‘This dreadful machine’
The spectacle of death and the aesthetics of crowd control
in The Gothic and death
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This chapter considers the context of the French Revolution and the spectacle of accelerated and mechanised decapitation and their joint influence on the Gothic imagination. The focus of the discussion is on stage representation, and the anxieties generated by attempts to represent insurrectionary violence in the 1790s in front of potentially volatile and unpredictable audiences. James Boaden’s dramatisation of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk is adapted (in part) to neutralise the representation of mob rule. Meanwhile, George Reynolds’ Bantry Bay, staged during a unique window of opportunity in 1797, attempts to re-imagine potential insurgents in loyalist terms. Paradoxically, the attempt to control the theatre through licensing had created larger venues than ever before, making audiences potentially more threatening.


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