Monday, 9 December 2013


Last night I went to see the pantomime at the Hackney Empire: a tragic and moving story of a puss and his boots. But I couldn't help wondering (when I wasn't warning of the dangers behind the hero) where pantomime came from.

Once upon a time, in Ancient Greece, it was observed that actors were mimics (mimos) of everything (pan, as in a panacea or cure-all). Thus an actor was a pantomimos. This was taken into Latin as pantomimus. Some sense of the original meaning survived, as you can see from these lines from 1615:

In time
No question but he'll prove true Pantomime,
To imitate all forms, shapes, habits, 'tires
Suiting the Court.

There seems to have been a sense that the pantomime actor mimicked things in clumsy gestures. Anyway, the pantomime then became a kind of play, usually rather sneered at. And in the C19th became the Christmas thingyummyjig we British know and love.

Now turn around from your computer screen.

It's behind you.

I'm giving a talk in Blackwells in Oxford tonight at seven, if any one wants to come along. Tomorrow is Steyning and Wednesday is historic, thelyphthoric Warwick.

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