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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
November 2022
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Book description

Why did Britons get up a play wherever they went? Kathleen Wilson reveals how the performance of English theater and a theatricalized way of viewing the world shaped the geopolitics and culture of empire in the long eighteenth century. Ranging across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans to encompass Kingston, Calcutta, Fort Marlborough, St. Helena and Port Jackson as well as London and provincial towns, she shows how Britons on the move transformed peripheries into historical stages where alternative collectivities were enacted, imagined and lived. Men and women of various ethnicities, classes and legal statuses produced and performed English theater in the world, helping to consolidate a national and imperial culture. The theater of empire also enabled non-British people to adapt or interpret English cultural traditions through their own performances, as Englishness also became a production of non-English peoples across the globe.


‘The vibrancy of Britain's domestic theaters during the long eighteenth century has long been established. But in this rich, sophisticated, and adventurously researched book, Kathleen Wilson excavates theater's importance for Britain's overseas empire. Ranging from St. Helena to Jamaica, and Sydney to Calcutta, she shows how a wide range of actors and impresarios used and invested in plays to communicate, to set out arguments, and to offer cultural and racial assertions. Strolling Players of Empire is an arresting and significant work.'

Linda Colley - author of The Gun, The Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World

‘Both audiences and actors play a necessary role in the magic of theater. By reading old texts anew, and tracing lives and plays across a global stage from Kolkata to the Caribbean, Kathleen Wilson has changed how we understand eighteenth-century race and empire.'

Tim Hitchcook - co-director of The Old Bailey Online.

‘Revealing for the first time the full scope of the globe-circling ambition of the English-speaking colonial theater, Kathleen Wilson also re-writes the history of the British Empire in the eighteenth century. Her stunning thesis is that theatrical and related kinds of public enactments did not merely reflect the expanding imperium but rather created it by enabling the performance of Englishness by people of all nations. Sustaining its bold claims by making both new archival discoveries and original arguments, Strolling Players of Empire raises the stakes for what research in the field will be for decades to come.'

Joseph Roach - author of Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

‘… offers a wealth of knowledge and an exemplary methodology for scholars working to dismantle old geographical and disciplinary boundaries and explore new nuances in histories of race and imperialism across the globe.’

Meng Zhang Source: Eighteenth-Century Studies

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