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Gothic Melodrama and the Aesthetic of Silence in Thomas Holcroft‘s A Tale of Mystery

Focusing on melodrama and on Thomas Holcroft‘s exemplary A Tale of Mystery (1802) in particular, this essay proposes a reinterpretation of Gothic drama and theatre as constitutively characterized by interruptions of comprehension. The tribulations of its persecuted protagonist Francisco are read in the context of the court trial of a real-life Francisco, who lived in London in 1802 and was one of the ‘stars’ in contemporary newspaper reports from the Old Bailey. Combining different generic and tonal modes, Romantic-period Gothic melodrama capitalized on explicitness and hyperbole, as well as on materializations of ethics and sentiment through their overt exhibition on stage or ‘ostension’. At the same time, it emphasized absence, silence, dematerialization and dissolution. With its continuously deferred revelations,and ostensions of the unsaid, A Tale of Mystery is a significant investment in an aesthetic of the unsaid that is central to a definition of Gothic on stage.

Gothic Studies
Work, play and politics

This book is about Thomas Hood, a nineteenth-century writer and illustrator whose work is characterized by play. It argues that looking closely at Hood illuminates three areas of nineteenth-century cultural production that modern scholarship has yet fully to explore: the output of the years 1824-40; comic poetry; and the grotesque. These three areas of discomfort are linked, each of them threatens boundaries that are convenient for literary criticism. The book explores Hood's early career at the London Magazine, restoring the dynamic context in which he began experimenting with voice and genre. It examines the connection between the London's liberal politics and its culture of play. The book concerns with the effects of Hood's remarkably pluralistic approach to words, texts, and readers, both as material entities and as imaginative projections. It considers Hood's puns, their effects, their detractors, and the cultural politics of punning in the nineteenth century. The book examines the politics of Hood's play in relation to nineteenth-century debate about labour and leisure. Hood's work in relationship to the so-called 'minor' or 'illegitimate' theatre of the 1820s and 1830s is analyzed. Hood's work plays out the possibilities of an emergent cultural democracy: his poetry is practically and ideologically allied with the forms, subjects, and modes of illegitimate theatre. Hood's upbringing in a changing print culture makes him unsually alert to and appreciative of the play of language, the serendipitous intertextuality of the street where signs are in constant dialogue with one another.

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The audience as subject

theatrical ‘At Homes’ entranced London audiences by presenting a wild variety of comic personalities within the apparent intimacy of a drawing-room setting. He also worked 74 Thomas Hood and nineteenth-century poetry as a theatrical reviewer and was the author of poems that, set to music, became popular songs on the contemporary stage. This chapter considers Hood’s poetry in relationship to the so-called ‘minor’ or ‘illegitimatetheatre of the 1820s and 1830s. As Jane Moody demonstrates, in Illegitimate Theatre in London 1770–1840, to which this chapter is indebted

in Thomas Hood and nineteenth-century poetry

some of the recurrent themes and theoretical models commonly employed in the interpretation of popular theatre and offer a revisionist analysis of the late nineteenth-century debate over the legitimate versus the illegitimate theatre by foregrounding the centrality of hierarchy and status within the discourse of the Select Committee proceedings of 1892. I will argue that Britain’s leading actor-manager, Henry Irving, as representative of the legitimate theatre, aligned himself with the British hierarchical system, as defined by David Cannadine, in order to secure

in Politics, performance and popular culture

’s Illegitimate Theatre in London (2000) has done much to recover the vibrancy of illegitimate theatrical culture and demonstrate its importance as a site of political, moral and generic transgression. Plays produced and consumed in minor theatres, she argued, ‘defied cherished assumptions about cultural and social hierarchy’. The monopoly of the Patent Theatres provoked a crucial debate over dramatic free trade which became deeply political as dramatic genres were used as potent cultural weapons. Moreover, the success and popularity of illegitimate drama meant that it

in Violent Victorians
Melodrama and politics in late Georgian England

. They could not perform stage plays but they all required magistrates’ licences for music and dancing.27 But while performances were censored, play texts were not. Melodrama developed principally in the licensed theatres, but a new genre that told stories, yet achieved its impact largely through spectacle, gesture and music, had obvious appeal to the minor or illegitimate theatres. The minor theatres challenged the censor and the monopoly theatres, pushing at the boundaries of spoken drama by using signs, banners, unscripted asides to the audience and impromptu ‘songs

in Politics, performance and popular culture
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The melodramatic and the pantomimic

pantomimes of the second half of the nineteenth century.13 Regency pantomime has also been discussed as a vehicle for local and topical satire: David Mayer comments that ‘much of the material that arrangers and pantomimists used reflected basic economic questions of the period,’14 while Jane Moody argues that the ‘illegitimatetheatre was part of a larger battle over control of metropolitan culture, and that the the battle between legitimate and illegitimate theatres defined the terms of the cultural debate in London before 1843.15 However, what have not been considered

in Politics, performance and popular culture
Politics and performance in 1820

audience who had all risen, ‘gentlemen waving their hats, and ladies their handkerchiefs’. At Drury Lane ‘not a note, even of the drum or trumpet, could be heard … the majority of voices demanding “God save the Queen” to the tune of “God save the King”’ (The Times, 13 November 1820). Across the Thames, at the Coburg (London’s leading ‘illegitimatetheatre), when the leading comedian gave three cheers for the Queen, it was ‘responded to nine times by the audience, in a voice of thunder! All the actors rushed upon stage, dressed and undressed’ (Observer, 13 November 1820

in Politics, performance and popular culture
The genealogy and diffusion of a ‘popular’ theatrical genre and experience, 1780–1830

-revolutionary Europe quantify but that struck contemporaries as steadily increasing. Here then arose, and soon became subject to genuine codification, a series of new genres with a powerful theatrical impact and the capacity to attract large audiences. The impact of the normative regime upon the division of such modes of performance into actual genres was decisive. As was the case for the so-called illegitimate theatres, those who ran the boulevard theatres were in fact only permitted to stage theatrical forms that did not pose a threat to theatres vested with a patent:  performances

in Leisure cultures in urban Europe, c.1700–1870

main reason why the repertoire and character of dramatic entertainment was hedged-round with restrictions. The performance of plays in their entirety was the monopoly of the theatres royal, established under patents issued by the Lord Chamberlain (an officer of the royal household). This laid open the possibility of prosecuting ‘illegitimatetheatres that infringed on the monopoly by not confining their presentations to innocuous musical entertainments. Meanwhile dramas produced in the patent theatres had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s examiner of plays

in 1820