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Staging the Unnatural: Zacky Pastrana and the Animal–Human Divide in the Victorian Melodrama For Ever

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2020


The melodrama For Ever, by Paul Meritt and George Conquest, first performed at the Surrey Theatre on 2 October 1882, was a controversial late-Victorian stage production that fed the period’s appetite for dramatic histrionics, exotic displays, and monstrosity. An ephemeral piece that enjoyed no literary archetypes and few revivals, the play’s raison d’être was Conquest’s portrayal of Zacky Pastrana, a ‘man-monkey’, and his unrequited love for the murderous Ruth – a theme unique in the context of simian-based drama. Central to the play’s infamy was the covert allusion to the age-old myth of unnatural unions between simians and humans, and, although condemned as absurd and revolting by some critics, and laughable by others, its notoriety ensured popular success. Drawing on the original script submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for licensing and censoring, and situating Pastrana among famous fictional monstrosities adapted from literature for the British stage, most significantly Caliban, this article is a thematic analysis of Conquest’s unique role. It highlights through a series of interrelated readings how Pastrana’s multidimensional otherness and hybrid fluidity serves as a site of conceptual contention located at the animal–human boundary, exposing the cultural tensions in late-Victorian Britain. Bernard Ince is an independent theatre historian who has contributed earlier studies of the Victorian and Edwardian theatre to NTQ.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2020

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