1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pageant

PAGEANT, in its most general sense a show or spectacle; the more specific meanings are involved in the etymology of the word and its connexion with the history of the early mystery plays (see Drama). In its early forms, dating from the 14th century, the word is pagyn or pagen, the excrescent i or d, as in " tyrant," " ancient," not appearing till later. The Med. Lat. equivalent is pagina, and this, or at least the root from which it is formed, must be taken as ths source. The senses, however, in which the word is used, viz. stage, platform, or scene played on a stage, are not those of the classical Lat. pagina, a page of a book, nor do they apparently occur in the medieval Latin of any language other than English. Further, it is not clear which meaning comes first, platform or scene. If the last, then " scene," i.e. a division of a play, might develop out of " page " of a book. If not, then pagina is a fresh formation from the root pag of pangere, to fix or fasten, the word meaning a fastened framework of wood forming a stage or platform; cf. the classical use of compago, structure. Others take pagina as a translation of Gr. πῆγμα, platform, stage, a word from the same root pag-. Du Cange (Glossarium) quotes a use in Med. Lat. of pegma in this sense, Machina lignea in qua statuae collocabantur, and Cotgrave gives " Pegmate, a stage or frame whereon pageants be set or carried."

As has been said, " pageant " is first found in the sense of a scene, a division or part of a play or of the platform on which such scene was played in the medieval drama. Thus we read of Queen Margaret in 1457 that at Coventry she saw " alle the pagentes pleyde save domesday which myght not be pleyde for lak of day," and in the accounts of the Smiths' gild at Coventry for 1450, five pence is paid " to bring the pagent into gosford-stret." A clear idea of what these stages were like when the mystery plays became processional (processus), that is, were acted on separate platforms moving along a street, is seen in Archdeacon Roger's contemporary account of the Chester plays about the end of the i6th century. " The maner of these playes weare, every company had his pagiant, or parte, which pageants weare a high scafolde with 2 rowmes, a higher and a lower, upon 4 wheeles " (T. Sharp, Dissertation on the Pageants or Mysteries at Coventry, 1825, which contains most of the early references to the word). The movable platform, filled with emblematic or allegorical figures, naturally played an important part in processional shows with no dialogue or dramatic action. An instance (1432) of the practice and the use of the word is found in the Munimenta gildhallae londiniensis (ed. Riley), " Parabatur machine . . . . in cujus medio stabat gigas mirae magnitudinis .... ex utroque latere ... in eadem pagina erigebantur duo animalia vocata antclops." At Anne Boleyn's coronation, June i, 1533, one " pageant " contained figures of Apollo and the Muses, another represented a castle, with " a heavenly roof and under it upon a green was a root or stock, whereout sprang a multitude of white and red roses " (Arber, English Garner, ii. 47, quoted in the New English Dictionary). Such " pageants " formed a feature, in a somewhat degraded shape, in the annual lord mayor's show in London. The development in meaning from " moving platform " to that of a " processional spectacle " or " show " is obvious.

The 20th century has seen in England what may in some respects be looked on as a revival but in general as a new departure in the shape of semi-dramatic spectacles illustrative of the history of a town or locality; to such spectacles the name of " Pageant " has been appropriately given. Coventry in its procession in commemoration of Lady Godiva's traditional exploit, has since 1678 illustrated an incident, however mythical, in the history of the town, and many of the ancient cities of the continent of Europe, as Siena, Bruges, Nuremberg, &c., have had, and still have, at intervals a procession of persons in the costumes of various periods, and of figures emblematically of the towns' associations and history. The modern pageant is far removed from a mere procession in dumb show, however bright with colour and interesting from an historical or artistic point of view such may be made. It consists of a series of scenes, representing historical events directly connected with the town or locality in which the pageant takes place. These are accompanied by appropriate dialogue, speeches, songs, &c., and with music and dances. The effect is naturally much heightened by the place of the performance, more particularly if this is the actual site of some of the scenes depicted, as at the Winchester Pageant (1908) where the background was formed by the ruins of Wolvesey Castle. The Sherborne pageant of 1905 was the first of the series of pageants. In 1907 and 1908 they became very numerous; of these the principal may be mentioned, those at Oxford, Bury St Edmunds in 1907; at Winchester, Chelsea, Dover and Pevensey in 1908; and that of the English Church at Fulham Palace 1909, a peculiarly interesting example of a pageant connected with an institution and not a locality.

The artistic success of a pageant depends on the beauty or historic interest of its site, the skilful choice of episodes and dramatic incidents, the grouping and massing of colour, and the appropriateness of the dialogue, speeches and incidental music. It is here that the skill and talent of the writer, designer or director of the pageant find scope. The name of the dramatist Louis N. Parker (b. 1852), the author of the Sherborne pageant, the earliest and one of the most successful, must always be associated with the movement, of which he was the originator.

More important, perhaps, than the aesthetic pleasure given is the educational effect produced not only on the spectators but also on the performers. The essence of the pageant is that all who take part are residents in the place and locality, that the costumes and accessories should be made locally, and that all classes and all ages should share in a common enthusiasm for the bringing back in the most vivid form the past history, often forgotten, in which all should feel they have an equal and common part.  (C. We.)