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Chapman, Clive Gilbert

English Pantomime and its Music, 1700-1730

Ph.D. Royal Holloway, University of London, 1981

1. Aim

The thesis seeks to examine the origins of English pantomime, its development and the music written for it in the early eighteenth century.

2. Origins

As a thoroughly eclectic entertainment pantomime looked to many sources for its success. The characters of the commedia dell'arte were already far more familiar to eighteenth-century audiences than is generally imagined. Their popularity had been increasing steadily throughout the previous century. The influx of actors from the Paris Fairs and the Théâtre Italien provided a new impetus for interval entertainment in dancing and mime. In the second decade of the century visiting foreign troupes and the published scenarios of Gherardi's collections provided a framework for lazzi involving Harlequin and other commedia characters as well as introducing a mythological constituent.

3. Development

By 1715 a mosaic was being assembled from these elements to provide a more extended type of "afterpiece" entertainment. The managers of the playhouses eagerly supported what was clearly a popular form and one which might be relied upon to enliven the stock repertoire of plays. Ballads were introduced into the farcical part (called "the Grotesque") and masque-like interludes supplied a foil to the buffoonery (and were called "the Serious" or "Vocal" parts). Anxious to seize upon the most popular aspects of any type of entertainment, the pantomimists looked to contemporary Italian opera for recitative and aria in the "Serious" parts, to the French ballet de cour for the dances and to masque and early magic operas for machines, scenes and decorations. The contribution of John Weaver, John Rich and Johann Ernst Galliard to these aspects of pantomime are assessed.

4. Music

Pantomime music appears to attempt to scale down and modify those elements in Italian opera which might have been less acceptable to the largely middle-class audiences of the playhouses. Pantomime music is examined season-by-season. The year 1730 is seen as a convenient one at which to close because pantomime had, by this time, survived the onslaught of ballad opera and Weaver's attempts to direct its development and the pantomimes upon which success in this genre was to rest for the remainder of the century were established favourites.