Mime (Gk ‘imitation’) is a form of drama in which actors tell a story by gestures and bodily movement, originating in Sicily and southern Italy.
Sophron of Syracuse (sth c. BC) composed mime plays. So did Herodas (3rd c. BC) who later influenced Plautus, Terence, and Horace.
Dumb acting continued as a very popular form of entertainment throughout the Middle Ages and achieved a considerable revival in Italy in the 16th c. when it was much practiced in commedia dell’arte.The influence spread through Europe and in varying degrees mime has been part of the European dramatic tradition ever since.
Nowadays mime denotes acting without words. In France particularly, mime is regarded as entertainment in its own right. In the 1920s Étienne Decroux encouraged its development and Jean-Louis Barrault aroused much interest in it through his performance in Les Enfants du paradis. Jacques Tati has also displayed its possibilities in the cinema.
Marcel Marceau is regarded as the greatest mime in the world and has virtually established his own genre of monomime. The 19th c. French mime play L’Enfant prodigue (in three acts) is the best-known work of the kind.