Pantomime was used in many musical and theatrical French genres in the second half of eighteenth century. Featuring gesture, dance, acting, slapstick comedy routines, music, sounds and, occasionally, speech, pantomime organizes silence by shaping spectators’ experience of non-verbal communication. This performance medium highlights humans’ cognitive capacity for processing audio-visual sensory stimuli, the awareness of the passing of time, the representations of spontaneous events, the rewards of multiple interpretation, the risks of misinterpretation, the danger of regressing to animals or automatons, the need for intercultural understanding, and the appeal of a universal language. Hedy Law explains why, of all artistic media, pantomime captured the imagination of leading eighteenth-century French thinkers, actors, choreographers and composers, and argues that the study of pantomime allows us to develop our appreciation for semantic ambiguity.
Hedy Law is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of British Columbia. She has published in Cambridge Opera Journal, the Opera Quarterly, Musique et Geste en France: De Lully à la Révolution, the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, the Oxford Handbook of Music and Censorship, the Oxford Handbook on Music and the Body, and the collection of essays Noises, Audition, Aurality: History of the Sonic Worlds in Europe, 1500–1918. She co-authored an article with a computer scientist on digital visualization of Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte for the journal CENTER: Architecture and Design in America. She is completing a book on music, pantomime, and freedom in eighteenth-century France.