Like most of the theater arts, the reason behind the birth of this art is the Greek and Roman theaters. The history of the origin of mime can be dated back to the 3rd century BC’s Theater of Dionysus in Athens. At that time the mime wasn’t completely speechless as the modern mimes. Although there was some dialogue delivery, it was minimum and there was chorus, which is the key element of the theaters at that time. Mime artist were known as Phylakes at that time.
The stories were tragic at first with a moral lesson at the end. Some of the well-known mime writers were Epicharmus, Decimus Laberius, Pubilius Syrus, Herodas and Sophron. After the downfall of Roman Empire, the mime artists were part of the court performers all over Europe. They were known as Saltator or Mimus and this was how the word mime was derived. Sword swallowers, short drama actors, acrobats and jugglers were also known by the name Mimus. On the basis of this patented dumb roles were invented as the coward husband, forgetful old man and many others. They further grew as a non-silent comedy in the Italian theaters as the dumb show, British Pantomime, Masque and Italian commedia Dell’arte.
In the modern times there are primarily two categories of Mime. The first type is named Pantomime in which the whole emphasis is on the body as a whole along with facial expressions, gestures and body language. There is hardly any place for props in this kind of mime. Instead the objects are imagined and an illusion is created for the audience. Here the facial expressions and movement of the body is exaggerated.
The second type is Corporeal Mime. It was developed because of the effort of people like Jacques Lecoq and Etienne Decroux. Here the body is used to express something that even words cannot express. Emotions and thoughts were expressed so as to make the invisible visible. This is done not by just over doing the daily gestures but by discovering the range of human body to its fullness. The modernized version also includes elements of other theater arts like dialogues, puppetry and writing.
A mime is always presented with a painted face with more concentration on the lips and eyes, by highlighting them with red and black color, respectively. White gloves are a necessity as it is used to increase the visibility of the movements of the hand. The costumes consist of a black suit with white lining, suspenders and a black hat.
There are many other countries that have their own type of mime depending on their culture. The best example is the Indian classical dance. Mukhabinaya or face and eyes expression was a part of the Indian dance Natya Shastra original to Bharat Muni Theater, which is an Indian version of mime. It includes a vast vocabulary of hand gestures and stylized positions. Illusions are created by Mime that interprets an action, landscape, and living being. Sometimes song and music of the instruments or the lightning movement of the dancer’s feet support the mime performance.