Il est des gens de qui l’esprit guindé
Sous un front jamais déridé
Ne souffre, n’approuve, et n’estime
Que le pompeux, et le sublime;
Pour moi j’ose poser en fait
Qu’en de certains momens l’esprit le plus parfait
Peut aimer sans rougir jusqu’aux marionettes;
Et qu’il est des tems et des lieux,
Où le grave, et le sérieux,
Ne valent pas d’agréables sornettes.
People there are who never smile;
Their foreheads still unsmooth’d the while,
Some lambent flame of mirth will play,
That wins the easy heart away;
Such only choose in prose or rhyme
A bristling pomp — they call sublime!
I blush not to like Harlequin,
Would he but talk — and all his kin.
Yes, there are times, and there are places,
When flams and old wives’ tales are worth the Graces.
Cervantes, in the person of his hero, has confessed the delight he received from amusements which disturb the gravity of some, who are apt, however, to be more entertained by them than they choose to acknowledge. Don Quixote thus dismisses a troop of merry strollers —”Andad con Dios, buena gente, y hazad vuestra fiesta, porque desde muchacho fui aficionado a la Carátula, y en mi mocedad se ne ivan los ojos tras la Farándula.” In a literal version the passage may run thus:—“Go, good people, God be with you, and keep your merry making! for from childhood I was in love with the Carátula, and in my youth my eyes would lose themselves amidst the Farándula.“ According to Pineda, La Carátula is an actor masked, and La Farándula is a kind of farce.1
Even the studious Bayle, wrapping himself in his cloak, and hurrying to the market-place to Punchinello, would laugh when the fellow had humour in him, as was usually the case; and I believe the pleasure some still find in pantomimes, to the annoyance of their gravity, is a very natural one, and only wants a little more understanding in the actors and the spectators.2
The truth is, that here our Harlequin and all his lifeless family are condemned to perpetual silence. They came to us from the genial hilarity of the Italian theatre, and were all the grotesque children of wit, and whim, and satire. Why is this burlesque race here privileged to cost so much, to do so little, and to repeat that little so often? Our own pantomime may, indeed, boast of two inventions of its own growth: we have turned Harlequin into a magician, and this produces the surprise of sudden changes of scenery, whose splendour and curious correctness have rarely been equalled: while in the metamorphosis of the scene, a certain sort of wit to the eye, “mechanic wit,” as it has been termed, has originated; as when a surgeon’s shop is turned into a laundry, with the inscription “Mangling done here;” or counsellors at the bar changed into fish-women.
Every one of this grotesque family were the creatures of national genius, chosen by the people for themselves. Italy, both ancient and modern, exhibits a gesticulating people of comedians, and the same comic genius characterised the nation through all its revolutions, as well as the individual through all his fortunes. The lower classes still betray their aptitude in that vivid humour, where the action is suited to the word — silent gestures sometimes expressing whole sentences. They can tell a story, and even raise the passions, without opening their lips. No nation in modern Europe possesses so keen a relish for the burlesque, insomuch as to show a class of unrivalled poems, which are distinguished by the very title; and perhaps there never was an Italian in a foreign country, however deep in trouble, but would drop all remembrance of his sorrows, should one of his countrymen present himself with the paraphernalia of Punch at the corner of a street. I was acquainted with an Italian, a philosopher and a man of fortune, residing in this country, who found so lively a pleasure in performing Punchinello’s little comedy, that, for this purpose, with considerable expense and curiosity, he had his wooden company, in all their costume, sent over from his native place. The shrill squeak of the tin whistle had the same comic effect on him as the notes of the Ranz des Vaches have in awakening the tenderness of domestic emotions in the wandering Swiss — the national genius is dramatic. Lady Wortley Montagu, when she resided at a villa near Brescia, was applied to by the villagers for leave to erect a theatre in her saloon: they had been accustomed to turn the stables into a playhouse every carnival. She complied, and, as she tells us, was “surprised at the beauty of their scenes, though painted by a country painter. The performance was yet more surprising, the actors being all peasants; but the Italians have so natural a genius for comedy, they acted as well as if they had been brought up to nothing else, particularly the Arlequino, who far surpassed any of our English, though only the tailor of our village, and I am assured never saw a play in any other place.” Italy is the mother, and the nurse, of the whole Harlequin race.
Hence it is that no scholars in Europe but the most learned Italians, smit by the national genius, could have devoted their vigils to narrate the revolutions of pantomime, to compile the annals of Harlequin, to unrol the genealogy of Punch, and to discover even the most secret anecdotes of the obscurer branches of that grotesque family, amidst their changeful fortunes, during a period of two thousand years! Nor is this all; princes have ranked them among the Rosciuses; and Harlequins and Scaramouches have been ennobled. Even Harlequins themselves have written elaborate treatises on the almost insurmountable difficulties of their art. I despair to convey the sympathy they have inspired me with to my reader; but every Tramontane genius must be informed, that of what he has never seen he must rest content to be told.
Of the ancient Italian troop we have retained three or four of the characters, while their origin has nearly escaped our recollection; but of the burlesque comedy, the extempore dialogue, the humorous fable, and its peculiar species of comic acting, all has vanished.
Many of the popular pastimes of the Romans unquestionably survived their dominion, for the people will amuse themselves, though their masters may be conquered; and tradition has never proved more faithful than in preserving popular sports. Many of the games of our children were played by Roman boys; the mountebanks, with the dancers and tumblers on their moveable stages, still in our fairs, are Roman; the disorders of the Bacchanalia, Italy appears to imitate in her carnivals. Among these Roman diversions certain comic characters have been transmitted to us, along with some of their characteristics, and their dresses. The speaking pantomimes and extemporal comedies which have delighted the Italians for many centuries, are from this ancient source.3
Of the Mimi and the Pantomimi of the Romans the following notices enter into our present researches:
The Mimi were an impudent race of buffoons, who exulted in mimicry, and, like our domestic fools, were admitted into convivial parties to entertain the guests; from them we derive the term mimetic art. Their powers enabled them to perform a more extraordinary office, for they appear to have been introduced into funerals, to mimic the person, and even the language of the deceased. Suetonius describes an Archimimus accompanying the funeral of Vespasian. This Arch-mime performed his part admirably, not only representing the person, but imitating, according to custom, ut est mos, the manners and language of the living emperor. He contrived a happy stroke at the prevailing foible of Vespasian, when he inquired the cost of all this funeral pomp —“Ten millions of sesterces!” On this he observed, that if they would give him but a hundred thousand they might throw his body into the Tiber.
The Pantomimi were quite of a different class. They were tragic actors, usually mute; they combined with the arts of gesture music and dances of the most impressive character. Their silent language often drew tears by the pathetic emotions which they excited: “Their very nod speaks, their hands talk, and their fingers have a voice,” says one of their admirers. Seneca, the father, grave as was his profession, confessed his taste for pantomimes had become a passion;4 and by the decree of the Senate, that “the Roman knights should not attend the pantomimic players in the streets,” it is evident that the performers were greatly honoured. Lucian has composed a curious treatise on pantomimes. We may have some notion of their deep conception of character, and their invention, by an anecdote recorded by Macrobius of two rival pantomimes. When Hylas, dancing a hymn, which closed with the words “The great Agamemnon,” to express that idea he took it in its literal meaning, and stood erect, as if measuring his size — Pylades, his rival, exclaimed, “You make him tall, but not great!” The audience obliged Pylades to dance the same hymn; when he came to the words he collected himself in a posture of deep meditation. This silent pantomimic language we ourselves have witnessed carried to singular perfection; when the actor Palmer, after building a theatre, was prohibited the use of his voice by the magistrates. It was then he powerfully affected the audience by the eloquence of his action in the tragic pantomime of Don Juan!5
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, &c. 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
The first Italian actors wore masks — objections have been raised against their use. Signorelli shows the inferiority of the moderns in deviating from the moveable or rather double masks of antiquity, by which the actor could vary the artificial face at pleasure. The mask has had its advocates, for some advantages it possesses over the naked face; a mask aggravates the features, and gives a more determined expression to the comic character; an important effect among this fantastical group.12
The HARLEQUIN in the Italian theatre has passed through all the vicissitudes of fortune. At first he was a true representative of the ancient Mime, but afterwards degenerated into a booby and a gourmand, the perpetual butt for a sharp-witted fellow, his companion, called Brighella; the knife and the whetstone. Harlequin, under the reforming hand of Goldoni, became a child of nature, the delight of his country; and he has commemorated the historical character of the great Harlequin Sacchi. It may serve the reader to correct his notions of one, from the absurd pretender with us who has usurped the title. “Sacchi possessed a lively and brilliant imagination. While other Harlequins merely repeated themselves, Sacchi, who always adhered to the essence of the play, contrived to give an air of freshness to the piece by his new sallies and unexpected repartees. His comic traits and his jests were neither taken from the language of the lower orders, nor that of the comedians. He levied contributions on comic authors, on poets, orators, and philosophers; and in his impromptus they often discovered the thoughts of Seneca, Cicero, or Montaigne. He possessed the art of appropriating the remains of these great men to himself, and allying them to the simplicity of the blockhead; so that the same proposition which was admired in a serious author, became highly ridiculous in the mouth of this excellent actor.”13 In France Harlequin was improved into a wit, and even converted into a moralist; he is the graceful hero of Florian’s charming compositions, which please even in the closet. “This imaginary being, invented by the Italians, and adopted by the French,” says the ingenious Goldoni, “has the exclusive right of uniting naïveté with finesse, and no one ever surpassed Florian in the delineation of this amphibious character. He has even contrived to impart sentiment, passion, and morality to his pieces.”14 Harlequin must be modelled as a national character, the creature of manners; and thus the history of such a Harlequin might be that of the age and of the people, whose genius he ought to represent.
The history of a people is often detected in their popular amusements; one of these Italian pantomimic characters shows this. They had a Capitan, who probably originated in the Miles gloriosus of Plautus; a brother, at least, of our Ancient Pistol and Bobadil. The ludicrous names of this military poltroon were Spavento (Horrid fright), Spezza-fer (Shiver-spear), and a tremendous recreant was Captain Spavento de Val inferno. When Charles V. entered Italy, a Spanish Captain was introduced; a dreadful man he was too, if we are to be frightened by names: Sanqre e Fuego! and Matamoro! His business was to deal in Spanish rhodomontades, to kick out the native Italian Capitan, in compliment to the Spaniards, and then to take a quiet caning from Harlequin, in compliment to themselves. When the Spaniards lost their influence in Italy, the Spanish Captain was turned into Scaramouch, who still wore the Spanish dress, and was perpetually in a panic. The Italians could only avenge themselves on the Spaniards in pantomime! On the same principle the gown of Pantaloon over his red waistcoat and breeches, commemorates a circumstance in Venetian history expressive of the popular feeling; the dress is that of a Venetian citizen, and his speech the dialect; but when the Venetians lost Negropont, they changed their upper dress to black, which before had been red, as a national demonstration of their grief.
The characters of the Italian pantomime became so numerous, that every dramatic subject was easily furnished with the necessary personages of comedy. That loquacious pedant the Dottore was taken from the lawyers and the physicians, babbling false Latin in the dialect of learned Bologna. Scapin was a livery servant who spoke the dialect of Bergamo, a province proverbially abounding with rank intriguing knaves, who, like the slaves in Plautus and Terence, were always on the watch to further any wickedness; while Calabria furnished the booby Giangurgello with his grotesque nose. Molière, it has been ascertained, discovered in the Italian theatre at Paris his “Médecin malgré lui,” his “Etourdi,” his “L’Avare,” and his “Scapin.” Milan offered a pimp in the Brighella; Florence an ape of fashion in Gelsomino. These and other pantomimic characters, and some ludicrous ones, as the Tartaglia, a spectacled dotard, a stammerer, and usually in a passion, had been gradually introduced by the inventive powers of an actor of genius, to call forth his own peculiar talents.
The Pantomimes, or, as they have been described, the continual Masquerades, of Ruzzante, with all these diversified personages, talking and acting, formed, in truth, a burlesque comedy. Some of the finest geniuses of Italy became the votaries of Harlequin; and the Italian pantomime may be said to form a school of its own. The invention of Ruzzante was one capable of perpetual novelty. Many of these actors have been chronicled either for the invention of some comic character, or for their true imitation of nature in performing some favourite one. One, already immortalised by having lost his real name in that of Captain Matamoros, by whose inimitable humours he became the most popular man in Italy, invented the Neapolitan Pullicinello; while another, by deeper study, added new graces to another burlesque rival.15 One Constantini invented the character of Mezetin, as the Narcissus of pantomime. He acted without a mask, to charm by the beautiful play of his countenance, and display the graces of his figure; the floating drapery of his fanciful dress could be arranged by the changeable humour of the wearer. Crowds followed him in the streets, and a King of Poland ennobled him. The Wit and Harlequin Dominic sometimes dined at the table of Louis XIV. — Tiberio Fiorillo, who invented the character of Scaramouch, had been the amusing companion of the boyhood of Louis XIV.; and from him Molière learnt much, as appears by the verses under his portrait:—
Cet illustre comédien
De son art traça la carrière:
Il fut le maître de Molière,
Et la Nature fut le sien.
The last lines of an epitaph on one of these pantomimic actors may be applied to many of them during their flourishing period:—
Toute sa vie il a fait rire;
Il a fait pleurer à sa mort.
Several of these admirable actors were literary men, who have written on their art, and shown that it was one. The Harlequin Cecchini composed the most ancient treatise on this subject, and was ennobled by the Emperor Matthias; and Nicholas Barbieri, for his excellent acting called the Beltrame, a Milanese simpleton, in his treatise on comedy, tell us that he was honoured by the conversation of Louis XIII. and rewarded with fortune.
What was the nature of that perfection to which the Italian pantomime reached; and that prodigality of genius which excited such enthusiasm, not only among the populace, but the studious, and the noble, and the men of genius?
The Italian Pantomime had two peculiar features; a species of buffoonery technically termed Lazzi, and one of a more extraordinary nature, the extempore dialogue of its comedy.
These Lazzi were certain pleasantries of gesticulation, quite national, yet so closely allied to our notions of buffoonery, that a northern critic would not readily detect the separating shade; yet Riccoboni asserts that they formed a critical, and not a trivial art. That these arts of gesticulation had something in them peculiar to Italian humour, we infer from Gherardi, who could not explain the term but by describing it as ”Un Tour; JEU ITALIEN!” It was so peculiar to them, that he could only call it by their own name. It is difficult to describe that of which the whole magic consists in being seen; and what is more evanescent than the humour which consists in gestures?
“Lazzi,“ says Riccoboni, “is a term corrupted from the old Tuscan Lacci, which signifies a knot, or something which connects. These pleasantries called Lazzi are certain actions by which the performer breaks into the scene, to paint to the eye his emotions of panic or jocularity; but as such gestures are foreign to the business going on, the nicety of the art consists in not interrupting the scene, and connecting the Lazzi with it; thus to tie the whole together.” Lazzi, then, seems a kind of mimicry and gesture, corresponding with the passing scene; and we may translate the term by one in our green-room dialect, side-play. Riccoboni has ventured to describe some Lazzi. When Harlequin and Scapin represent two famished servants of a poor young mistress, among the arts by which they express the state of starvation, Harlequin having murmured, Scapin exhorts him to groan, a music which brings out their young mistress, Scapin explains Harlequin’s impatience, and begins a proposal to her which might extricate them all from their misery. While Scapin is talking, Harlequin performs his Lazzi — imagining he holds a hatful of cherries, he seems eating them, and gaily flinging the stones at Scapin; or with a rueful countenance he is trying to catch a fly, and with his hand, in comical despair, would chop off the wings before he swallows the chameleon game. These, with similar Lazzi, harmonise with the remonstrance of Scapin, and re-animate it; and thus these ”Lazzi, although they seem to interrupt the progress of the action, yet in cutting it they slide back into it, and connect or tie the whole.” These Lazzi are in great danger of degenerating into puerile mimicry or gross buffoonery, unless fancifully conceived and vividly gesticulated. But the Italians seem to possess the arts of gesture before that of speech; and this national characteristic is also Roman. Such, indeed, was the powerful expression of their mimetic art, that when the select troop under Riccoboni, on their first introduction into France only spoke in Italian, the audience, who did not understand the words, were made completely masters of the action by their pure and energetic imitations of nature. The Italian theatre has, indeed, recorded some miracles of this sort. A celebrated Scaramouch, without uttering a syllable, kept the audience for a considerable time in a state of suspense by a scene of successive terrors; and exhibited a living picture of a panic-stricken man. Gherardi in his “Théâtre Italien,” conveys some idea of the scene. Scaramouch, a character usually represented in a fright, is waiting for his master Harlequin in his apartment; having put everything in order, according to his confused notions, he takes the guitar, seats himself in an arm-chair, and plays. Pasquariel comes gently behind him, and taps time on his shoulders — this throws Scaramouch into a panic. “It was then that incomparable model of our most eminent actors,” says Gherardi, “displayed the miracles of his art; that art which paints the passions in the face, throws them into every gesture, and through a whole scene of frights upon frights, conveys the most powerful expression of ludicrous terror. This man moved all hearts by the simplicity of nature, more than skilful orators can with all the charms of persuasive rhetoric.” On this memorable scene a great prince observed that ”Scaramuccia non parla, e dica gran cosa:” “He speaks not, but he says many great things.”
In gesticulation and humour our Rich16 appears to have been a complete Mime: his genius was entirely confined to Pantomime; and he had the glory of introducing Harlequin on the English stage, which he played under the feigned name of Lun. He could describe to the audience by his signs and gestures as intelligibly as others could express by words. There is a large caricature print of the triumph which Rich had obtained over the severe Muses of Tragedy and Comedy, which lasted too long not to excite jealousy and opposition from the corps dramatique.
Garrick, who once introduced a speaking Harlequin, has celebrated the silent but powerful language of Rich:—
When LUN appear’d, with matchless art and whim,
He gave the power of speech to every limb;
Tho’ mask’d and mute, conveyed his quick intent,
And told in frolic gestures what he meant:
But now the motley coat and sword of wood
Require a tongue to make them understood!
The Italian EXTEMPORAL COMEDY is a literary curiosity which claims our attention.
1 Motteux, whose translation Lord Woodhouselee distinguishes as the most curious, turns the passage thus: “I wish you well, good people: drive on to act your play, for in my very childhood I loved shows, and have been a great admirer of dramatic representations.“ Part II. c. xi. The other translators have nearly the same words. But in employing the generic term they lose the species, that is, the thing itself; but what is less tolerable, in the flatness of the style, they lose that delightfulness with which Cervantes conveys to us the recollected pleasures then busying the warm brain of his hero. An English reader, who often grows weary over his Quixote, appears not always sensible that one of the secret charms of Cervantes, like all great national authors, lies concealed in his idiom and style.
2 The author of the descriptive letter-press to George Cruikshank’s illustrations of Punch says he “saw the late Mr. Wyndham, then one of the Secretaries of State, on his way from Downing-street to the House of Commons, on the night of an important debate, pause like a truant boy until the whole performance was concluded, to enjoy a hearty laugh at the whimsicalities of the ‘motley hero.’”
3 Rich, in his “Companion to the Latin Diction,” has an excellent illustration of this passage:—“This art was of very great antiquity, and much practised by the Greeks and Romans, both on the stage and in the tribune, induced by their habit of addressing large assemblies in the open air, where it would have been impossible for the majority to comprehend what was said without the assistance of some conventional signs, which enabled the speaker to address himself to the eye, as well as the ear of the audience. These were chiefly made by certain positions of the hands and fingers, the meaning of which was universally recognised and familiar to all classes, and the practice itself reduced to a regular system, as it remains at the present time amongst the populace of Naples, who will carry on a long conversation between themselves by mere gesticulation, and without pronouncing a word.” That many of these signs are similar to those used by the ancients, is proved by the same author, who copies from an antique vase a scene which he explains by the action of the hands of the figures, adding, “A common lazzaroni, when shown one of these compositions, will at once explain the purport of the action, which a scholar with all his learning cannot divine.” The gesture to signify love, employed by the ancients and modern Neapolitans, was joining the tips of the thumb and fore-finger of the left hand; an imputation or asseveration by holding forth the right hand; a denial by raising the same hand, extending the fingers. In mediæval works of art, a particular attitude of the fingers is adopted to exhibit malicious hate: it is done by crossing the fore-finger of each hand, and is generally seen in figures of Herod or Judas Iscariot.
4 Tacitus, Annals, lib. i. sect. 77, in Murphy’s translation.
5 This measure of “restrictive policy,” which gave to the patent theatres the sole right of performing the legitimate drama properly, led to the construction of plays for the minor theatres, entirely carried on by action, occasionally aided by inscriptions painted on scrolls, and unrolled and exhibited by the actor when his power of expressing such words failed. This led to the education of a series of pantomimists, who taught action conventionally to represent words. At the close of the last century, there were many such; and the reader who may be curious to see the nature of these dumb dramas, may do so in two volumes named “Circusiana,” by J.C. Cross, the author of very many that were performed at the Royal Circus, in St. George’s Fields. The whole action of the drama was performed to music composed expressly to aid the expression of the performers, among the best of whom were Bologna and D’Egville. It is a class of dramatic art which has now almost entirely passed away; or is seen, but in a minor degree, in the pantomimic action of a grand ballet at the opera.
6 L’Antiq. Exp. v. 63.
7 Louis Riccoboni, in his curious little treatise, “Du Théâtre Italien,” illustrated by seventeen prints of the Italian pantomimic characters, has duly collected the authorities. I give them, in the order quoted above, for the satisfaction of more grave inquirers. Vossius, Instit. Poet, lib. ii. 32, § 4. The Mimi blackened their faces. Diomedes, de Orat. lib. iii. Apuleius, in Apolog. And further, the patched dress was used by the ancient peasants of Italy, as appears by a passage in Varro, De Re Rust, lib. i. c. 8; and Juvenal employs the term centunculus as a diminutive of cento, for a coat made up of patches. This was afterwards applied metaphorically to those well-known poems called centos, composed of shreds and patches of poetry, collected from all quarters. Goldoni considered Harlequin as a poor devil and dolt, whose coat is made up of rags patched together; his hat shows mendicity; and the hare’s tail is still the dress of the peasantry of Bergamo. Quadrio, in his learned Storia d’ogni Poesia, has diffused his erudition on the ancient Mimi and their successors. Dr. Clarke has discovered the light lath sword of Harlequin, which had hitherto baffled my most painful researches, amidst the dark mysteries of the ancient mythology! We read with equal astonishment and novelty, that the prototypes of the modern pantomime are in the Pagan mysteries; that Harlequin is Mercury, with his short sword called herpe, or his rod the caduceus, to render himself invisible, and to transport himself from one end of the earth to the other; that the covering on his head was his petasus, or winged cap; that Columbine is Pysche, or the Soul; the Old Man in our pantomimes is Charon; the Clown is Momus, the buffoon of heaven, whose large gaping mouth is an imitation of the ancient masks. The subject of an ancient vase engraven in the volume represents Harlequin, Columbine, and the Clown, as we see them on the English stage. The dreams of the learned are amusing when we are not put to sleep. Dr. Clarke’s Travels, vol. iv. p. 459. The Italian antiquaries never entertained any doubt of this remote origin. It may, however, be reasonably doubted. The chief appendage of the Vice or buffoon of the ancient moralities was a gilt wooden sword, and this also belonged to the old Clown or Fool, not only in England but abroad. “The wooden sword directly connects Harlequin with the ancient Vice and more modern Fool,” says the author of the letter-press to Cruikshank’s Punch, apparently with the justest derivation.
8 This statue, which is imagined to have thrown so much light on the genealogy of Punch, was discovered in 1727, and is engraved in Ficoroni’s amusing work on Maschere sceniche e le figure coniche d’antichi Romani, p. 48. It is that of a Mime called Maccus by the Romans; the name indicates a simpleton. But the origin of the more modern name has occasioned a little difference, whether it be derived from the nose or its squeak. The learned Quadrio would draw the name Pullicinello from Pulliceno, which Spartianus uses for il pullo gallinaceo (I suppose this to be the turkey-cock) because Punch’s hooked nose resembles its beak. But Baretti, in that strange book the “Tolondron,” gives a derivation admirably descriptive of the peculiar squeaking nasal sound. He says, ”Punchinello, or Punch, as you well know, speaks with a squeaking voice that seems to come out at his nose, because the fellow who in a puppet-show manages the puppet called Punchinello, or Punch, as the English folks abbreviate it, speaks with a tin whistle in his mouth, which makes him emit that comical kind of voice. But the English word Punchinello is in Italian Pulcinella, which means a hen-chicken. Chickens’ voices are squeaking and nasal; and they are timid, and powerless, and for this reason my whimsical countrymen have given the name of Pulcinella, or hen-chicken, to that comic character, to convey the idea of a man that speaks with a squeaking voice through his nose, to express a timid and weak fellow, who is always thrashed by the other actors, and always boasts of victory after they are gone."— Tolondron, p. 324. In Italian, Policinello is a little flea, active and biting and skipping; and his mask puce-colour, the nose imitating in shape the flea’s proboscis. This grotesque etymology was added by Mrs. Thrale. I cannot decide between “the hen-chicken” of the scholar and “the skipping flea” of the lady, who, however, was herself a scholar.
9 How the Latin Sannio became the Italian Zanni, was a whirl in the roundabout of etymology, which put Riccoboni very ill at his ease; for he, having discovered this classical origin of his favourite character, was alarmed at Menage giving it up with obsequious tameness to a Cruscan correspondent. The learned Quadrio, however, gives his vote for the Greek Sannos, from whence the Latins borrowed their Sannio. Riccoboni’s derivation, therefore, now stands secure from all verbal disturbers of human quiet.
Sanna is in Latin, as Ainsworth elaborately explains, “a mocking by grimaces, mows, a flout, a frump, a gibe, a scoff, a banter;” and Sannio is “a fool in a play.” The Italians change the S into Z, for they say Zmyrna and Zambuco, for Smyrna and Sambuco; and thus they turned Sannio into Zanno, and then into Zanni, and we caught the echo in our Zany.
10 Riccoboni, Histoire du Théàtre Italien, p. 53; Gimma, Italia Letterata, p. 196.
11 There is an earlier and equally whimsical series bearing the following title —“Mascarades recuillies et mises en taille douce par Robert Boissart, Valentianois, 1597,” consisting of twenty-four plates of Carnival masquers.
12 Signorelli, Storia Critica de Teatri, tom. iii. 263.
13 Mem. of Goldoni, i. 281.
14 Mem. of Goldoni, ii. 284.
15 I am here but the translator of a grave historian. The Italian writes with all the feeling of one aware of the important narrative, and with a most curious accuracy in this genealogy of character: ”Silvio Fiorillo, che appetter si facea il Capitano Matamoros, INVENTO il Pulcinella Napoletano, e collo studio e grazia molto AGGIUNSE Andrea Calcese dello Ciuccio por soprannome.“— Gimma, Italia Letterata, p. 196. There is a very curious engraving by Bosse, representing the Italian comedians about 1633, as they performed the various characters on the Parisian stage. The cracked voice and peculiarities of this “great invention” are declared by Fiorillo and Signorelli to be imitations of the peculiarities of the peasants of Acerra, an ancient city in the neighbourhood of Naples. For a curious dissertation on this popular character, see the volume so admirably illustrated by Cruikshank, quoted on a previous page.
16 John Rich was the patentee of Covent Garden Theatre, and spent large sums over his favourite pantomimes. He was also the fortunate producer of the “Beggar’s Opera,” which was facetiously said to have made Rich gay, and Gay rich. He took so little interest in what is termed the “regular drama,” that he is reported to have exclaimed, when peeping through the curtain at a full house to witness a tragedy —“What, you are there, you fools, are you!” He died wealthy, in 1761; and there is a costly tomb to his memory in Hillingdon churchyard, Middlesex.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53