The Shift from Oblivion to Paris: Non-French (Female) Experiments in Pantomime

Pantomime: The History and Metamorphosis of a Theatrical Ideology: Table of Contents

PDF version of the entire book.

Non-French (Female) Experiments in Pantomime

Outside of imperial France, a peculiar type of pantomime, designated at the time as “attitudes,” deserves attention for bringing “seriousness” to a small-scale mode of pantomimic performance that was entirely the creation of female performers. Kirsten Gram Holmström has written extensively about the “attitudes” phenomenon in her 1967 book Monodrama, Attitudes, Tableaux Vivants. Here the intent is to situate the performance of attitudes within the larger context of pantomime history. The inventor of the attitude was an English woman, Emma Hamilton (1765-1815). Born into very humble circumstances, she adopted different names and “roles” as a way to advance up the English social hierarchy. By the time she was a teenager, she was a popular entertainer at stag parties given by aristocratic men. Through her connections with these men, she became, around 1783, a model for the artist George Romney (1734-1802), who painted numerous famous portraits of her posing as mythic figures. Romney’s portraits enabled her to gain admission into the upper levels of London society. She became the mistress and eventually the wife of Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), the British ambassador to Naples. At his sumptuous Neapolitan villa, Emma and William hosted lavish diplomatic parties. In 1787, Emma Hamilton began performing attitudes. These were always salon entertainments, never for public audiences and never with any commercial motive. Originally, the attitudes or “mimoplastic art” consisted of twelve poses of mythic figures inspired by paintings or statues. Hamilton then introduced dancelike movements as transitions from one pose to the next, although it is not clear to what extent, if any, music accompanied her performances. Within the salon environment, “Lady Hamilton appeared as if in an arena, in the ordinary lighting of the room, with the spectators gathered around her. […] Her only properties consisted of two or three cashmere shawls and occasionally she held some object such as an urn, a lyre or a tambourine” (Holmström 1967: 114-115). According to William Hamilton, an attitude was the image of an emotion, and Emma’s purpose was to introduce “a new genre on the borderline between pictorial art and theater […] an attempt to widen the boundaries of pictorial art” (140). But she was close to the Roman pantomime aesthetic in the idea of performance as movement from one pose to the next, one emotion to the next, and one character to the next. Her performances attracted the enthusiastic attention of prominent literary and fine arts personalities, such as Goethe, in Naples (1787) and the painter Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) for whom Hamilton modeled in 1790. In 1791, a German artist, Friedrich Rehberg (1758-1835),did a series of twelve engravings depicting the attitudes Hamilton performed; an Italian artist Tommaso [Thomas] Piroli (1754-1824) copied them, and the Piroli engravings provide perhaps the best view of how the performance worked as a sequence, even though they “do not succeed in conveying the special artistic atmosphere of the attitudes, which arose from an intensive instant of immobility carrying with it the seed of a lightning-swift movement” (120) [Figure 65]. The Rehberg-Piroli drawings depict twelve character poses: Sibylle, Maria Magdalena, Lonely Dreamer in Love, Sophinisbe, Amyone, the Muse of Dance Art (Terpsichore), Hygiene, Nymph, Priestess, Cleopatra, Holy Rosa, Niobe; but apparently her most remarkable character was Medea, not depicted by Rehberg-Piroli. Hamilton performed the attitudes in London (1791), again in Naples (1792), and as late as 1800 in Dresden. Hamilton moved from sitting to standing to sitting again to standing to reclining to dancing to kneeling, and so forth, and she performed a different emotion with each pose, so that, for example, each of her three sitting poses conveyed a different idea of the relation between sitting and feeling (brooding, wistful, forlorn). Hamilton was a serious performer, but she had “no direct successors” (140). Rather, the appeal of her performance lay in its social exclusivity: she embodied the aristocratic fantasy of bringing to life idealized neoclassical images of mythic women, of dissolving the distinction between model and subject, between life and and art. 

Figure 96: Drawings of “attitudes” performed by Emma Hamilton by Tommaso Piroli, based on the original drawings by Friedrich Rehberg (1794). Top: Niobe. Bottom: Cleopatra. Photos: Royal Museum Greenwich. 

A different approach to mimoplastic performance came from Ida Brun (1792-1857). She was born into one of the wealthiest families in Denmark. Her mother, Frederike (1765-1835), an ambitious poet and author of books describing her travels in Europe, befriended many of the major Danish and German literary figures. As a small child, Ida displayed a precocious artistic talent that Frederike encouraged obsessively within the highly cultivated milieu to which she provided access through her influential salon. In 1824, she published a memoir, addressed directly to Ida, though dedicated to her friend Madame de Staël (1766-1817),that described her daughter’s “aesthetic education” in an effort to discredit the belief within her milieu that she, Frederike, had damaged her daughter by using her performances to advance her own ambitions as a cultural broker, for “throughout her life, [Ida] remained childish and immature,” despite being so often in the presence of some of the greatest minds in Europe (Holmström 1967: 162). Frederike explained how Ida, at the age of five, revealed her gift for pantomime when, during a soirée in Copenhagen, the composer “Weise […] improvised wonderfully on our piano; then you broke out for the first time into pantomime, extemporizing beautiful and noble positions appropriate to the extemporized music, in which at the same time there also appeared pictures from the antique that had impressed themselves on the young soul” (Brun 1824: 75). Early on, Frederike kept Ida from attending theater performances, because she was afraid that Ida would become “perverted into a dancer” (Brun 1824: 74). At the age of nine, however, Ida had begun pantomiming scenes from Sophocles’s Electra for her mother’s salon audiences, and she consistently showed a “preference for the highly tragic, in pantomime as well as in song” (Brun 1824: 88). Ida’s knowledge of tragic characters came from salon readings of the classic texts and from images seen in books and museums. Frederike seems to have drawn inspiration from Hamilton’s performance of attitudes, but she apparently never actually saw Hamilton perform. Ida combined pantomime with singing (such as Gluck and Cimarosa arias) in a manner that remains obscure, for Frederike claims that Ida’s performances were largely improvised, though she wore costumes and used props specifically designed for her characters. In 1802, she performed at the Roman home of the artist Angelica Kauffmann, whose rapturous response indicated to Frederike that it was time to organize her life around the scheduling of Ida’s salon performances. Ida performed before numerous major cultural figures in Europe, including Madame de Staël, Goethe, Canova, the Humboldts, and Adam Oehlenschläger, among many others. She posed for the great Danish neoclassical sculptor Bertil Thorvaldsen in 1809, and then, in 1811, for the great Danish neoclassical painter Johan Ludvig Lund. Yet a clear picture of her performances remains elusive. Between 1805 and 1810, Christian Heinrich Kniep (1755-1825) did a series of fine drawings of her performing, although it is difficult to see how the images relate to each other as a performance [Figure 97]. But the narrative organization of her pantomimes receives muddled treatment from those who wrote about her, including her mother. 

Figure 97: Drawing of Ida Brun by Christian Heinrich Kniep (1805-1810). Photo: Bakkehusmuseet, Copenhagen.

In De’l’Allemagne (1813), Madame de Staël wrote lushly but cryptically about Ida’s performances: 

Her dancing is just a succession of ephemeral masterpieces, which one longs to fix for ever; and Ida’s mother has conceived in her thoughts everything which her child expresses by her movements. Madame Brun’s poems reveal a thousand beauties in art and nature which our careless glances have not discovered. I have seen Ida, while still a child, represent Althaea about to burn the torch on which the life of her son Meleager depends; she expressed, without a word, the grief, the mental strife, the terrible resolution of a mother. No doubt her animated looks served to make us understand what was passing in her heart, but the art of varying her gestures, and draping herself artistically in the purple mantle which she wore, produced at least as much effect as her countenance. She frequently remained a long time in the same attitude, and each time no painter could have invented anything better than the picture which she improvised (Plon 1874: 39; De Staël 1852: 377-378).

Frederike describes one of Ida’s performances, from 1804, somewhat more mysteriously:

I had read to you the whole of the Psyche of Apuleius out of Lucian; from old pictorial representations you had called these into the life of marble; and on a beautiful afternoon in September, at the moment when Weise was there, the darkened room in which I lay was opened; the sofa was brought before the door leading into the salon, which was fantastically and mysteriously decorated with shrubbery; a lawn altar and other necessary properties—and you appeared on the altar costumed as Venus, before you a group of maidens sacrificing incense (from the other small room opposite were heard Weise’s accompanying chords), and there you alone carried through the entire cycle of the legend in light joy, deep sorrow and frightful truth—while your expressive gesture made the absent seem present, and the beloved god or frightful goddess seemed in your poses, expressions and looks, as fleeting but longed for or as fear-awakening (Brun 1824: 84). 

In 1805, Ida performed for Madame de Staël in Geneva a scene called Canephores (The Choephori), with a “dark bedroom, onto which my salon opened, as background: You, veiled, on the pedestal, the light falling on you sideways from above; soft, animating music, and after the animation, the Canephores distributing gifts.” And then Ida was Althea, the mother of Meleager: “The dark room in the background opened with a feeble illumination, and the slain brothers appeared on the right side on a large couch; while I had intended something different, Madame de Staël had reserved for herself the preparation of the torch with which Althea touches off the fire that is supposed to burn the fateful funeral pyre and, in it, the life of the son” (Brun 1824: 86). The idea of a twelve-year old girl performing Venus, a grieving mother, or Electra is a bit strange, but perhaps the impact of her performances was not entirely as Karen Klitgaard Povlsen has described it when she writes: “Ida was the nineteenth-century ideal of woman par excellence: white marble, graceful, and silent; the muse, ready to receive masculinity’s fantasies about the feminine” (Povlsen 2011: Paragraph 20). As Frederike observes, the improvisatory nature of the performance allowed Madame de Staël to intervene in the Althea performance and shape it, which precipitated some tension between the two women. Madame de Staël blurred the distinction between mothering and directing. For Frederike, the tragic pantomimes were a way of making an art out of mothering, of making a daughter into a work of art, of making motherhood and daughterhood a revelation of superior “aesthetic development.” Holmström (1967: 240) refers to “a divine endowment within a sectarian project,” by which she means that Frederike saw Ida’s “genius” as something God had provided as the basis for releasing her own maternal genius. But others seem to recognize this “genius.” In 1806, the literary theorist and historian August Schlegel (1767-1845) dedicated a poem to Ida Brun. In a short preface to the poem, he asserted:

This designation “of ideal Dance” is, however, not a completely accurate term of her talent, because in our best performing dances there is still too much empty meaning that merely demonstrates physical dexterity. Mlle. Brun does not limit herself merely to plastic mimicry or to the art of and beautifully painterly positions, for which some women for several years have acquired universal admiration. She puts dramatic coherence into her representations, and enfolds within each different degrees of feeling and passion, their shifts and transitions. But it is not at the same time mere pantomime, instead all her movements find the music, that is, they relate to merely natural gestures as the soaring of the voice in song to common speech (Schlegel 1846: 254).

In the poem itself, he gives some idea of the sequence of figures Ida performed:

Take the bow and the arrow,

And, as Diana, lose

Proud courage in the grove.

You will be scared of Aegis,

With the helmet covering your forehead,

You will be Jove’s daughter.

Scattering roses, you are Aurore;

Bearing the basket, Kanephore,

In the splendor of the festival procession.

You pour from the sacrificial bowl;

Now veil yourself, Vestal,

Guarding the eternal hearth.

Let your hair fly, Bacchante;

Gird yourself, and as Atalante

Are victorious in your lilting race.

Soon, only a chorus of Muses

Swells the virginal bosom,

An abundance of enchantment.

You, Althaea, I saw with a shudder,

After a long struggle and resistance

The mysterious fire

Fanning into the glow of death

And despairing then bleeding,

Turn the dagger on yourself. (Schlegel 1846: 256)

Schlegel’s poem indicates altogether ten different mythic figures in Ida’s pantomime repertoire, which “she dresses with the highest grace, and which she never abandons, even when expressing tragic passions with the most shocking boldness and depth” (Schlegel 1846: 254). Ida performed other characters that Schlegel does not mention: Andromache, Athena, Venus. But he does convey the sense that the pantomimes were as much a poetic as a pictorial phenomenon, a kind of beautiful action that no image could capture. It was also a fragile phenomenon. Ida’s health was not robust, and as she approached the end of her adolescence, she became moody, ambivalent about performing, and it was as if the poetic allure of her pantomimes depended on her ability to incarnate a mysterious convergence of great, tragic womanhood within a childish or immature girl’s body. She stopped performing in 1810 or 1811. Frederike insinuated that Ida’s pantomimes came to an end because of the stir created by the solo pantomimes of Henriette Hendel-Schütz, who performed in public: “In the late autumn of 1812, Henriette Händel Schütz fell down upon us like a meteor, unexpected, unforeseen”; moreover, it was Madame de Staël, writing from Finland, who proclaimed Hendel-Schütz as a “very remarkable picturesque and dramatic talent” (Brun 1824: 95-96). By performing solo pantomimes in public for money, Hendel-Schütz attracted the scrutiny of critics and commentators in the press. Frederike probably felt that such scrutiny could only jeopardize the mother-daughter aesthetic project she had guided within the refined, insulated, aristocratic salon culture over which she presided. 

             Henriette Hendel-Schütz (1772-1849) pursued yet another approach to solo tragic pantomime outside of France during the Napoleonic era. She was born in Saxony into a theatrical family and made her first appearance on the stage at the age of two. From an early age, she studied, in Gotha, Breslau, and Berlin, acting, ballet, Italian pantomime, painting, sculpture, and music under highly respected teachers, including Johann Engel, Georg Benda, Johan Georg Pforr, Wilhelm Iffland, Johann Gottfried Schadow, and August Schlegel. Even as a teenager, she had a busy career in the theater playing secondary roles in operas and plays at provincial theaters until 1796, when she began a ten-year career at the Berlin National Theater directed by Wilhelm Iffland. She married a tenor when she was sixteen, but the couple divorced in 1797, when she married again. But the second marriage, to a physician, ended in 1805, when she married another physician, named Hendel, who died a few weeks later while treating typhus patients at a military hospital. Her efforts to lead a quiet bourgeois domestic life with two children suddenly seemed unrealizable and she returned to the theater. While studying painting under Johann Georg Pforr in Frankfurt around 1795, she became aware of the Rehberg-Piroli drawings of Lady Hamilton’s attitudes performances, which impressed her so much that “it was pantomime and the plastic body pose that, for an entire decade, she tried, in silence, in her innermost being to fathom with the utmost diligence” (Erinnerungen 1870: 7-8). In Halle, she made the acquaintance of the philosophy professor Karl Julius Schütz (1779-1844), who introduced her to the Dresden archeologist Karl Böttiger (1760-1835), a figure of considerable influence with many influential friends in the cultural sphere. Böttiger was at the time perhaps the preeminent German scholar of ancient theater, having published treatises on ancient tragic masks in 1799 and 1801. He was also a controversial theater critic, who, in 1795, had published in the Journal des Luxus und die Mode a long critique of the Rehberg drawings of Lady Hamilton; in 1796, he published a book describing the evolution of actor-manager Wilhelm Iffland’s acting style, including occasional pantomimic gestures (bodily movements). Then in 1802, he published an essay describing how the myth of Ariadne and Bacchus might be performed as a pantomime “according to Xenophon,” with some reference to Lucian (Böttiger 1802: 9-20). With the assistance of Schütz and Böttiger, Henriette immersed herself in the imagery and aesthetics of ancient tragic performance and thus “discovered her genius” (Zernin 1870: 10). She married Schütz, who became her partner in the performance of solo tragic pantomimes that came even closer to the Roman model than either Hamilton or Brun. Hendel-Schütz gave her first pantomime performance in Frankfurt in 1808, and she continued her solo performances until 1817, appearing in various German cities and then in Finland, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Amsterdam, St. Petersburg, and Paris, although French audiences in 1813 were much less enthusiastic about her “representations” than her German, Dutch, and Scandinavian audiences. The anonymously edited Erinnerungen (1870: 38) contended that her performances “combined ancient and modern plasticity.” Her movements “were not copies of real statues or paintings but self-invented situations” that often had as much a literary as a pictorial inspiration. Moreover, she developed different historical styles of movement; Ziernen edition identifies an ancient (which sometimes included Egyptian motifs), an Italian (Renaissance), and an “old German” style of performance, which together form a “poetic-dramatic mime.” In the ancient style, she presented, around 1809, Isis, Carayatid, Ariadne, Cassandra, and Odalisque. The Italian style consisted entirely of scenes from the Bible, depicting the Madonna in relation to several events from Christ’s life and crucifixion. The old German style presented scenes of “Mary,” rather than of the Madonna, in what was presumably a Protestant enactment of the Annunciation and the Transfiguration of Christ’s mother. Hendel-Schütz used musical accompaniment, and some of her movements were dancelike, but the nature of the music remains unclear. The Zernin edition explains that the Dresden composer Friedrich Kaufmann (1785-1866) devised an “acoustical cabinet” to accompany the pantomimes, and the “harmonichords” produced by this cabinet induced a reverent mood in the spectator. Apparently the harmonichords were similar to the four-voice male acapella cathedral choirs in Berlin and Düsseldorf (Erinnerungen1870: 50-51), but these “sweet-melting sounds” came from a machine that produced trumpet tones and melodies automatically, although Kaufmann did not introduce the acoustical cabinet until 1810 at the earliest (Wolf 2011: 29-66). For some scenes, the accompaniment also included literary passages spoken by Professor Schütz, who resigned his position at Halle University to tour with his wife. Another thing that was unique to Hendel-Schütz’s performance aesthetic was the lack of poses: she was never a statue or “frozen” into an image, as was the case with the Romans and with Hamilton and Brun. Even when she was still or in a state of repose, what struck the viewer was sense of her being continuously “alive” and never “framed” or “frozen” into a picture, although commentators tended to compare what they saw in performance to famous artworks by such artists as Raphael, Corregio, Canova, or Dürer. Indeed, when Joseph Nicholas Perroux (1771-1849) published in 1809 his 26 “pantomimic positions” of Hendel-Schütz, he depicted her in stilted poses rather than in pantomimic action, as if pantomimic action could not be represented as anything other than a finality of action, a “position” by which a gesture immobilized the body of the performer and turned her into a figure in a frieze, an effect somewhat contradicted by the two-line poetic captions [Figure 67]. However, commentators of her performances suggest that she evoked paintings rather than imitated them (Erinnerungen 1870: 50). She performed on a stage rather than in a salon, but she didn’t rely much on scenery to create a pictorial context for the action. According to the memoirs, 

She gave [a performance] on a small stage, with a performance space enclosed by walls on three sides covered with black or gray cloth and the required painting wavering in background. Out of disdain for all ordinary surprise effects she never used a curtain, before which indeed the clumsiest person could easily adopt a tolerable attitude, but she went constantly close to the eyes of the audience, without strange props or a mirror being necessary, from one representation to the other. In these transitions she revealed most notably her peculiar talent in the quickest play of gestures and drapery and her extraordinary ease, agility and assurance in the assembly of both the main figures and the surrounding groups. At the same time, she developed the resolution of an attitude and the formation of another attitude again into most diverse positions, which, although quite unintentional, for many connoisseurs were almost as picturesque and ideal as the attitudes themselves (52).

It is not clear from this passage what the difference is between a position, which seems to refer to the character, and an attitude, which seems to refer to the emotion signified, but the emphasis is on “the play of gestures” and the rapid metamorphosis of the performer from one figure to the next, without many theatrical effects—she makes imaginative use of garments and shawls and keeps close to the audience, as if to separate herself from a theatrical frame. 

Figure 98: Drawings by Joseph Nicholas Perroux depicting “pantomimic positions” performed by Henriette Hendel-Schütz (1809). Photo: from Perroux (1809: Plates VII, XII, XVIII). 

She also refused to use light from above that would put her in a circle of illumination into which she had to remain during the performance. Instead, she used an Argand lamp set at the side of the stage that allowed her to move about freely while casting strong, dramatic shadows, a “beautifully painterly” chiaroscuro effect that is completely absent from Perroux’s drawings (53). A Dresden artist claimed that she could perform eighteen positions within six minutes, and each position could produce an “irreproachable painting” (51). The stage performances were undoubtedly much longer, but this comment indicates Hendel-Schütz’s considerable skill in contracting, expanding or reconfiguring the narrative organization of the “positions” through her movements rather than through an external structure of scenic panels into which she placed herself, even if her commentators continually refer to her “painterly” effects or “living pictures.” What they stress is the visual dimension to performance, which becomes diminished or veiled with the use speech, music, or even dance when it conceals the body within its own “positions” and steps. Hendel-Schütz added characters to her repertoire, but apparently at the expense of the religious figures that were part of her original set of solo pantomimes, for the newer figures came largely from classical mythology: Psyche, Galathea, Niobe, Agrippina, Medea, and a “Sphinx position,” “which has already caused so much scandal [ . . . ]for here she succeeds in symbolizing the transition from animal symbolism to the new anthropomorphism” (46). But perhaps one of her most difficult characters was the Penthesilea she introduced in Berlin 1811. This “position” was actually Scene 23 from the vast tragic drama Penthesilea (1808) by Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811). The blank verse play depicts the entirely female Amazon society ruled by Queen Penthesilea, who leads an attack on the Greeks and captures Achilles, with whom she falls in love against the Amazonian law forbidding affection between males and females or the presence of males within Amazonian society; when Achilles seems not to grasp the seriousness of Penthesilea’s love for him, she becomes insane with rage and kills him savagely. In Scene 23, she realizes that the monstrous violence of her emotions was not a terrible dream but an inescapable reality: she dies, unable either to fulfill her love or to uphold the Amazonian law. Kleist never found a theater to produce his great play, which had its first performance only in 1876, but the published text created excitement within intellectual circles and some controversy because of its violence and strange sexuality (Sembdner 1969: 205-213). Hendel-Schütz’s pantomimic performance of Scene 23 ran into difficulties. Professor Schütz prefaced the pantomime with a brief discussion of the play, and then he read the scene while his wife pantomimed it, but commentators found Schütz’s efforts “boring” and “unsatisfying”: “That the Amazon Queen has committed murder, has been afflicted with the curse from the priestesses, and then has purified herself; that she sees the corpse of the murdered man before her and beside him, soulless and lifeless, sinks down, one saw afterwards better than one had previously heard it” (Vossische Zeitung, 25. 4. 1811, Nr. 50). A reviewer for the Berlinische Nachtrichten also complained that “such a long continuous pantomime like this always remains somewhat unclear, because of the many conditions that it requires; and the presentation was as little satisfactory as that of Blandine, it goes too far into the Dramatic.” This reviewer felt that other scenes in the well-attended performance, particularly the religious ones (Hagar, Ishmael, Magdalena), were far superior because they had a pictorial rather than literary inspiration: “The Egyptian figures appeared now in a yellow veil, and then Isis arose slowly from her seat, which was yet a kind of transition from the Sphinx. […] The groups from today’s Niobe were especially beautiful; impressive were the positions of the mother, because her long veil, spread over her beloved children, was tense in its progressive movement and raised the tenderest of children up to the implacable gods; this physical strength revealed what a powerful nature lives in this woman” (Spenersche Zeitung, 25. 4. 1811, Nr. 50). Nevertheless, the Penthesilea scene further indicates the exceptional scope of Hendel-Schütz’s willingness to innovate in pantomimic performance and to intensify the degree of “seriousness” applied to the art. She was thirty-five years old when she embarked on the pantomimic project and thus demonstrated that beauty and inventiveness in solo tragic pantomime did not depend entirely on a girlish or a youthful body. In 1815, Professor Schütz published Blumenlese aus dem Stammbuch der deutschen mimischen Künstlerin Frau Henriette Hendel-Schütz, which consisted of tributes to her acting and pantomime skills from numerous, major German intellectuals, artists, and theater personalities. But her devotion to pantomime was soon to end. In 1812, her stepdaughter Thekla, and her own two children, Axel and Sappho, had accompanied her on the European tour and performed in some scenes. Thekla was apparently a prodigy, who displayed a great gift for pantomime as well as other arts, and her mother saw her as one who could succeed and surpass her in the art. But when the family reached Cologne in 1813, Thekla died of scarlet fever (Erinnerungen 1870: 14-15). By 1815, Hendel-Schütz had become a widely admired and even beloved figure of German culture, but she was not able to inspire anyone to become her successor in the art of solo tragic pantomime. As she entered her mid-forties, she decided she needed to lead a quieter life. Much of the tragic feeling in her performances probably stemmed from her inability to achieve the healthy domestic life she craved: through four marriages, she became the mother of sixteen children, but only three of her children outlived her. Her marriage suffered much strain because of her husband’s gambling addiction, and eventually they separated in 1824. In 1818, she returned to Halle, where her husband received a new appointment at the university and where she maintained a close relationship with her father-in-law from her previous marriage; he provided her with a home after the split from Professor Schütz. For a couple of years, she acted in plays at the Halle Theater, and then she retired completely from the theater. When she stopped performing the solo tragic pantomimes, the genre disappeared, supplanted by altogether less serious ideas about pantomime.  

            The lack of successors to the solo female tragic pantomime pioneered by Hamilton, Brun, and Hendel-Schütz remains puzzling. Holmström claims that the genre was “entirely dependent on [an] intellectual coterie,” and, in the case of Hamilton and Brun, “practiced above all by amateurs as an amusing ingredient of social life.” She further remarks: “It is striking that it was only in Germany that the genres were taken seriously. This is probably due to the fact that the professional theater was not yet so firmly established there as it was in France and England,” where performers were “not aristocratic amateurs but practicing scholars and artists” (1967: 239). But this assertion is not entirely accurate. German professional theater during the Napoleonic era was actually fairly extensive, with an abundance of court theaters. The “Sturm und Drang” period (ca. 1770-1785), led largely by dramatists, did much to reveal the potential of theater to become a significant cultural, economic, and political institution within German culture. Neither France nor England produced a dramatist as powerful or imaginative in the medium as Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Even in the realm of popular theater, the popularity throughout Europe of the melodramatist August von Kotzebue (1761-1819) perhaps exceeded even that of Pixerecourt. In the realm of theatrical performance, such figures as the actor-manager Wilhelm Iffland (1759-1814), the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), and, of course, Goethe bestowed considerable prestige on the professionalization of theater culture. The solo tragic pantomimes possibly appealed to the German intellectual “coterie” because they were a non-French form of neo-classicism. It was a form of pantomime that did not originate from Paris or possess the attributes of the grandiose French pantomime perfected by Cuvelier. It was a serious form of pantomime that did not rely on the overly familiar figures of the commedia style of pantomime that infested provincial German theaters with its childishness. With the end of the Napoleonic era, perhaps neoclassical iconography ceased to inspire women (or men) to bring it to life through pantomimic performance. The solo tragic pantomime presented too lonely an image of humanity for a new era increasingly stirred by the ambitions of Romanticism, with its glorification of “unrepressed” voices and exhilarating poetic language. Whatever the reason, the solo tragic pantomime, as an alternative to the grandiose ensemble pantomimes in Paris and Milan, was not able to last even as long as them, and they were largely gone by 1820. 

Previous Section

Next Section


Table of Contents

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s