Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Theatre

Advisor(s)

Marvin Carlson

Committee Members

Peter Eckersall

Jean Graham-Jones

Annette J. Saddik

Subject Categories

Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Theatre and Performance Studies | Theatre History

Keywords

Regency era, British drama, Romanticism, celebrity, tragedy, Gothic

Abstract

In this dissertation, I argue that British verse tragedies of the Romantic era must be looked at not as "closet dramas" divorced from the stage, but as performance texts written with specific actors in mind. Because individual actors inspired and helped to shape dramatic works by early-nineteenth-century canonical poets, these works cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of the performers who helped make them what they are. By examining those performers, their public personas, their personal strengths, and the cultural ideals they embodied, we can better appreciate what the plays were trying to achieve. Also, knowing who was meant to perform a role can prevent us from going astray with misinterpretations that fail to account for how dramatists intended their main characters to be perceived. By properly understanding the plays of this era within the contexts in which they were meant to be performed, we begin to get a better understanding of the course of British drama in general.

In the first chapter, I outline the key characteristics of Romantic drama that separated it from the rising melodrama of the period. Romantic drama was character-based, utilized ambitious poetic language, and seriously considered moral questions. These qualities, I argue, all required skilled actors. Thus, Romantic drama is inherently linked to the star actors of the Regency period who dominated the stage at the time. The chapter includes an in-depth analysis of William Wordsworth's The Borderers as the Ur-text that embodies all of the elements of Romantic drama, as well as a survey of the development and decline of verse tragedy in the nineteenth century.

The following three chapters offer case studies of individual performers who influenced dramas by canonical authors. Chapter 2 examines Sarah Siddons's role in Joanna Baillie's tragedy De Monfort. Chapter 3 looks at Samuel Taylor Coleridge's rewriting process in turning his unperformed manuscript Osorio into the stage hit Remorse with the aid of Julia Glover. Chapter 4 relates to Eliza O'Neill, the actress who converted Percy Shelley to write for the stage and inspired the heroine of The Cenci.

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