Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
For much of the nineteenth century, nonhuman animals shared the English stage with human performers in a series of popular, widely produced quadruped dramas. Work in animal studies and performance theory overlooks this phenomenon when it laments theater's unbroken history of animal exclusion—a notion of exclusion that quadruped dramas actually helped propagate and reinforce. The animal melodramas produced through the Victorian era featured animal characters whose appeal depended on the perceived otherness of animal actors, especially the knowledge that animals did not so much act in the drama as perform set responses to subtle, real-world cues from their trainers. Playwrights used animals' imperfect integration in the dramatic illusion to inject an uncanny sense of reality into their melodramatic plots. Their experiments with estrangement admit the difficulties of animal performance by explicitly staging animal otherness—but only as a spur to deepen human engagement with the more-than-human world.