The Latin pantomimus was a performer who re-enacted episodes from Mythology solely through movement and gesture; he wore a variety of Masks, and was accompanied by Music, usually sung and played. In early-18th-century England, the term was less comprehensively understood to mean a tale told in dance; and the 18th-century harlequinade (> Commedia dell'Arte), a dance performance in which Harlequin wins Columbine from Pantaloon, became known as the Pantomime before the end of the century. In the 19th century the harlequinade element, with its emphasis on dance, was relegated to the sidelines, and a fully acted-out, though usually burlesqued Fairytale took centre stage. Popular subjects included Cinderella, Aladdin and Little Red Riding-Hood. This mature form soon became associated with Christmas, and incorporated safely detoothed elements of Revel: crossdressing (> Gender Disguise), Parody, etc. In the late 20th century, the Pantomime is a UK institution.
When used here, the term refers to the 19th-century extravaganza which influenced writers like Charles Dickens (who influenced it in turn) and to its 20th-century incarnations, on the stage and elsewhere – like The Muppet Show (1976-1981). [JC]