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St. Helena’s theatrical culture after 1770 reflects South Atlantic links with slavery, revolution and theater, soon to be reanimated by the arrival and residence of defeated emperor Napoleon in 1815. A transhemispheric crossroads where the British worlds of the north and south, east and west literally converged, the island’s theatrical and social life provides a finale to this study’s examination of theater and performance in the British empire. Three specific performances – one in Richmond, London, of St. Helena, or the Isle of Love (1776), and two in St. Helena, The Revenge in 1817 (to which Napoleon was invited) and Inkle and Yarcio in 1822, after the island-wide agreement ot abolish slavery, demonstrated the systemic nature of empire, the fictions of race that it perpetrated and the performativies of human difference that undermined its structures. The Saints were transucltural players in a wider, violent and acquistitive imperial drama, performers of a hybrid and syncretic Englishness that acknowledged its diverse sources.
The role of the foreign and its naturalization in British culture in print, theater and peformance realms; the roles of the audience in the politics of theater both within the British archipelago and across the empire; and the degrees to which the imperial provinces, their peoples, practices and knowledges, were crucial components of metropolitan modernity and claims to global standing.
This chapter outlines how the travels of Rowe’s Fair Penitent across Kingston, Calcutta and Sydney accumulated meanings related to the theatricality of state and colonial power, the counter-theater of the subaltern, whether women, Indigenous, enslaved or incarcerated, and the need for limits on patriarchal privilege if national reproduction were to be successful in alien settings and on other people’s lands.
The performance of Edward Young’s The Revenge in Sydney in 1796 is used as a way to recast British-Aboriginal relations in the early years of the British invasion. Sydney became an amphitheater of struggle over contending claims of British and Aboriginal authorities, Eora clans who refused to give up their lands, exiled British felons of all sexes enraged at their fates, soldiers and sailors who bewailed their exile: revenge was on many people’s minds. How was The Revenge going to be interpreted in such a setting, by such a multitude?
An examination of Maroon cultural, festive and political practices, their victorious militarized Black masculinity and their wider transimperial significance as figures of resistance or reconciliation, as images of the the red-coated Maroon circulated across imperial networks
A pluriversal analysis of eighteenth-century British imperial designations of space, place and peoples through the contending performances cultures of British Sumatra as relayed by young naturalist William Marsden. In Bencoolen from 1771 to 1778, Marsden demonstrated that the island was the center of a new world historical language stretching from Madagascar to Easter Island. Here a performance of The Wonder! A Woman Keeps a Secret, in conjunction with the gathering of materials for his future history of Sumatra, galvanized new appreciation for Sumatrans’ diverse cultures and their place in Britain’s glbal history.
How did blackness and whiteness figure in the patterns of life and represenation that moved across the eighteenth-century theatrical empire? Performances of blackface characters in colonial environments – in this case of Mungo, the enslaved Black Servant in the comic opera The Padlock – could take the lead in parsing, categorizing and enacting typologies of "darker-skinned" peoples with lasting effects – an embodied form of racial "knowledge" that undergirded the subordination of non-British peoples in the construction of a global laboring class.
The confrontation of the foreign was a key aspect of the theatrical culture of eighteenth-century British culture. The performances of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comic opera The Duenna (1775) in Kingston, Jamaica, and his comedy The School for Scandal (1777) in Calcutta, Bengal, enabled residents to embrace both the love of alterity and the longing for home that were each endemic to colonial life, as the comic figures of the Jew and the nabob and the forlorn figure of the enslaved child suggested that Britishness and otherness were not far removed from each other, as theatrical performance in circulation began to sketch in more similarities than differences dividing us from them.