1st Edition

Nineteenth-Century Theatre and the Imperial Encounter

By Marty Gould Copyright 2011

    In this study, Gould argues that it was in the imperial capital’s theatrical venues that the public was put into contact with the places and peoples of empire. Plays and similar forms of spectacle offered Victorian audiences the illusion of unmediated access to the imperial periphery; separated from the action by only the thin shadow of the proscenium arch, theatrical audiences observed cross-cultural contact in action. But without narrative direction of the sort found in novels and travelogues, theatregoers were left to their own interpretive devices, making imperial drama both a powerful and yet uncertain site for the transmission of official imperial ideologies. Nineteenth-century playwrights fed the public’s interest in Britain’s Empire by producing a wide variety of plays set in colonial locales: India, Australia, and—to a lesser extent—Africa. These plays recreated the battles that consolidated Britain’s hold on overseas territories, dramatically depicted western humanitarian intervention in indigenous cultural practices, celebrated images of imperial supremacy, and occasionally criticized the sexual and material excesses that accompanied the processes of empire-building. An active participant in the real-world drama of empire, the Victorian theatre produced popular images that reflected, interrogated, and reinforced imperial policy. Indeed, it was largely through plays and spectacles that the British public vicariously encountered the sights and sounds of the distant imperial periphery. Empire as it was seen on stage was empire as it was popularly known: the repetitions of character types, plot scenarios, and thematic concerns helped forge an idea of empire that, though largely imaginary, entertained, informed, and molded the theatre-going British public.

    Introduction: Around the World in Eighty Plays 1: Role Britannia, Britannia Rule the Stage: Imperial Theatricality Part I. The Nineteenth-Century Theatrical Robinsonade 2. When the Novel Isn’t Enough: Text and Performance in The Cataract of the Ganges 3. Adapting a Nation to Empire: The Evolution of the Crusoe Pantomime 4. Getting Crichton into Crusoe’s Clothes: Caste and the Castaway in The Admirable Crichton Part II. Theatrical Nabobery: Imperial Wealth, Masculinity, and Metropolitan Identities 5. From Historical Hype to Theatrical Hype: The Eighteenth-Century Origins of the Nineteenth-Century Theatrical Tiger 6. "The Yellow Beams of His Oriental Countenance": The Nabob as Racial and Cultural Hybrid 7. Australian Gold Rush Plays and the Anglo-Indian Nabob’s Antipodal Antithesis Part III. Staging the Mutiny 8. India in the Limelight: Empire and the Theatre of War 9. The Empire Needs Men: Mutiny Plays and the Mobilization of Masculinity 10. Forging a Greater Britain: The Highland Soldier and the Renegotiation of Ethnic Alterities Conclusion: The Boer War and the Shift from Stage to Cinema


    Marty Gould is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, University of South Florida.

    "A very useful study of one means by which contemporary culture brought a British audience into imaginative contact with its imperial legacy. The material brought to light here is fascinating: Gould draws on the plays in the Lord Chamberlain’s collection at the British Library to excellent effect: he brings a new dimension to our sense of the responsiveness of the theatre to its moment…the sheer vitality of the Victorian theatre, its centrality to political and cultural debate as well as to entertainment, is brilliantly documented in Gould’s careful engagement with his material…this book represents a substantial contribution to our understanding of the theatre in nineteenth-century Britain." –Gail Marshall, University of Leicester, Victorian Studies