In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pantomime

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Surveys and Bibliographies
  • Trends in Modern Interpretation
  • Contemporary Criticism
  • Archive Resources
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Audiences
  • The Politics of Pantomime
  • Regional Stage

Victorian Literature Pantomime
Alexandra Appleton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0035


Pantomime was a popular Victorian theatrical genre that drew on centuries of European performance styles. It grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, referred to by many as the “Golden Age” of the British pantomime, and culminated with the lavish spectacles at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane at the end of the century. It was during this era that the pantomime became synonymous with Christmas entertainment and frivolity. However, traditionally, little academic attention has been paid to the genre because of its light, popular appeal. It is only in recent years that scholars have begun to explore the cultural politics of the genre and to place it in its wider social and theatrical context.

Introductory Works

It is impossible to analyze the Victorian pantomime without placing it in its theatrical context. Styan 1996 and Booth 1991 both offer a comprehensive and approachable overview of British theater throughout the century, while Booth 1981 provides a useful overview of the visual and technological developments in the period. Styan focuses on the developments in genre and performance style, while Booth places the Victorian theater in its wider social and cultural context. For a more concise overview, May 1986 and Brockett 1987 both provide succinct summaries of the theatrical trends of the period.

  • Booth, Michael R. Victorian Spectacular Theatre: 1850–1910. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

    Highlights the technical advancements and visual innovations that transformed British theater in the second half of the 19th century. Features fascinating accounts of rehearsals and scenic transformations. The chapter dedicated solely to advancements in melodrama and pantomime is of particular use.

  • Booth, Michael R. Theatre in the Victorian Age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    A leading academic in British theater, Booth provides an entertaining and extensive overview of the Victorian stage. Of particular interest is his brief but succinct summary of the changes in pantomime, considering the roles of the Harlequin and the Fairy, morality, and physical comedy, and the longevity of the genre.

  • Brockett, Oscar G. “English Language Theatre in the Late Nineteenth Century.” In History of the Theatre. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1987.

    Brockett breaks down his overview of the English theater from 1850–1900 into examinations of genres, performers, and theatrical practices. He offers a particularly interesting introduction to the popular appeal of pantomime, the developments of stage technology, and the desire for the spectacular.

  • May, Robin. “Romantics by Gaslight.” In History of the Theatre. London: Hamlyn, 1986.

    This accessible journey through the late-18th- to mid-19th-century European theater provides a useful starting point on the development of the British pantomime. May focuses in particular on the influence of commedia dell’Arte and the impact of Joseph Grimaldi on the development of the clown character.

  • Styan, J. L. The English Stage: A History of Drama and Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    A comprehensive overview of English theater, beginning with the medieval stage and ending in the 20th century. Particular reference here should be paid to chapter 12, “Victorian Theatre” where Styan discusses the expansion of Victorian theaters, the impact of key performers, and the changes in popular genres throughout the 19th century.

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