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.
book, with its superb and subtle account of the end-stopped, the blank, the ‘preconceptual’, the ‘hum’, the ‘ostensive’ in literature and the (Wordsworthian but also more generally poetic) sense of the ‘blank opacity with which the world discloses its being’ (p. 7), or the (Dickinsonian but also more generally poetic) sense of the ‘disclosure of the insignificant in the very sound of signification’ (p. 63). As Fry puts it, ‘the suspension of knowledge enabled by ostension can serve to reinvigorate the very quest it interrupts’ (p. 201).
, understanding, but also in the end nescience. This reticence is what we learn, or what we can learn, from books – not to know, not to desire knowledge. Or to ‘know’, rather, a book’s opacity, or what Paul Fry calls the ‘ostension’ of the poem – the way that, like some lines of poetry, a poem can be ‘end stopped’, can lead, cognitively, just nowhere. 13 In this regard, epistemophilia, the desire or drive to know, which itself drives reading and structures narratives may be said to be shadowed by its other, by what we might call anepistemophilia or even by epistemophobia, by