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What Is Mime?

Mime, or pantomime, is a type of dramatic performance that is usually enacted without words. It is characterized by gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. The actor in such a performance is called a mime or pantomimist.

The term "mime" originally applied to a kind of dramatic sketch that was popular in ancient Greece. In Greek mimes, scenes from daily life were presented in a realistic way with humorous dialogue. The performers were jugglers, acrobats, and others who had a talent for imitating sounds, gestures, and facial expressions.

The earliest mimes were improvised skits and were frequently vulgar and obscene. The mime was firs t elevated into a set literary form by the Greek playwright Sophron (5th century B.C.). It contributed to the development of comedy in Athens.

In ancient Rome, mime had become a popular dramatic form by the 1st century B.C. Like its Greek counterpart, the Roman mime was short and coarse and depended on broad characterization, rather than on plot development, for its effect. Typical situations involved such stock characters as the husband, the wife, and the wife's lover. In the days of the Roman Empire the indecency of the mime became extreme, and in the 5th century A.D. the Church of Rome excommunicated all mime performers. A century later the mime theaters were shut down, but mimes continued to be performed at private celebrations.

During the Renaissance, elements of the mime reappeared in the improvisational Italian theater known as commedia dell' arte. Although the commedia had its own distinct form, it adopted the basic features of the mime, notably improvised dialogue, expressive gesture, and stock characters. In modern times, mime has become a completely silent art.

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