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12 - Revolutionary drama

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2011

Pamela Clemit
Affiliation:
University of Durham
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Summary

The French Revolution transformed British theatre and dramatic writing, making the 1790s a pivotal decade in the nation's theatre history. The theatre of 1789 was still recognizably that of David Garrick, the pre-eminent actor-manager and dramatist who dominated the Georgian era: by 1800, however, a tectonic shift had occurred. That the Revolution had this effect was not only due to the magnitude of events in France and their impact in Britain: it was also because the Revolution challenged and defined the ideas and practices of theatricality that were integral to eighteenth-century society.

The maintenance of authority, based on the pillars of the monarchy, the church, the law and Parliament, was heavily reliant on the ‘show’ of power: George III, for example, would display himself to the people by means of processions, attendance at church and at other public occasions such as military and naval reviews, while the authority of the law was communicated by means of the solemn procession of judges through towns at assize time or by the more macabre theatre of the public execution. At the other end of the social spectrum, the lower orders often responded to the performances of the elite with their own theatrical forms of behaviour such as ritualized rioting or the burning of effigies. At the centre of this theatricalized political culture was the theatre itself. Play-going functioned not merely as a form of leisure activity but as a means of participating in the body politic.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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  • Revolutionary drama
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.012
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  • Revolutionary drama
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.012
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Revolutionary drama
  • Edited by Pamela Clemit, University of Durham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 28 July 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521516075.012
Available formats
×