to tell a story or express yourself without words, using only the movements of your body and face
Origin and usage
The word mime began to be commonly used in the early 17th century to refer to the act of expression through mimicking. It was mostly associated with jesters and other types of performers. The word itself originates from the Greek ‘mimos’.
Closely tied to the idea of imitation, the word mime refers to a form of expression through actions and without using words. Mime artists are performers who act in complete silence but create stories and convey emotions through physical movements and gestures.
The first instances of mime as a dramatic art form began with the Greeks and Romans who would act out silent scenes from daily life with fantastic and often comedic twists. With modern developments, the art of mime has changed somewhat to focus more on a specific character than the portrayal of a certain setting. Mime performances also centre on the gestures and skill of the artist to be able to convey a story. Mime has been a popular method of storytelling for centuries across the globe, from Oriental dance-dramas in India, China and Japan, to English 18th-century pantomimes.
Modern interpretations of the art of mime are influenced by ballet and popular silent film actors like Charlie Chaplin and Ben Turpin. In France, the modern mime was developed as a form of high art thanks to famous performers like Étienne Decroux, Jean-Louis Barrault and Marcel Marceau.
“Words dazzle and deceive because they are mimed by the face. But black words on a white page are the soul laid bare.”
(Guy de Maupassant)
“What sculptors so is represent the essence of gesture. What is important in mime is attitude.”
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.
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