn. In the satirical pieces they had always a cave in the middle, a wretched cabin on the right, and on the left an old ruined temple, or some landscape. In these representations perspective was observed for Vitruvius remarks (C. 8) that the rules of it were invented and practised from the time of Aeschylus, by a painter named Agararchus, who has even left a treatise upon it. After the downfall of the Roman Empire, these decorations of the stage were neglected, till Peruzzi, a Siennese, who died in 1536, revived them.
There were three entries in front, and two on the sides; the middle entry (termed the Royal door) was always that of the principal actor; thus, in tragedy, it was commonly the gate of a palace. Those on the right and left were destined to the second-part players, and the two others, on the sides, one to people from the country, the other to those from the harbour, or any public place.
Pollux informs us, that there were trap-doors for ghosts, furies, and the infernal deities. Some under the doors, on one side, introduced the rural deities, and on the other the marine. The ascents or descents were managed by cords, wheels, and counter-weights. Of these machines none were more common than those which descended from heaven in the end of the play, in which the gods came to extricate the poet in the denouement. The kinds were chiefly three; some conveyed the performer across the theatre in the air; by others, the gods descended on the stage; and a third contrivance, elevated, or supported in the air, persons who seemed to fly, from which accidents often happened. (It is from this that the well-known phrase "Deus ex machina" has its origin.) As the ancient theatres were larger than ours, and unroofed, there was no wheel-work aloft, but the performer was elevated by a sort of crane, of which the beam was above the stage; and turning upon itself, whilst the counter-weight made the actor descend or ascend, caused him to describe curves, jointly composed of the circular motion of the crane, and the vertical ascent. The anapesmata were cords for the sudden appearance of furies, when fastened to the lowest steps; and to the ascension of rivers, when attached to the stage. The ceraunoscopium was a kind of moveable tower, whence Jupiter darted lightning, supposed to be the Greek fire, as in Ajax Oielus. The machine for thunder (bronton) was a brazen vase, concealed under the stage, in which they rolled stones. Festus calls it the Claudian thunder, from Claudius Pulcher, the inventor. The most dreadful machines were, however, the pegmata (a general term also for all the machines), which first consisted of scaffolds in stories, &c. These first exhibited criminals fighting at the top, and then, dropping to pieces, precipitated them to the lower story, to be torn to pieces by wild beasts. Sometimes they were for vomiting flames, &c. The theologium was a place more elevated than the stage, where the gods stood and spoke, and the machines which held them rested.
The seats of the spectators were divided into stories, each containing seven rows of seats, with two passages (praecinctiones) around them above and below. Small staircases divided the seats into sections, called cunei, and ended in a gate at the top, which communicated with passages (the vomitoriae) for admission.
Roman Theatres—Description—"Deadheads"—Pantomime in Italy—Livius Andronicus—Fabulae Atellanae—Extemporal Comedy—Origin of the Masque, Opera, and Vaudeville—Origin of the term Histrionic—Etruscans—Popularity of Pantomime in Italy—Pantomimists banished by Trajan—Nero as a Mime—Pylades and Bathyllus—Subjects chosen for the Roman Pantomimes—The Ballet—The Mimi and Pantomimi—Archimimus—Vespasian—Harlequin—"Mr. Punch"—Zany, how the word originated—Ancient Masks—Lucian, Cassiodorus, and Demetrius in praise of Pantomime—A celebrated Mima—Pantomimes denounced by early writers—The purity of the English stage contrasted with that of the Grecian and Roman—Female parts on the Grecian and Roman stages—The principal Roman Mimas—The origin of the Clown of the early English Drama.
The Roman theatres (continues Fosbroke) were of a similar D form. Two lofty arched doorways entered into the pit. In front of the stage, which was very shallow, was a pew-like orchestra. The proscenium was very narrow, and instead of a drop scene was the elisium, a house, narrow, with a kind of bow window front in the centre, and a door on each side: for Pollux says that a house with two stories formed part of the stage, whence old women and panders used to look down and peep about them. Within the house were apartments. Around the back of the stage was a porticus. At Herculaneum, on a balustrade which divided the orchestra from the stage, was found a row of statues, and on each side of the pulpitum, an equestrian figure. Below the theatre (great and small) was a large square constructed, says Vitruvius, for the reception of the audience in bad weather. It consisted of Doric columns, around an open area, forming an ample portico for this purpose, whilst under it were arranged cellae, or apartments, amongst which were a soap manufactory, oil mill, corn mill, and prison. An inner logia was connected with a suite of apartments. There was also an exedra, or recess.
Among the Romans, theatrical approbation was signified by an artificial musical kind of noise, made by the audience to express satisfaction. There were three species of applause denominated from the different noises made in them, viz.: Bombus, Imbrius, and Testae.
First, a confused din, made either by the hands or mouth. The second and third, by beating on a sort of sounding vessel placed in the theatres for that purpose. Persons were instructed to give applause with skill—and there were even masters who professed to teach the art. The proficients in this way let themselves out for hire to the poets, actors, &c., and were so disposed as to support a loud applause. These they called Laudicena. At the end of the play, a loud peal of applause was expected, and even asked of the audience either by the chorus or by the person who spoke last. The formula was "Spectatore Claudite," or "Valete et Plaudite." The applauders were divided into Chori, and disposed in theatres opposite to each other, like the choristers in cathedrals, so that there was a kind of concert of applause. The free admission tickets were small ivory death's heads, and specimens of these are to be seen in the Museum of Naples. From this custom, it is stated, that we derive our word "Deadhead," as denoting one who has a free entrance to places of amusement.
With the dawn of the Roman Empire, Pantomime, in Italy, is first authentically mentioned. The Emperor Augustus always displayed great favour to the Art, and even by some writers he has been credited with being the originator of Pantomime. This, of course, as we have seen, is impossible, and to use a familiar and trite saying, the Pantomimic Art is "as old as the hills" themselves. Again, Bathyllus and Pylades (both freed slaves, the former born in Cilicia, and the latter came from Alexandria), and Hylas, the principal exponents of Pantomime during the reign of Augustus, have also been credited with the honour of originating Pantomime.
The early Roman entertainments only consisted of the military and sacred dances, and the scenes in the circus. With the advent of the arts of Greece the austerity hitherto practised by the Romans, which had arisen, says Duray, "Much more from poverty than conviction," for "Two or three generations had sufficed to change a city which had only known meagre festivities and rustic delights into the home of revelry and pleasure."
With the Romans, in their Pantomimic entertainments, the whole gamut of the emotions were gone through.
When the Greek drama was brought into Rome by Livius Andronicus, the Fabulae Atellanae, or Laudi Osci—derived from the town of Atella, in Campania, between Capua and Naples—was still employed to furnish the Interludes, and just in a similar way as the Satyra Extemporal Interludes supplied the Grecian stage. None of these Atellan Farces have been committed to us, but Cicero, in a letter to his friend Papyrius Paetus, speaks of them as the "More delicate burlesque of the old Atellan Farces." From them also, we derive the Extemporal Comedy, or Comedia del' Arte of Italy (afterwards to be noted), with its characters, Harlequin, Clown, Pierrot, and the like, associated with English and Italian Pantomime, and the progenitor also of all those light forms of entertainment known as the Masque, the Opera, and the Vaudeville. On English dramatic literature the Italian Extemporal Comedies and their Pantomimical characters have also had a considerable amount of influence.
Livy mentions that actors were sent for (circa 364 B.C.) from Etruria, who, without verses or any action expressive of verses, danced not ungracefully, after the Tuscan manner to the flute. In process of time the Roman youth began to imitate these dancers intermixing raillery with unpolished verses, their gestures corresponding with the sense of the words. Thus were these plays received at Rome, and being improved and refined by frequent performance the Roman actors acquired the name of Histriones, from the Etruscan Hister, meaning a dancer or a stage player. (From this we obtain our words histrion and histrionic). But their dialogue did not consist of unpremeditated and coarse jests in such rude verses as were used by the Fescennini, but of satires, accompanied with music set to the flute, recited with suitable gestures. After satires, which had afforded the people subject of coarse mirth and laughter, were, by this regulation, reduced to form and acting, by degrees became an art, the Roman youth left it to players by profession, and began, as formerly, to act farces at the end of their regular pieces. These dramas were called Exodia, and were generally woven with the Atellanae Comedies. These were borrowed from the Osci, and were always acted by the Roman youth. Tacitus speaks of Atellanae Comedies written in the spirit and language of the Osci having been acted in his time.
It is thought that the Etruscans possessed histories, poems, and dramas, and, if these, then certainly they knew the Pantomimic Art, out of which, in all probability, their dramatic entertainments grew. To the Etruscans the Romans owe their early civilization.
The Etruscan era is supposed to have commenced about 1044 B.C., and we are told that the Etruscans shared with the Greeks, and the Phoenicians, the maritime supremacy of the Mediterranean. In the sepulchral chambers of the Necropolis of Tarquinii, which extends for many miles, there are several scenes painted in the archaic style by the Etruscans, representing the Chase, the Circus, and Dancing Girls.
Soon after its innovation among the Romans, Pantomime spread all over Italy and the provinces. So attractive did it become in Rome, and so popular, that Tiberius issued a decree forbidding the knights and nobles to frequent their houses of entertainment, or to be seen walking in the streets with them. Trajan also oppressed and banished the Pantomimists. Under Caligula, however, they were received with great favour, and Aurelius made them priests of Apollo. Nero, who carried everything to the extremity of foolishness, was not content in patronising the Pantomimes, but must needs assist, and appear himself, as a Mimi. Here again, in Nero, another claimant as the author of Pantomime has been put forward.
"So great (observes Gaston Vuillier, in his 'History of Dancing,') was the admiration for Pylades and Bathyllus that the theatrical supporters clothed themselves in different liveries, and broils in the public streets were of frequent occurrence." "The rivalries of Pylades and Bathyllus," says De Laulnaye, "occupied the Romans as much as the gravest affairs of state. Every citizen was a Bathyllian or a Pyladian." Augustus reproved Pylades on one occasion for his quarrels with Bathyllus. The Mime retorted, "It is well for you that the people are engrossed by our disputes; their attention is thus diverted from your actions." A bold retort, but it shows how important these Mimes were. The banishment of Pylades brought about an insurrection, and the Emperor had to recall him.
Cassius attributes the disgrace of Pylades to the intrigues of Bathyllus, Suetonius to his effrontery; for on one occasion, when acting Hercules, annoyed by the criticism of the spectators, he tore off his mask, and shouted to them: "Fools, I am acting a madman." They thought his gestures too extravagant. Another time he shot off arrows amongst the spectators. Amongst other privileges extended by the Emperor Augustus to the Mimis was being exempt from magisterial control and immunity from military serving.
The subjects chosen for the Roman Pantomimes, like those of the Grecian mysteries, from which they doubtless were borrowed, were of a Mythological description, and they were of such a nature that the audience could follow them easily, even if they were not already previously acquainted with them. Between the Roman Pantomime, and the Western ballet d'action, there is hardly any difference. The Romans always liked to see their stages well peopled; and to help in the action of their Pantomimes, a chorus accompanied with music, formed part of the entertainment. The Mimis and Mimas, like the ballet of the present day, provided the dances in addition to their Pantomimic Art of posing and posturing.
Mr. Isaac Disraeli, in his work, "Curiosities of Literature," edited by the late Earl of Beaconsfield, thus distinguishes between the Mimi and the Pantomimi of the Ancients. The Mimi were an impudent race of buffoons who excelled in mimicry, and like our domestic fools, were admitted into convivial parties to entertain the guests. Their powers enabled them to perform a more extraordinary office; for they appear to have been introduced into funerals to mimic the person, and even the language of the deceased. Suetonius describes an archimimus accompanying the funeral of Vespasian. This archimimus performed his part admirably, not only representing the person, but imitating, according to custom, ut est mos, the manners and language of the living Emperor. He contrived a happy stroke at the prevailing foible of Vespasian, when he enquired the cost of all this funeral pomp—"Ten million of sesterces!" On this he observed that if they would give him but a hundred thousand they might throw his body into the Tiber.
The Pantomimi were quite of a different class. They were tragic actors, and usually mute; they combined the arts of gesture, music, and dances of the most impressive character. Their silent language has often drawn tears by the pathetic emotions they excited; "Their very nod speaks, their hands talk, and their fingers have a voice," says one of their admirers.
These Pantomimists seem to have been held in great honour. The tragic and the comic masks were among the ornaments of the sepulchral monuments of an Archmime and a Pantomimi. Montfaucon conjectures that they formed a select fraternity.
The parti-coloured hero (Harlequin), with every part of his dress, has been drawn out of the greatest wardrobe of antiquity; he was a Roman Mime. Harlequin is described with his shaven head (rasis capitibus); his sooty face (fuligine faciem abducti); his flat unshod feet, (planipedes), and his patched coat of many colours, (Mimi centunculo). Even Pulcinello, whom we familiarly call "Punch," may receive, like other personages of no great importance, all his dignity from antiquity; one of his Roman ancestors having appeared to an antiquary's visionary eye in a bronze statue; more than one erudite dissertation authenticates the family likeness; the nose long, prominent and hooked; the staring goggle eyes; the hump at his back, and at his breast; in a word, all the character which so strongly marks the Punch race, as distinctly as whole dynasties have been featured by the Austrian lip and the Bourbon nose.
The genealogy of the whole family is confirmed by the general term which includes them all: in English, Zany; in Italian, Zanni; in the Latin, Sannio; and a passage in "Cicero De Oratore," paints Harlequin and his brother gesticulators after the life; the perpetual trembling motion of their limbs, their ludicrous and flexible gestures, and all the mimicry of their faces: "Quid enim potest tam ridiculum quam Sannio esse? Qui ore vultu, imitandis motibus, voce, denique corpore ridetur ipso." Lib II., Sect. 51. ("For what has more of the ludicrous than Sannio? Who, with his mouth, his face, imitating every motion with his voice, and, indeed, with all his body, provokes laughter.")
The Latin Sannio was changed by the Italians into (as Ainsworth explains) Zanni, as, in words like Smyrna and Sambuco, they change the s into z, which gives Zmyrna and Zambuco, and hence we derive our word Zany. The word is, however, originally obtained from the Greek Sannos (observes Quadrio), from whence the Latins derived their Sannio.
From the size of the ancient theatres it was not possible to notice the visage of the actors, and this was one, but not the only reason, why masks were adopted. The Ancients did not like a character to be attempted, to which a proper appropriation was not annexed, and these masks were so contrived, that the profile on one side exhibited chagrin, and on the other serenity, or whatever other passion was most required. The actor thus, according to the part he was playing, presented the side of the mask best suited to the passage which he was reciting. The large mouths of these masks were presumed to have contained some bronze instrument suited to assist the voice, upon the principle of the speaking trumpet; for the mask was wider, and the recitation in tragedy much louder than in comedy, so that the voice might be heard all over the theatre. The masks of the dancers were of regular features.
By some it has been contended that these masks covered both the head and the shoulders under the supposed idea that when the head was thus enlarged it would throw the whole body into symmetry when raised upon stilts. It has, also, been argued that the masks for some of the characters were made of gold-beaters skin, or some transparent substance just covering the face so that the facial muscles could be seen through it, and the eyes, mouth, and ears being left uncovered. These masks, however, delineated very carefully the features of the character that were to be represented. Something not unlike the huge Pantomime masks of a hideous and frightful shape that we sometimes see in our present day Pantomimes must have appeared, especially those that covered the head and shoulders of the Mimis in the days of the Romans. Those that were just of the size of the face in all probability were fantastic and picturesque; and the third and remaining species of mask made of a transparent substance could hardly have been very effective.
Mr. Wright tells us, in his book on the Chester Mystery plays (which work I shall again refer to later on), that masks were used in the Mystery series of plays acted in England during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Julius Pollux is still more ample in his account of theatrical masks used in Tragedy, Satyr, and Comedy. Niobe weeping, Medea furious, Ajax astonished, and Hercules enraged. In Comedy, the slave, the parasite, the clown, the captain, the old woman, the harlot, the austere old man, the debauched young man, the prodigal, the prudent young woman, the matron, and the father of a family, were all constantly characterised by particular masks.
Lucian and the other writers of the Augustan era, have handed down to us sufficient information to show how Pantomime in Rome was so highly thought of. Cassiodorous, speaking of them, says:—"Men whose eloquent hands had a tongue, as it were, on the tip of each finger—men who spoke while they were silent, and knew how to make a recital without opening their mouths—men, in short, whom Polyhymnia had formed in order to show that there was no necessity for articulation in order to convey our thoughts." Demetrius, a cynic philosopher, laughed at the Romans for permitting so strange an entertainment; but having been, with much difficulty, prevailed upon to be present at the representation of one of them, he was confounded with wonder. The story represented was that of Mars and Venus, the whole performed by a single actor, who described the fable in dumb show. At length the philosopher, wrought up to the highest pitch of admiration, exclaimed, "That the actor had no occasion for a tongue, he spoke so well with his hands."
Of one Pontus, who had come on a visit to Nero, we are told that he was present at a performance, in the course of which a favourite Mime gave a representation of the Labours of Hercules. The Mime's gestures were so precise that he could follow the action without the slightest hesitation. Being struck by the performance, on taking leave he begged Nero to give him the actor, explaining that there was a barbarous tribe adjoining his dominions, whose language no one could learn, and that Pantomime could express his intentions to them so faithfully by gestures that they would at once understand.
The dress of the performers of Pantomime was made to reveal, and not to conceal, their figures. After the second century women began to act in their representations, and even down to the sixth century we find them associating themselves with Pantomime, and mention is made of a celebrated Mima, who was ultimately raised to the imperial throne. Through the lewdness of the Mimis and mimas in Pantomime, their dress, or rather lack of dress, Pantomimes were denounced, not only by the early Christian writers, but also by some of the Pagan writers, like Juvenal, as being very prejudicial to morality.
It has, however, always been a favourite topic of the Prynne's, the Jeremy Collier's and the Dr. Style's, and such like opponents of the theatre, to contrast the English stage with the purity of the Grecian and Roman Theatres. Now, without stopping to enquire whether this has any particular connection with the subject of their dissertations, or whether it is not in fact quite irrelevant to the question, it is impossible not to remark the crass ignorance which these assertions display of the manners and customs of the theatres of either the Greeks or the Romans. Without wearying the reader by entering into a long discussion upon the subject, it will be sufficient to recall certain passages in Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plautus, and Terence to induce them to hesitate in assenting to such vague assertions of the purity of either the Grecian or Roman dramatic writers. William Prynne, the English Puritan writer, in his violent attack on the stage in the "Histrio-Mastix" or "Players Scourge"—which book, by the way, for some unfavourable comments therein on the Queen of Charles I., and the ladies of her Court, for attending theatrical representations, was debarred his rooms (he was a barrister), by the Court of Star Chamber, sentenced to be imprisoned for life, fined L5,000, committed to the Tower, placed in the pillory, both ears cut off, and his book burnt by the common hangman; yet after undergoing all these pains and penalties, he published a recantation of all that he had previously written in his "Histrio-Mastix"—says "It seems that the Grecian actors did now and then to refresh the spectators, bring a kind of cisterne on the stage, wherein naked women did swim and bathe themselves between the acts and scenes; which wicked, impudent, and execrable practice the holy father Chrysostom doth sharpely and excellently declaime against."
Xenophon mentions the tale of "Bacchus and Ariadne," Pantomimically played, and Martial tells us he saw the whole story of "Pasiphae," minutely represented on the stage of the Mimis, and Plautus, in his epilogue to "Casina," has—
"Nunc vos aequim est, manibus meritis, Meritam mercedem dare. Qui faxit, clam uxorem, ducat scortum Semper quod volet. Verum qui non manibus clare, quantum Potent, plauserit, Ei, pro scorto, supponetur hircus unctus nantea."
On the Roman stage female parts were represented in tragedy by men, is ascertained (says Malone) by one of Cicero's letters to Atticus, and by a passage in Horace. Horace mentions, however, a female performer called Arbuscula, but as we find from his own authority men personated women on the Roman stage, she was probably an Emboliariae. Servius calls her a Mima, or one who danced in the Pantomimic dances, and which seems more probable, as she is mentioned by Cicero, who says the part of Andromache was played by a male performer on the very day Arbuscula also performed.
The principal Roman Mimas were:—Arbuscula, Thymele, Licilia, Dionysia, Cytheris, Valeria, and Cloppia.
In the satirical interludes of the Grecian stage, and the Fabulae Atellanae of the Roman theatres, the Exodiarii and Emboliariae of the Mimes, were the remote progenitors (says Malone) of the Vice or Devil, and the Clown of our English Mystery plays, the latter series of plays being the origin of the drama of this country. The exact conformity between our Clown and the Exodiarii and Emboliariae of the Roman stage is ascertained by that passage in Pliny—"Lucceia Mima centum annis in scena pronuntiavit. Galeria, Copiola, Emboliariae, reducta est in scenam: annum certissimum quartum agens," is thus translated by an English author, Philemon Holland, "Lucceia, a common Vice in a play, followed the stage, and acted thereupon 100 yeeres. Such another Vice that plaied the foole, and made sporte between whiles in interludes, named Galeria Copiola, was brought to act upon the stage when she was in the 104th yeere of her age." We shall, in another chapter, return to the Vice, or Clown.
Introduction of the Roman Pantomimic Art into Britain—First English reference to the word Pantomime—The fall of the Roman Empire—The sacred play—Cornish Amphitheatres—Pantomimical and Lyrical elements in the sacrifice of the Mass—Christian banishment of the Mimis—Penalties imposed by the Church—St. Anthony on Harlequin and Punch—Vandenhoff—what we owe to the Mimis.
With the advent of Julius Caesar and the conquest of Britain by the Romans, about the year 52 B.C., we have, in all probability, the first introduction of the Roman Pantomimic Art into this country. Inasmuch as we have it upon the authority of history that Caesar travelled with his Mimes, and it is, therefore, not improbable that they came into Britain with him. England, then, during the occupancy of the Romans, must have known the Dramatic Art, or else (as Dibdin observes) Pacuvius, Accius, and Livius Andronicus were ignorant of it. Martial tells us that it did, and so does Boadicea, so that we have not only Roman authorities for it, but also British.
The word "Pantomime" could not, I may say here, have been Anglicised earlier than sometime during the seventeenth century. Dr. Johnson's earliest example is from "Hudibras"—
"Not that I think those Pantomimes, Who vary action with the times, Are less ingenious in their art Than those who duly act one part."
Bacon and Ben Jonson use the Latin Pantomimi—"Here be certain Pantomimi that will represent the voices of players." Again in the "Masque of Love's Triumph," etc., 1630, "After the manner of the old Pantomimi they dance over a distracted Comedy of Love."
The fall of the Roman Empire and the progress of Christianity in Europe sounded the death knell of Paganism and its attributes, of which Pantomime was deemed to be one, owing to the bad odour in which this form of entertainment had got to during the last days of the Empire. Notwithstanding this the church was only too glad to avail itself of Pantomime as a vehicle to portray before the world at large, and in order to turn attention to the great moral truths to be deduced from the death of Him on Calvary Hill. These exhibitions of religious subjects, in the form of tableaux vivants, took place in the churches, and, having regard to the sacred edifices in which they were given, they were, especially in the beginning, I conjecture, performed in dumb show, without any dialogue. Afterwards dialogue was introduced, and they began to be, not only held in the churches, but also in the church-yards, the streets, and in booths.
It is true the sacred play was not a new institution, as one is said to be mentioned about the time of the Fall of Jerusalem. In Cornwall, plays were given in the ancient times in the open air, after the fashion of the Roman Amphitheatre, with the dialogue in the Cymric tongue. Pantomimical performances might also have been given in those open-air theatres by the Romans.