means a species of drama in two parts, the introduction and the harlequinade, acted in dumb show. The prototype is the Roman atellanæ but our Christmas pantomime or harlequinade is essentially a British entertainment, first introduced by Mr. Weaver, a dancing-master of Shrewsbury, in 1702. (See below.)
What Momus was of old to Jove, The same a harlequin is now. The former was buffoon above, The latter is a Punch below.
The Roman mime did not at all correspond with our harlequinade. The Roman mimus is described as having a shorn head, a sooty face, flat unshod feet, and a patched parti-coloured cloak.
The prince of Harlequins was John Rich (1681-1761).
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894