Sir Robert Peel as actor-dramatis
in Politics, performance and popular culture
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In the early nineteenth-century, the chamber of the House of Commons was the stage upon which the theatre of national political action was played out and the cockpit of political drama between the leading personalities of the age. This chapter extends our understanding of this ‘theatre of politics’ in the early-nineteenth century, examining how Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), the leading Conservative politician, became a particular type of parliamentary ‘performer.’ Though Peel’s public reputation and private upbringing was far from dramatic and his public persona was not showy, his tendency to adopt more dramatic forms and styles of declamation in Parliament at times of high political tension or moments of heightened political stress in his public career came to be more revealing precisely because they appeared dramatic, even melodramatic. To that degree, Peel was an actor-dramatist in the theatrical style and dramatic technique became an essential part of his self-presentation as a politician and a proselytiser for his policies.

Politics, performance and popular culture

Theatre and society in nineteenth-century Britain

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