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The Pantomimical Characters
by [?]

These pantomimi seem to have been held in great honour; many were children of the Graces and the Virtues! The tragic and the comic masks were among the ornaments of the sepulchral monuments of an archmime and a pantomime. Montfaucon conjectures that they formed a select fraternity.[6] They had such an influence over the Roman people, that when two of them quarrelled, Augustus interfered to renew their friendship. Pylades was one of them; and he observed to the emperor, that nothing could be more useful to him than that the people should be perpetually occupied with the squabbles between him and Bathyllus! The advice was accepted, and the emperor was silenced.

The parti-coloured hero, with every part of his dress, has been drawn out of the great wardrobe of antiquity: he was a Roman Mime. HARLEQUIN is described with his shaven head, rasis capitibus; his sooty face, fuligine faciem obducti; his flat, unshod feet, planipedes; and his patched coat of many colours, Mimi centunculo.[7] Even Pullicinella, whom we familiarly call PUNCH, may receive, like other personages of not greater importance, all his dignity from antiquity; one of his Roman ancestors having appeared to an antiquary’s visionary eye in a bronze statue; more than one erudite dissertation authenticates the family likeness; the nose long, prominent, and hooked; the staring goggle eyes; the hump at his back and at his breast; in a word, all the character which so strongly marks the Punch-race, as distinctly as whole dynasties have been featured by the Austrian lip and the Bourbon nose.[8]

The genealogy of the whole family is confirmed by the general term, which includes them all; for our Zany, in Italian Zanni, comes direct from Sannio, a buffoon: and a passage in Cicero, De Oratore, paints Harlequin and his brother gesticulators after the life; the perpetual trembling motion of their limbs, their ludicrous and flexible gestures, and all the mimicry of their faces:–Quid enim potest tam ridiculum, quam SANNIO esse? Qui ore, vultu, imitandis motibus, voce, denique corpore ridetur ipso. Lib. ii. sect. 51. “For what has more of the ludicrous than SANNIO? who, with his mouth, his face, imitating every motion, with his voice, and, indeed, with all his body, provokes laughter.”[9]

These are the two ancient heroes of pantomime. The other characters are the laughing children of mere modern humour. Each of these chimerical personages, like so many county members, come from different provinces in the gesticulating land of pantomime; in little principalities the rival inhabitants present a contrast in manners and characters which opens a wider field for ridicule and satire than in a kingdom where an uniformity of government will produce an uniformity of manners. An inventor appeared in Ruzzante, an author and actor who flourished about 1530. Till his time they had servilely copied the duped fathers, the wild sons, and the tricking valets, of Plautus and Terence; and, perhaps, not being writers of sufficient skill, but of some invention, were satisfied to sketch the plots of dramas, but boldly trusted to extempore acting and dialogue. Ruzzante peopled the Italian stage with a fresh enlivening crowd of pantomimic characters; the insipid dotards of the ancient comedy were transformed into the Venetian Pantaloon and the Bolognese Doctor; while the hare-brained fellow, the arch knave, and the booby, were furnished from Milan, Bergamo, and Calabria. He gave his newly-created beings new language and a new dress. From Plautus he appears to have taken the hint of introducing all the Italian dialects into one comedy, by making each character use his own; and even the modern Greek, which, it seems, afforded many an unexpected play on words, for the Italian.[10] This new kind of pleasure, like the language of Babel, charmed the national ear; every province would have its dialect introduced on the scene, which often served the purpose both of recreation and a little innocent malice. Their masks and dresses were furnished by the grotesque masqueraders of the carnival, which, doubtless, often contributed many scenes and humours to the quick and fanciful genius of Ruzzante. I possess a little book of Scaramouches, etc. by Callot. Their masks and their costume must have been copied from these carnival scenes. We see their strongly-featured masks; their attitudes, pliant as those of a posture-master; the drollery of their figures; while the grotesque creatures seem to leap, and dance, and gesticulate, and move about so fantastically under his sharp graver, that they form as individualised a race as our fairies and witches; mortals, yet like nothing mortal![11]