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The Pantomime as an Evolution of Folk Tales

The Pantomime as an Evolution of Folk Tales

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Roisin de Cogan. Originally submitted for Research Seminar at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, with lecturer Sherra Murphy in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Roisin de Cogan. Originally submitted for Research Seminar at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, with lecturer Sherra Murphy in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
The Pantomime as an Evolutionof Folk Tales
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Since its modern day conception in the 15
th
century the pantomime has becomean integral part of the holiday season for people of all ages across Europe, Canada andAustralia. The pantomime, as we know it today, began as a popular form of entertainment in Italy as part of the Commedia dell'arte. Performers would travel fromregion to region telling stories that taught lessons, changing the characters to suit theaudience. By the 16
th
century the idea of the pantomime had made its way acrossEurope but it wasn't until the Victorian period that pantomime developed into thesinging, dancing extravagansa we know today. As child labour decreased and the ideaof childhood came into force the pantomime was adapted to be enjoyed by the entirefamily rather then just adults. One vital change which contributed to the success of the pantomime happened in the 1870s when fairy tales and folk tales were taken and usedas the base stories of the shows.
“While pantomime was not originally a children’s entertainment,nor one connected with Christmas, it had, by the middle of thenineteenth century, as George Speaight notes, come to acquire bothassociations and to deal “almost exclusively with nursery stories”
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The majority of pantomimes are based on literary fairy tales, such as Perrault’sCinderella and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, butthese folk tales are only used as the very basic story. They are completely subvertedthrough changing the morality the original stories tried to represent and playing withgender identity, violence, sex, and many other issues that folk tales deal with, throughnarrative, movement and music. Even when they don’t take their stories directly fromwell know folk tales they follow the same format and use the same archetypes foundin all folk tales as described by Propp.Although Pantomimes began as their own independent production, theintroduction of Folk Tales as the central stories caused them to become a culturalmeme of not only the literary folk tales they are derived from but also the original oralfolk tales. Folk tales have always adjusted and transformed to reflect the place, timeand people they are being told to.
“ Fairy tales have always been truthful metaphorical reflections of 
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Pg32, Susina, Jan. The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children’s Literature. New York, Routledge, 2010.
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Illustration 1: Jedward in “Cinderella” in theOlympia Theatre, 2010
the customs of their times”
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This easy adjustment is what has allowed them to survive and thrive in every society,and throughout time. Pantomimes take full advantage of this fluidity and are rewrittenalmost every year to reflect current events and social issues such as economic problems, popular culture and technological advancements and often have a celebrityguest star. Cinderella: The Final Frontier which was staged in the Pavilion theatre thisyear highlighted all of these issues with constant references to TV shows, newtechnology, the recession and Jeward.Unlike a lot of literary folk tales anyreference to current events is done ina comical manner because the pantomime is all aboutentertainment. Like oral folk tales pantomime does not try to impart themoral lessons literary folk tales focuson. They concentrate onentertainment rather thenenlightenment. This entertainmentand humorous refection of the world helps unite the audience just as oral folk talesaimed to unite communities.
“The nature and meaning of folktales have depended on the stage of development of a tribe, community, or society. Oral tales have served to stabilize, conserve, or challenge the common beliefs, laws,values, and norms of a group. ”
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Because audience participation is such a vital part of pantomime, uniting the audiencehappens almost naturally. The narrator of the story, usually a comical character calledmother goose or Buttons in Cinderella, generally begins the show by interacting withthe audience and continually talks to them directly throughout the show, ofteninvolving them in a song and dance number during set changes, encouraging theaudience to hiss and boo when the evil characters enter and yell lines of dialogue atthe stage. This not only unites the audience with the characters on stage but also with
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Pg 845, Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the BrothersGrimm. New York, W.W Norton & Company, 2001.
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Pg 845, Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the BrothersGrimm. New York, W.W Norton & Company, 2001.
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