Characters and stereotypes in late Stuart and Georgian theatre
Some chapters in this volume explore how stereotypes served heuristic functions in political and religious spheres. This chapter complements these by considering how stereotypes conditioned the formation of identity more broadly during the long eighteenth century. At its heart lies the centrality of stereotypes in shaping identities: subjectivity depends on our being cast in gendered, raced, classed and sexual roles from our entry into the world. Admittedly, late Stuart and Georgian theatre, depending on stock characters, is often considered aesthetically inferior to early modern counterparts populated by characters like Hamlet. Yet the theatre of the long eighteenth century is important because it was a ‘laboratory of subjectification’; dependence on stock types was used to model the differentiation from norms by which individuality is achieved. The chapter shows that the commercial stage of the period did much more than produce and circulate new stereotypes (as indicated in Chapters 2 to 4). On the stage the audience found struggles with social, political, racial and gender stereotypes; heightened comic and moralised versions of their own experience, anxieties and aspirations. Thus, the theatre continued to attract diverse audiences while playing a pivotal role in developing new stock characters and even national and racial identities.