Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marvin Carlson

Committee Members

Jean Graham-Jones

David Savran

Subject Categories

American Studies | European Languages and Societies | Intellectual History | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America | Political History | Theatre and Performance Studies | Theatre History | Theory and Criticism


Joseph Addison, Eighteenth Century, Enlightenment, Political Performance, Sovereignty


Joseph Addison’s name was once synonymous with good English prose, and writers from Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin to John Steinbeck took him as a master to study and emulate. At the tercentenary of his death, the name of this paradigmatic theatrical and literary taste-maker has faded from popular view, though his unparalleled success as a writer in his time lives on in the sound and style of everyday English. The Addisonian spirit, which ushered in an unprecedented era of domestic peace in Britain while eventually inspiring the French and American Revolutions, stirred the long breath of the Enlightenment and coded many of the constitutional political and social agreements under which we live today. A path-breaking journalist, poet, playwright, statesman, traveler, diplomat, philosopher, and businessman, Addison’s understatedly colorful career championed moderation, middle-class existence, and the rights of all individuals to education, free debate, and political choice. This dissertation considers his highly influential contribution to British and transnational culture and politics through a comprehensive exploration of his performative writings, high-level political work, networked social life, and theatrical stagings. Addison’s progressive Whiggism is analyzed in the complex rendering of new light that reveals how a cult of expanding liberty partially masked a simultaneous expansion of chattel slavery and the perpetuation of gender and class oppression. Navigating a period of world-shaking new scientific insights, the end of a political order based on divine monarchs, and constant threat from foreign wars and violent civil factionalism, Addison shaped and directed new performances that set the scene for the emergence of modern nations, in the private imagination, in literature, in the playhouse, and in the halls of commerce and government administration. His theatrical transformation of quotidian society was mirrored in his creation of a new model for sovereign individuality taken up by monarchs and revolutionary leaders alike and enacted in the twinned modern role of head-of-state and private citizen.

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