Pantomime

Peter Pan and Wendy is sometimes related to pantomime plays. Pantomimes began in Roman theatre where a dance reenacted a historical, mythological, and sometimes comical story. Pantomime consisted of a single dancer who physically played all characters, a chorus who sang the story, and instrumental accompaniment. After the fall of Rome, Italy continued Pantomime-like theatre. When they toured through England, the English fell in love with the style and recreated Pantomime as their own.

The first English pantomime play was by John Rich in 1702, performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in London (where a number of Shakespeare’s plays were performed, too!) after a touring Italian company presented their pantomimes. Pantomimes in England became traditional productions during the Christmas season. Cross-gendered roles were popularized in the 1850s, probably for comedic effect. Females played the male lead role–Harlequin– and a man played the female lead role–Columbine. Pantomimes usually retell a generic story using stock characters (characters that have set personalities and the same names such as Harlequin and Columbine), classic fairy tale, popular modern story that feature melodramatic acting styles, extravagant costumes, silly humor, and large amounts of audience participation where spectators were encouraged to cheer for heroes and boo at villains.

Though Peter Pan and Wendy is a complex story to produce in an exact pantomime style, elements of pantomime exist. Peter fits the role of Harlequin, the leading male who was “adept at disguise and mimicry and was a gifted acrobat, musician, and dancer. . .trickster and magician” (White and Tarr xiv). Likewise, Wendy is arguably molded from Columbine who would always willingly run away with Harlequin and partake in his transformations. Animal characters and fairies were common in Pantomimes from Barrie’s day, and traces of their impact can also be found in Peter Pan and Wendy.

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