( England: 1778-1837)
Nancy J. D. Hazelton
The play, Aristotle explains, comprises six elements; of these, plot is of the first importance, spectacle the last. Clearly the nineteenth-century British pantomime was never dreamt of in this philosophy: an audience of golden-age Athenians would be hard pressed to find anything decorous in the limber antics of that King of Clowns, Joseph Grimaldi. Conversely, a London audience, circa 1806, out for a bit of foolery at the panto, would look for the soul of such a production as Harlequin and Mother Goose not in its plot, but in the spectacle of its King of Clowns.
Born into a theatrical family,1 Joseph Grimaldi was pressed into service young; his father, Signor Giuseppe Grimaldi, ballet master at Sadler's Wells, introduced his three-year-old son to his first audience on Easter Monday, 1781. During his apprenticeship at the Wells, and then at Drury Lane, Grimaldi performed in a multitude of roles, not all comic;2 pantomime, however, best suited his gifts and his temperament.
In the autumn of 1805, Joseph Grimaldi departed Drury Lane in a dispute over terms and was engaged by Thomas J. Dibdin at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. With Dibdin and his brother Charles, and later Charles Farley, Grimaldi managed to "articulate a style of pantomime which for decades influenced the entire tone and method of pantomime production" ( Mayer, Harlequin3). On December 29, 1806, Dibdin's Christmas pantomime offering at Covent Garden was Harlequin and Mother Goose; or, The Golden Egg, and it was "from the