It may seem strange that such a British institution as the pantomime owes its origins – or at least its name – to the Roman era, but it is true that the Latin pantomimus (the one who plays every role) led to the term. In some ways the later Italian commedia dell’arte developed it further, with the introduction of stock characters such as the Harlequin and Scaramouche, who made fleeting appearances in England.
However it wasn’t until Louis XIV expelled the fairground entertainers from France that these characters and the French Pantaloon and Pierrot became familiar to English theatre-goers.
John Weaver laid claim to the first pantomime at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1702, and he introduced the word into the English theatre. But it was Joseph Grimaldi who turned the pantomime into the farcical entertainment we know today, and they later became more and more extravagant during Victorian times, increasingly the realm of musical hall ‘artistes’. The storylines also changed from the more dramatic classical plots to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and Cinderella, Dick Whittington and Babes in the Wood evolved from the 1860s.
Online Rare Books recommendations to look out for on the subject of pantomime, include Pantomime – A Story in Pictures; Oh Yes It Is!; Harlequin; Pillars of Drury Lane; King Panto, and biographies of Grimaldi (Click Here for the scarcest edition), Dan Leno, Danny LaRue – and, if you are lucky enough to get hold of an original copy, The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes by John Weaver (Stop Press! This is now available as a paperback)!
All books mentioned can be sourced through Online Rare Books, or click on the book titles to view current availability.