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Chapter 1 - Censorship as Cultural Production

The 1752 Public Entertainments Act and Christopher Smart’s Old Woman’s Oratory

from Part I - Gender

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 August 2023

David O'Shaughnessy
Affiliation:
University of Galway
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Summary

Christopher Smart’s drag orations as Mary Midnight were enabled by burgeoning British social policy legislation combined with widespread cultural aspirations for creating an educated British public through public oratory. Ironically, the state censorship enacted in the 1752 Public Entertainments Act, which sought to limit public performances outside the licensed London theatres, created conditions that enabled Smart’s innovative attempts at entertaining—and therefore creating—a public unified across class and gender differences through a mixture of humor, erudition, dance, and music, among other forms of performances (including trained dog and monkey acts). The case of Smart’s Mary Midnight is key to understanding the achievements and limits of a British urban entertainment industry in the mid eighteenth century that was dedicated to creating a civil public sphere, as well as making money.

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Chapter
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The Censorship of Eighteenth-Century Theatre
Playhouses and Prohibition, 1737–1843
, pp. 33 - 51
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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