Pantomime

In Brief

The "pantomime," not to be confused with the silent gestures of mimes, was a popular theatrical form whose name indicated that the actors “imitate all.” In Dublin, pantomime shows like "Turko the Terrible" and "Sinbad the Sailor" were performed at both the Theatre Royal and the Gaiety Theatre.

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The pantomime originated in ancient Greece. Medieval England recombined many of the elements of the ancient tradition in the Mummers Play, and Renaissance Italy invented something very similar in the Commedia dell’arte. The pantomime of Joyce’s time arose from adaptations of the Commedia dell’arte in Restoration and early eighteenth century theaters, but it did not assume its definitive form until some time in the Victorian era. This popular but sophisticated art form was practiced not only in English and Irish theaters but also in Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, Jamaica, and other colonies of the British empire.

Victorian pantomimes were usually performed in the Christmas season, but they did not typically incorporate Christmas themes. They instead took their lead from children’s stories 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 tales like Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad, and Robinson Crusoe.

Using these familiar tales as a kind of canvas, the shows featured countless unrelated kinds of 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, and local guest stars, with frequent audience participation and heaping helpings of sexual innuendo. The story line ran very loosely through all these incidentals, and tended to be wrapped up quickly and unrealistically. English and Irish theaters have kept the pantomime tradition alive to the present day.

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 nineteenth 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 thinks of playing the role, was Edward William Royce, an English comic actor who often performed parts in pantomimes.

[2018] In Ithaca Bloom thinks of “the grand annual Christmas pantomime Sinbad the Sailor,” performed in 1892 and 1893, closely echoing the phrase "Grand Xmas Pantomime" on the English theater program cover reproduced here. He remembers wanting to write a song ("music by R. G. Johnston") to insert in "the sixth scene, the valley of diamonds," for the 30 January 1893 performance of that pantomime.

Robert Martin Adams notes (Surface and Symbol, 79) that this scene was touted prominently in an ad in the Freeman's Journal for 24 and 26 December 1892:

GRAND BALLET
of
DIAMONDS
and
SERPENTINE DANCE

The changing of "ballet" into "valley," in all editions of the novel, might be supposed to represent a failure of memory on Joyce's part, or on 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.

JH 2011

The Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street, Dublin. Source: www.census.nationalarchives.ie.
Illustration of a pantomime being performed on stage, in Blue Beard: A Pantomime Toy Book (ebook). Source: www.ebook3000.com.
Program for 1902 performance of Sinbad pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Exeter (not the one in Dublin). Source: www.exetermemories.co.uk.
The Valley of Diamonds by Maxfield Parrish, illustration from The Arabian Nights, Sindbad 2nd Voyage (1907). Source: Wikimedia Commons.