EVOLUTION OF THE PANTOMIME
By restoring the harlequinade to a little of its old importance the producer of the Drury Lane pantomime lias taken a step which is sure both to please the children and at the same time to appeal to the sentiments of the older spectators. There is, indeed, something a little mysterious in the attraction exercised over the general imagination by the traditional figures of the Italian “comedy of masks,’’ Harlequin, t'olumbine. Pantaloon, Punch, and Pierrot. There is no country in which they'have not found a homo,, and they are always making a reappearance when least expected, as they did in Sir dames Barrie’s ‘ Pantaloon ’'and more recent Ivin Mr falt/irop aml Mr Barker’s ‘ Harlequinade.’ Quite a mythology has arisen concerning their origin. They are supposed to have existed in ancient Rome, if not before then in Greece: but they cannot he traced much farther hack than the Renascence, though they must have taken shape in the obsenritv of the Middle Ages. They were the stock characters of the commedia dell’ arte, the K ‘ professional “ comedy, and each represented a local “ type ” contributed by a. particular city. Arneehino is the serving-man from Bergamo, a knave in a [latched suit carrying a cudgel; Pulcinello is the lazarone of Naples; Panlalonc the grave Venetian merchant. —ln Italy and France.—
The Italian comedians were in the 16th and 17th centuries welcomed in all the capitals of Europe. In Paris the romedie italiennc became a, national institution alongside of the comiedie francaise. Moliere is said to have taken lessons in acting from Fiurelli. the famous searamouciic, and the influence of the coinmedia dell’ arte upon his plays (a, subject upon which a whole hook has been written) is attested by the appearance of such characters as Scapin and Pierrot, among his dramatis persona l . The “ masks ” were probably introduced into England about the period (1577) when “ Dronsiano, an Italian, a- commediante and his company,” paid their visit to London. They were certainly ...familiar to Shakespeare, as is proved not only by the reference to “ the lean and slippered pantaloon" in ‘ .\s You Jake It,’ but also by the introduction of the “Pedant,” a regular eoniincdia dell’ arte type, into ‘ The. Taming of the Shrew.’ and by the character of “Ancient, Pistol.” who is, like .Jonsun’s Captain Bohadil, a dear derivative of the “ Spanish Captain, Spaveuto della V’alle Jnferna. After the Rest-oration (the period when the “ Punch and Judy ” puppet show is said to have been started in England) the commedia dell’ arte characters became the rage. Dryden lamented in 1675 that audiences only went to the theatres to seeStout Sea IXIIIIOIIOIOI with rush lance ride .’n And run a tilt at Centaur Arleqnin.
It- is most likely that Dry den here alluded to foreign performers. —John Rich and (irimnidi.—
Twenty years later, however, in 1693, was born the man who invented the t-rno English pantomime and harlequinade. Joint Rich. Tiie son of a lawyer who Ira el dabbled in theatrical speculation, Rich was the builder and first manager of fovent Carden Theatre. He was perhaps the greatest- harlequin in stage history, and was the first actor to play the part entirely by means of gesture. One of his most famous scenes represented ' The Birth of Harlequin from the Egg-’ Of bis acting in this episode a contemporary wrote that from the first chipping of the egg, his receiving of motion, his feeling of the ground, his standing upright, to Ids quick harlequin trip round the empty shell, through the whole progression, every limb had its tongue, and every motion a voice. So deep was the impression made, by (he pantomimic powers of Rieh that even after his death a “speaking harlequin ” was regarded as an anomaly, a tradition which is preserved in the harlequinade to-day. It was Rich who invented the spectacular effects and transformations which have always been a- mark of the English pantomime. Harlequin became no longer a- clown hot a sorcerer; his mask- was henceforth (he symbol of Ids divisibility. and his stick the wand whereby poor men's cottages were change I to princes’ palaces. The name “Joey.'"
by which tilt' clown frill) f to ln-> called, was of oiur.-o tlt a t of tin; gi'oil .Joseph lliimahli, whoso memoirs (1778-1857) were edit i-ci by Charles Dickens mu!rr his pseudonym of ‘ Boz.' He was the son of an Italian ballet-master, and was not onh. a clown, a comic singer, and a Imnbi. r. but also (outside the (‘hrislmas season I a swordsman and a tragic mime of the highest order. F.clmund Kean, himself a harlequin in his youth, confessed that he had learnt several things from Grimaldi’s pantominm in tragic scenes. The groat (down's life was a series of disasters. Ilia wife, whom he had won after a most romantic wooing, died almost immediately alter the marriage; his sun became, through an accident, a dangerous maniac; his health early collapsed" through continuous overwork, for ho had been on the stage CVtT Mfiro lu; was three years old, and he wins compelled in old age to live, in e.xlrenut indigence, on a small pension allowed him from the Drury’ Kane Theatrical Fund. The terrible ‘ Stroller's Talc' in “'The Pickwick Papers' was probably suggested to the author bv the tragedy of Grimaldi's son.
-Ihc Modern Pantominn
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century the decline of the old-fashioned pantomime began. The success of Plane-lie's extravaganzas, mounted hv the celebrated painter Beverley,'’ suggested to managers that the public were, more interested in the fairy "opening" of the pantomime than in the time-hon-ci«l tricks of the harlequinade. They decider! If. adopt the .style l of the extravaganza, and to turn the pantomime- into a lai iy talc with, an elaborate, spectacle, a, grand " ‘.vanKtorination scene," and, in deference to tradition, a few harlequinade scenes tacked on to the conclusion. This, of course, was to obscure the relevance of the change of the persons of the play into the pantomime characters, and tu eon pent’erVee tin' harlequinade became more and more perfunctory, till it seemed on the edge of disappearaiuc. liven under these ineieasingly depressing conditions, however. there were clowns who contrived to make their mark, such as Piebald Flexmom (who died in 186'J), and in later years Harry Payne, who can bo remembered at Drury Lane by the present generation. Th.eie have boon no harlequins to eelipso the reputations of Rich, or of ftriinaldi's contemporaries, Tom liliav and flames Byrne, the latter the inventor of the spangled tights now worn in the part ; but readers of the late Herman Merivalo's ‘Bar, Stage, and Platform’ will no doubt recall the bright vision of t avlotta Keclerq, Charles Kean's columbine, which gilds the memories of the author's youth.
—The Hai lequinade, - with its broad, humors, its horseplay, and its brutal practical jokes. Is a relic of the England of tho cockpit and the prize ring. Nothing could be hotter characteristic of ceita.iu national differences than the contrast between the gross and jolly English clown and the melancholy, spectra.! French pie.rrot. ft would he hard to say how Joey ” strikes our .more sensitive age. Most people probably find him both iniorrigil>l© and insufferable. He need not, •all the same. be too much afraid. So long as there is a single schoolboy in the world “Joey’' will not, we fancy, lack a friend and a supporter. Though pantomime is generally regarded as a purely British institution—and rightly so, for no other country puts nursery tales upon the stage at Christinas time —most of the stories we dramatise are drawn from foreign sources. ‘Bluebeard.’ ‘ Cinderella,’ and ‘Tom Thumb’ we awe to France ; ‘Puss in Boots’ comes from Ttalv; ‘Jack the Giant- Killer’ hails from Norway; ‘.Tack and the Bean Stalk’ came In us with the House, of Hanover; and ‘ Sinbad the Sailor’ comes from tho East. ‘The Babes in the Wood’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ are among th© few fairy tales, of purely _ English origin. And wo have our ‘Dick Whittington’ and '.Robinson Crusoe. ’
Thackeray was a lover of tho pantomime, and ho never outgrew his childish fondness for the htuierpiinada. According to Mr Lewis Melville, his biographer, “rarelv a Boxing Hay earn© that, did not ,Jbad him si -‘‘.Tear
men in the course of nature,’* ho t®a«9 wrote, “ can expect to see all the pantomimes in one season, but I hope to the end of my life i shall never forgo reading about them in that delicious sheet _of 4 Tho Times’ which appears the morning after Boxing Day. Perhaps reading is even heller than seeing. The best wa.v, 1 think, ie to cay you are ill, lie in lied, and have the paper for two hours, reading all the way down from Drury Lane to the Britannia in Hoxton.” —From ‘The Times.’
Permanent link to this item
EVOLUTION OF THE PANTOMIME, Evening Star, Issue 15693, 6 January 1915