Robert Poole
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‘To the last drop of my blood’
Melodrama and politics in late Georgian England
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In late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England, politics was often conceived in theatrical terms. This chapter surveys the landscape of political melodrama in England during the age of revolution. It uses the reports of spies and informers in the Home Office papers to demonstrate that in popular radical circles the act of rebellion itself was expected to work as a kind of melodrama, simultaneously exposing the corruption and artifice of government and rousing the masses to climactic confrontation with the dark powers of the state. Melodramatic language used by radical speakers to rally crowds corresponded to strategies of petition, remonstrance and ulterior measures radicals developed in the winter of 1816-17 and enacted in the Spa Fields meetings, the Manchester rising and the Pentridge rebellion. At a crucial point, the radical Black Dwarf reprinted Southey’s suppressed play Wat Tyler to provide a model for dramatic political action. This chapter argues for a direct relationship between this political moment and the influence of the popular theatre, particularly melodrama.

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Politics, performance and popular culture

Theatre and society in nineteenth-century Britain


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