The Castle Spectre was one of the most popular and successful theatrical events of its day, and critics have often tried to explain its success, usually appealing to the ‘spectacular’ appearance of the spectre herself. But critics have not explored how the spectre - certainly no novelty on the stage - caused such a stir among contemporary audiences. By examining a selection of reviews, comments by contemporary literary figures, the text of the play, and Lewis‘s own comments concerning his spectacle, this paper demonstrates how Lewis employs strategies of delay and misdirection to make an otherwise nonviolent and unspectacular play appear excessively violent and spectacular even by 1790s Gothic standards.
Unlike Romantic authorship, the Gothic author has long been identified with unoriginality. A foundational moment in this association can be found in the reception of the original Gothic plagiarist, Matthew Lewis. Critics not only condemned Lewis for apparently usurping other authors property in The Castle Spectre but also did so by casting him as his own usurping villain. This parallel between Gothic conventions and critical language suggests that the Gothic might have played a crucial role in the history of our concepts of intellectual property, and particularly in the development of the now-familiar figure of the criminalized, and vilified, plagiarist.
While the importance of space in Gothic literature and the role of spectacle in the staging of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century British Gothic drama have received much attention, little has been written about how Gothic dramatic writing gestures with space. By looking at how dramatic writers rhetorically used Gothics politically and psychologically charged spaces in their dramatic works for stage and page, this essay explores how space functions in pre-realist drama. The essay shows how a rhetoric of space functions in three examples of Gothic theatrical writing - Matthew Lewis‘s The Castle Spectre, Catherine Gore‘s The Bond, and Jane Scott‘sThe Old Oak Chest - and suggests that British Gothic dramas spatial rhetoric anticipates cinematic uses of space.
The spectacle of death and the aesthetics of crowd control
Emma Galbally and Conrad Brunström
expression, presumptions and agendas were narrated through the
appropriation of existing Gothic tropes. The heightened emotional
and experiential aspects of Gothic are traceable to ideological and
political repression during the eighteenth century.
‘Monk’ Lewis himself enjoyed a keen
sense of the value of a dramatic killing in TheCastleSpectre ( 1798 ), a spoof Gothic
to emanate from and return to his portraits in The Castle of
Otranto , so too does the ghost of a murdered matriarch in
Matthew Lewis’s TheCastleSpectre (1797):
ANGELA. ( Kneeling before Evelina’s
portrait. ) Mother! Blessed Mother! If indeed thy spirit
still lingers amidst these scenes of sorrow, look on my
The first collection of its kind, Chartist Drama makes available four plays written or performed by members of the Chartist movement of the 1840s. Emerging from the lively counter-culture of this protest campaign for democratic rights, these plays challenged cultural as well as political hierarchies by adapting such recognisable genres as melodrama, history plays, and tragedy for performance in radically new settings. A communal, public, and embodied art form, drama was linked for the Chartists with other kinds of political performance: the oratory of the mass platform, festival-like outdoor meetings, and the elaborate street theatre of protest marches. Plays that Chartists wrote or staged advanced new interpretations of British history and criticised aspects of the contemporary world. And Chartist drama intervened in fierce strategic arguments within the movement. Most notably, poet-activist John Watkins’s John Frost, which dramatises the gripping events of the Newport rising of 1839, in which twenty-two Chartists lost their lives, defends the rebellion and the Chartist recourse to violence as a means for the movement to achieve its aims. The volume’s appendices document over one hundred Chartist dramatic performances, staged by activists in local Chartist associations or at professional benefits at some of London’s largest working-class theatres. Gregory Vargo’s introduction and notes elucidate the previously unexplored world of Chartist dramatic culture, a context that promises to reshape what we know about early Victorian popular politics and theatre.
Sarah Wilkinson’s TheCastleSpectre, an Ancient
Baronial Romance (1798) ‘founded on the original
drama’ published by J. Bailey and priced at a shilling and
comprising twelve pages only is truly a ‘shilling
shocker’. The frontispiece shows Earl Percy, cloak billowing,
jumping from a castle turret window onto a rather flimsy-looking
sail-sheet held by four
Potter explains, has been unfairly marginalised as ‘merely the
undergrowth of legitimate novels or literary mushrooms’. 83 Since Gothic fiction
is believed to have had a largely female-dominated audience, this may be
why some adaptations render Lewis’ Bleeding Nun a pale imitation
of her debauched self, either as victim or helpful premonitory
spectre. 84 For
his play TheCastleSpectre , which
has appeared in dozens of films since, but The Rocky Horror Picture
Show (1975) is unabashedly dense in references to art,
literature, and horror film, as Rolf Eichler has detailed. 58 This practice
goes back to the early decades of the gothic, such as the 1797 play,
TheCastleSpectre , in which the author, Matthew Lewis,
“rel[ies] on the audience’s knowledge of Gothic
4.6b Matthew Gregory Lewis
(1775–1818), Postscript to TheCastleSpectre
Source: Matthew Gregory Lewis
(1798), TheCastleSpectre: A Drama , London: J. Bell, pp.
. . . Against my Spectre
many objections have been urged: one of them I think rather curious. She
ought not to appear, because the