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7 - Theatre

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2010

Francis O'Gorman
Affiliation:
University of Leeds
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Summary

What we think of as the Victorian theatre emerged from the late Romantic period, and the aesthetic and political anxieties of the early decades of the nineteenth century were woven into the legislative, industrial and aesthetic characteristics of that theatre throughout the rest of the century. Many of the enduring debates about the theatre - about its audiences, texts and performance practices - were first broached in the late Romantic period, when the break between popular and high culture was institutionalized and embedded in ideologically loaded hierarchies of aesthetic value. These hierarchies are still with us today: whenever impassioned public debate erupts over the place of Shakespeare's plays in English-speaking national schools curricula, or the advisability of the (British) National Theatre staging Oklahoma in a state-subsidised theatre, or the paucity of new plays which are not musicals on Broadway, we are re-enacting Victorian debates about the competing roles and values of theatre as entertainment, or art or education. Abiding anti-theatrical concerns that theatre professionals value art over entertainment, evident in the assumptions and actions of state funding bodies (where these exist), and the suspicion that performance for the sake of pleasure (entertainment) is somehow both ethically and aesthetically 'wrong', are views inherited from the nineteenth century. And canonical literary histories of the Victorian period - the privileging of some narratives over others - have reinforced these ideological and aesthetic anxieties.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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  • Theatre
  • Edited by Francis O'Gorman, University of Leeds
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture
  • Online publication: 28 July 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521886994.007
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  • Theatre
  • Edited by Francis O'Gorman, University of Leeds
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture
  • Online publication: 28 July 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521886994.007
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.

  • Theatre
  • Edited by Francis O'Gorman, University of Leeds
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture
  • Online publication: 28 July 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521886994.007
Available formats
×