The technological progress developed many innovations, some of which have formed an integral part of our lives. The increasing enlargement of various scientific spheres is not a single consequence of this process: entertainment has altered as well. Nowadays music, literature, and cinema are becoming more and more available. Theater is one of those rare exceptions that, fortunately, may be excluded from the mentioned changes; the same is with pantomime, with its main, single, and unique actor – mime.
Mime’s Theater in Greece and the Roman Empire
The history of mime traces back to the Primitive Times, when mime performed one of the most significant functions – communicative. Later on, with the development of language skills, mime began to participate in the developing theatrical performances. And the function changed from the communicative to entertaining. The first Greek theater, which gave birth to the life of pantomime on the stage, was the Theater of Dionysus in Athens; the first well-known mime was famous Telestes. The plays depicted everyday life scenes of craftsmen and villagers. Moreover, they were performed along with music and dancing.
After the Romans had conquered Greece, the pantomime appeared in Italy, where it continued its further development. This time mime separated from speech and dancing. The actors used common topics: love, rivalry, comic scenes from everyday life, etc. Under the rule of Julius Caesar, two kinds of mime appeared: comic, developed by Bathyllus of Alexandria, and tragic, with its main representative Pylades of Cicilia. The popularity of mime was increasingly growing, and up to the beginning of the first century BC, its content was mainly a satire on social and political conditions of the Empire.
Commedia Dell’ Arte
The fall of the Roman Empire provoked other changes in the history of mime. The Christian Church forbade the art of mimes, and, as a result, they were on the verge of disappearance. Despite the difficulties, mimes managed to survive and acquired new peculiarities. Because of the process of barbarization of the Roman Empire, mimes immigrated to other countries and went back to tramping. As a consequence, they tangled with the lower classes of the urban and rural population, and from that time, the pantomime was firmly associated with the peasant folklore.
In the sixteenth century, mimes became famous again in the form of Commedia dell’ Arte. It was a new type of Italian theater, which was free of plots and was based merely on the improvisation of actors. All of the actors wore masks. The troops which participated in Commedia dell’ Arte were the first examples of the presence of incipient directing elements. It also facilitated the development of the actor’s impersonation in combination with acrobatic skills.
Mimes depicted the characters which were called Zanni. However, the prominence of the genre was linked to other significant characters: Arlecchino and Brighella. The themes of the performances were usually topical for the then times and were not restricted to any sphere of life. To the end of the sixteenth century, mimes were very well-known almost in all the European countries. In the seventeenth century, pantomimes were also staged at the courts.
The beginning of the nineteenth century marked another important step in the creation of the pantomime and mimes as well. Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau developed a new slapstick form. Deburau was also an inventor of the famous Pierrot.
Foundation of the Corporeal Mime
During the First and the Second World War, mimes were deeply influenced by the Etienne Decroux and his pupil Jean-Louis Barrault, who created the backgrounds of the mime, which exist even now. They were also the founders of the corporeal mime – mime where body movements play the key role. It is called ‘modern’ and used nowadays.
Marcel Marceau was also a pupil of Etienne Decroux; he was no less prominent then his teacher. He created his own character called Bip the Clown, who was rather similar to Pierrot. It was a character in a jacket and a silk tall hat with a few flowers sticking out of it. Bip had his own peculiarity: he managed to find a trouble even in a simple and common situation. Inspired by the mute movies, Marceau created a silent character and implied a precise satire in the scenes he performed. Marcel Marceau is considered to be a creator of the modern mime.
Pantomime was also deeply influenced by postmodernism in the second half of the twentieth century. In Europe and America, there were no distinct forms of mimes; in most of the cases the types were combined. In general, there are two main forms of pantomime: literal and abstract. Literal mime usually depicts a comic situation and is presented by a single character. There are many actions and decorations that help to comprehend a story. On the other hand, in literal mime, the chosen topic is more serious and the plot is absent. The majority of American mimes include features of the both described types.
It is possible that such a unique genre as pantomime will continue its development in future. Perhaps, it would be divided into new types. Mime can possibly join the technological progress and can be totally transformed into modern art. In such a case, the main aim for new inventors, actors, and spectators would be to preserve its uniqueness and the rare ability to depict the world in the light of emotions.