In Brief

The "pantomime," or "panto," in Ulysses should not be confused with the very different art form of silent miming gestures. The panto that Joyce had in mind was a hugely popular form of musical comedy, appealing to both adults and children, that was performed on theatrical stages on days near Christmas. It came to Ireland from England and remains a thriving theatrical tradition in Dublin as in many English cities. In Dublin, pantomime shows like "Turko the Terrible" and "Sinbad the Sailor" were performed at all three of the city's principal theaters: the Theatre Royal, the Gaiety Theatre, and the Queen's Theatre.

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Pantomime originated in the ancient world. The Greek name originally indicated that the actor or actors “imitate all," and quite a bit is known about a low Roman art form of that name, which featured a male dancer telling mythical or legendary stories. But the modern form can more plausibly be traced back to the Mummers Play of medieval England and the Commedia dell’arte of Renaissance Italy. Theaters in Restoration and 18th century England adapted elements of the Commedia, and in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign a new kind of popular but sophisticated show took shape, based on children’s fairy tales that everyone in the audience could be assumed to know, including northern European ones like Cinderella, Mother Goose, Dick Whittington, and Humpty Dumpty, and also exotic foreign stories like Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad, and Robinson Crusoe. These entertainments, which spread to all the farflung parts of the empire, were, like mummers' plays, usually performed in the Christmas and New Year season.

Using one fairy tale as a broad canvas, the shows featured many diverse kinds of free, improvisatory entertainment: dances, well-known popular songs set to new lyrics, cross-dressing roles, slapstick comedy, evil villains and good fairies, clowns, jugglers, acrobats, topical allusions and jokes, sexual innuendo, appearances by local guest stars, and frequent audience participation: watchers were expected to shout out suggestions to the performers and sing along with well-known songs. The story line ran very loosely through all these incidentals, and tended to be wrapped up quickly and unrealistically.

The "Turko the terrible" that Stephen thinks of in Telemachus, and Bloom in Calypso, had been performed in Dublin for decades. Thornton notes that William Brough’s pantomime Turko the Terrible; or, The Fairy Roses, first performed in 1868 at London's Gaiety Theatre, was adapted by the Irish author Edwin Hamilton for performance in Dublin's Gaiety Theatre, first in 1873 and then many times more in the remainder of the 19th century. Bloom thinks of Turko as he imagines himself wandering through the streets of a Middle Eastern city. In Circe, Molly’s father, Major Brian Tweedy, acquires this exotic aspect.

"Old Royce," whom Stephen imagines playing the role, was Edward William Royce, an English comic actor who often performed parts in pantomimes. His presence in Stephen's thoughts may owe to the fact that he appeared as Turko in performances of an unrelated pantomime that Joyce could well have attended. Robert Martin Adams observes that in the Sinbad the Sailor of 1892-93, "Mr. E. W. Royce was one of the featured performers; and his appearance was billed as the first since his return from Australia. He took the part of Turko the Terrible, not that this part was an invariable feature of Sinbad the Sailor...but because, as an old Dublin favorite, he had to be worked in somehow" (Surface and Symbol 77-78).

In Ithaca Bloom thinks of “the grand annual Christmas pantomime Sinbad the Sailor,” performed in December 1892 and January 1893 at the Gaiety Theatre. As the poster reproduced here shows, he correctly identifies the theater manager as "Michael Gunn, lessee of the Gaiety Theatre," but he is quite mistaken that the show was "written by Greenleaf Whittier." An obscure author named Greenleaf Withers penned the script, not the famous (and highminded) 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Adams points out this mistake, as well as the fact that Joyce has combined two of the actresses, Kate Neverist and Nellie Bouverie, into "Nelly Bouverist, principal girl."

Adams also reflects on the many pieces of information that Joyce learned about Sinbad (some included in the account in Ithaca, and many others omitted) from an advertisement touting the show that ran on p. 4 of the Freeman's Journal on 24 and 26 December 1892. Among the details in the ad was an announcement of a spectacular episode in scene 6:


Bloom recalls wanting to write "a topical song (music by R. G. Johnston)" to insert into "the sixth scene, the valley of diamonds, of the second edition (30 January 1893)" of the pantomime. The changing of "ballet" into "valley" in all editions of the novel (Gabler's included) might be supposed to represent a failure of memory on Joyce's part or Bloom's. But "the valley of diamonds," in the second of Sinbad's seven voyages, is a place where diamonds lie scattered about on the ground. Merchants harvest them by throwing out pieces of meat that are snatched up by giant birds called rocs, then driving the birds away from their nests and collecting the diamonds that have stuck to the meat. As he drops off to sleep Bloom is still thinking of Sinbad, and of rocs.

John Hunt 2011

Illustration of a pantomime being performed on stage, in Blue Beard: A Pantomime Toy Book (ebook). Source:

Cast photo of a Dublin pantomime, date unknown. Source:

Poster for 1892-93 performance of a Sinbad pantomime at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. Source:

The Valley of Diamonds by Maxfield Parrish, illustration from The Arabian Nights, Sindbad 2nd Voyage (1907). Source: Wikimedia Commons.