Theater and Theatricality

Edmund Kean, the first season of his appearance at Drury Lane Theatre, London, 1814. Author: Thomas Addis Emmet, 1880.

Jonathan Mulrooney, “Edmund Kean, Event”

This article considers Regency actor Edmund Kean’s presence as a figure in the theatrical news of the day, arguing that Kean’s acting style, coupled with changes in periodical print culture, reframed the relation between the British theatrical tradition, the actor’s stage performance, and audience reception. Emphasizing an “illegitimate” grammar of representation characterized by gesture, mobility, and emotional transition, Kean enacted new forms of subjectivity that aligned with emerging modes of theatrical criticism to shape readers’ concepts of their own private experience and their imagined engagement with public events.

Nicholas Daly, “Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda (April, 1894) and the Rise of Ruritanian Fiction”

Nicholas Daly, “Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda (April, 1894) and the Rise of Ruritanian Fiction”

Anthony Hope’s bestseller of 1894, The Prisoner of Zenda, inspired a subgenre of adventure romances set in imaginary, semi-feudal European countries, of which Ruritania is the original. English and later American protagonists stumble into plot-driven narratives that usually feature some combination of schemes against the throne, doubles or mistaken identities, swordplay, and love at first sight. Since the 1890s, Ruritanian backdrops have been reworked for a variety of purposes, from Balkan spy novels, to interwar operetta, to Cold War satires, in such fictional territories as Ixania, Krasnia, and Grand Fenwick.

CHarles Rickets Costume Design

Wendy S. Williams, “‘So Very Japanny’: The British Reception of The Mikado in 1885”

This article examines the writings of The Mikado producers and opera reviewers in 1885. It shows that the British were eager to create a quaint, picturesque, “authentic” image of Japan, based on familiar art objects, in order to ease national anxiety about a quickly developing country that was difficult to understand.

Frederick Burwick, “18 June 1815: The Battle of Waterloo and the Literary Response”

Frederick Burwick, “18 June 1815: The Battle of Waterloo and the Literary Response”

Although Europe had celebrated the end of the Napoleonic Wars with the defeat of the French armies and the abdication of the emperor on 11 April 1814, Napoleon escaped and again rallied his troops against the British and Prussian armies. His defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 was the final battle with heavy losses on all sides. The extensive response in the British press was unprecedented. In addition to several military reports of the battle, many civilian eye-witness narratives also appeared. Memoirs, histories, and biographies added to the prose accounts. With contributions from Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and many minor authors, the poetry included both celebrations of the victory and lamentations over the loss of lives. Theatres, too, brought forth numerous spectacles and melodrama. Londoners were also treated to several exhibitions and panorama displaying scenes from the battle (Favret 8-12).

Terry F. Robinson, “National Theatre in Transition: The London Patent Theatre Fires of 1808-1809 and the Old Price Riots”

Terry F. Robinson, “National Theatre in Transition: The London Patent Theatre Fires of 1808-1809 and the Old Price Riots”

The years 1808-1809 mark a major period of transition in English National Theatre. In the space of just a few months, London’s two patent playhouses—the Theatres Royal Covent Garden and Drury Lane—burned to the ground. The devastation was total and complete. This article tells the story of the two theatre fires and explores their economic, political, and cultural repercussions, direct and indirect, including the reconstruction of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, the Old Price Riots, and the career dénouements of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons, and Dorothy Jordan. In the process of providing a historical and graphic overview, it proposes that the London Theatre fires of 1808-1809 not only created significant professional and financial turmoil but also helped to engender a shift from an eighteenth-century to a nineteenth-century theatrical paradigm.

Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, “1847: Sweeney Todd and Abolition”

Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, “1847: Sweeney Todd and Abolition”

The prolific (but rarely remembered) Victorian playwright George Dibdin Pitt wrote the first Sweeney Todd dramatization in 1847 for the Britannia in London’s East End, tailoring his melodrama for the theater’s particular audience and the acting company’s individual talents. Not published until 1883 in Dick’s Standard Plays (as Sweeney Todd: The Barber of Fleet Street, or The String of Pearls), the printed play differs significantly from Dibdin Pitt’s original, which was initially performed on 1 March 1847 as The String of Pearls, or The Fiend of Fleet Street. Scholars who rely on the 1883 Sweeney Todd to discuss the 1847 melodrama are in many respects talking about a different play. One major difference involves a main character who appears only in the 1847 version. In the 1846-47 novel, a faithful dog named Hector is important to the plot; in the 1847 play, he is transformed into a major heroic character who foils the play’s villains — no longer a dog, but a deaf-mute black boy, a former slave from British Honduras who loyally continues to serve his former owner and current employer out of love and gratitude for his freedom. By including this character, Dibdin Pitt takes an identifiably abolitionist stance, working through what was still England’s strong sense of moral achievement in abolishing slavery and still strong sense of purpose in working to end slavery in the United States. But by 1883, in regards to race and colonialism, the cultural work of Dibdin Pitt’s play without Hector operates through an unthinking backdrop of the Empire’s power and the status quo of racial hierarchy.

Ellen Malenas Ledoux, “Florizel and Perdita Affair, 1779-80″

Ellen Malenas Ledoux, “Florizel and Perdita Affair, 1779-80″

This article examines the cultural and political significance of the Prince of Wales’s early 1780s involvement with Drury Lane actress and poet Mary Robinson. Rather than just a romance between two public figures, the “Florizel and Perdita Affair” had wide-ranging effects that, when examined, offer meaningful insight into everything from the weakening influence of the Hanover dynasty and the campaigns of Whig opposition candidates to the aesthetics of formal portraiture, political cartoons, and popular fashion.

Renata Kobetts Miller, “The Cultural Work of Drama Criticism in the Early 1890s”

Renata Kobetts Miller, “The Cultural Work of Drama Criticism in the Early 1890s”

J. T. Grein’s founding of the Independent Theatre Society in 1891 marks a turning point in the cultural history of British theater. For the first time, the London stage had a theater that eschewed popular and profitable forms and embraced avant-gardism. While the Independent Theatre provided an alternative to the commercial theater, drama critics began to define their work as a non-commercial assessment of theater. Focusing on 1893, Miller demonstrates that reviewers in the early 1890s either directly used the Independent Theatre to define their own cultural roles or indirectly reflected the Independent Theatre’s concept of writing for an audience that is elevated above mass culture.

Angela Esterhammer, “1824: Improvisation, Speculation, and Identity-Construction”

Angela Esterhammer, “1824: Improvisation, Speculation, and Identity-Construction”

Literature and cultural history of the year 1824 reflect the prominence of improvisation and speculation as ideologies and modes of action. Both these terms suggest hasty action that lacks a solid or profound basis, that responds to contingencies and constructs its own (pseudo-)reality. This article explores modalities of improvisation and speculation by focusing on the interrelated themes of ephemerality, appearance, and identity-construction in texts and performances of the year 1824, including influential works of poetry and fiction, the burgeoning periodical press, and new forms of theatrical entertainment.

Photograph of Newnham-Davis

Brenda Assael, “On Dinners and Diners and Restaurant Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century London”

Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Newnham-Davis’s Dinners and Diners, published in 1899, provides a lively and valuable introduction to the restaurant in late nineteenth-century London, an aspect of Victorian metropolitan experience that has been largely overlooked by historians. This article uses Dinners and Diners to explore three aspects of Victorian metropolitan culture that are dramatized through public eating: first, the centrality of cosmopolitanism; second, the relationship between changing gender roles and new forms of urban sociability; and third, the significance of the theater and theatricality in late-Victorian culture.