Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

WHEN we think of ancient drama, we tend to think of grindingly solemn Greek tragedy or Aristophanes' comedies, which, despite their many high points (usually filthy), still have far too large a ration of impenetrable jokes depending on knowledge of local circumstances to be comprehensible. In fact, the staple dramatic fare of Greeks and Romans was mime and pantomime (this latter used no words), played by local or travelling companies and strongly resembling the sort of thing we enjoy during the Christmas period. Though little survives, we can say with confidence that it would have given modern television a pretty tough run for its money.

Mime took many forms - song-anddance routines, parodies of everyday life (e.g. the ruined party, the escaping adulterer, the rejected lover, the wife who tries to poison her husband to have it off with her slaves) and schmaltzy melodrama bursting with human interest (we hear of a mime set in India, where the lovely heroine escapes with the help of her brother by making the king and his court drunk). …

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