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The History Of The Art Form Of Pantomime

2480 words - 10 pages

Emerging from as far back as the 15th century in Northern Italy, how did pantomime become so traditionally British? Delving deep into the antiquity of theatre, this essay looks into how pantomime has developed and become the form of entertainment it is today. Exploring into the history of art forms in which pantomime took its most highly recognised inspirations. The style of Commedia Dell’Arte will be studied in depth as one of the main influences in the life of pantomime. Victorian pantomime and Music Hall theatre will be briefly investigated also. The similarities and differences between early pantomime and the style in which it is performed today will be heavily studied. Also, finally a ...view middle of the document...

(Duchartre, 1966, p.72)
Touring through Europe, the actors performed in troupes customarily run by one leader, much like the touring pantomimes we see throughout Britain today. For example – “Pyramid Pantomimes, The traditional, fun packed panto that comes to you!” Pyramid Pantomimes (2012). The troupe consisted of anywhere up to twenty performers, each with a precise character to play. The actors worked from a basic pre-established outline, improvising the dialogue, whilst integrating jokes and physical comedy sections along the way. In the performances the actors continuously represented the same characters, altering only their circumstances.

The archetypal characters represented in Commedia Dell’Arte performances are known as ‘stock characters’. These stock characters play a fundamental role in Commedia Dell’Arte and have never lost the essential role they play in modern pantomime.

Some of the favourite stock characters throughout the 17th and 18th century in Europe were “Pantalone, the old man; Isabella, his beautiful daughter; Flavio, lover of Isabella, at odds with and usually invisible to, Pantalone and his servant, Zanni (clown).” Brown, J. (1995, p.109). The characters we see in modern pantomime are undoubtedly modelled on the stock characters of Commedia Dell’Arte.

A character such as, the King in a modern pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ would undoubtedly have taken inspiration from Pantalone in the sense that the characters are both senile, wealthy, protective of their daughter - the princess and are both thwarted of their riches at some point in the story.

Intricate masks were worn to exaggerate the actors’ facial features in order to convey the character’s personality. A mask might have sunken cheeks and a long, pointy nose or plump jowls with a pig-like snout, the masks were worn to help identify the characters. As Commedia Dell’Arte was performed by diverse travelling companies, this resulted in a change of costumes. Therefore, the mask would maintain the information necessary for the character to be recognisable to the audience. Another reason the actors wore masks was due to the limited sight in the mask, forcing the actor to move the head in a snake-like manner providing more movement on the stage, the movement for these characters was a vital part of the performance. Griffiths, D (1998, p.13) suggests “Their clowning contains ample displays of gymnastic fooling, obscene vulgarity and slick exchanges of verbal and physical repartee. Such is the style of their performance that their audience should be exhausted at its conclusion because of the excesses of energised comic devise”.

Due to the Italians being a travelling company there was a language barrier. Therefore, the actors portrayed the character and the situation through mime and movement alone.

By the mid eighteenth century the Harlequinade was a standard and hugely popular plank of the English theatre. The pantomimes tended to stick to the original idea of...

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