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Criticism, Performance, and the Passions in the Eighteenth Century
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Book description

Great art is about emotion. In the eighteenth century, and especially for the English stage, critics developed a sensitivity to both the passions of a performance and what they called the transitions between those passions. It was these pivotal transitions, scripted by authors and executed by actors, that could make King Lear beautiful, Hamlet terrifying, Archer hilarious and Zara electrifying. James Harriman-Smith recovers a lost way of appreciating theatre as a set of transitions that produce simultaneously iconic and dynamic spectacles; fascinating moments when anything seems possible. Offering fresh readings and interpretations of Shakespearean and eighteenth-century tragedy, historical acting theory and early character criticism, this volume demonstrates how a concern with transition binds drama to everything, from lyric poetry and Newtonian science, to fine art and sceptical enquiry into the nature of the self.

Reviews

Criticism, Performance and the Passions in the Eighteenth Century is an impressive study of the theory and practice of eighteenth-century acting. Focusing on ‘transition' as a key component of the actor's art, James Harriman-Smith offers us a new way to understand and appreciate the emotional power of theatrical performance in the age of David Garrick. Conceptually astute and deeply immersed in primary sources, his book is a major contribution to British theatre history.

Richard Schoch - Queen's University Belfast

Harriman-Smith's strikingly original work is on the performance of ‘transitions' – emotional turns from one passion to another – in the long eighteenth century. Using information gathered from plays, letters, manuals on speaking and acting, promptbooks, periodicals and paintings, Theatre and the Passions in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Transition shows how ‘jolts' in the passions affected everything from David Garrick's performances to the writing of lyric odes and the construction of Shakespeare criticism. The extraordinary insights offered by this book will transform our understanding performance and text in the eighteenth-century.

Tiffany Stern - University of Birmingham

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