Ancient Egypt in the aesthetic and decadent imaginary
This chapter turns to ancient Egypt in the literature of the aesthetic and decadent movements, exploring how this differs from the so-called classical ‘ideal’ of Greece and Rome. Beginning with Baudelaire’s influential use of ancient Egypt in the ‘Spleen’ poems of Les Fleurs du mal (1857), it locates three interrelated, but also competing and seemingly contradictory, discursive deployments of ancient Egypt in literature of the period: firstly, in an argument derived from Hegel’s Aesthetics (1818–29), Egypt as ‘Symbolic’ mystery, whose art is underdeveloped by comparison to the ‘Classical Ideal’, waiting for the day of the ‘Greek spirit … with its power of speech’; secondly, Egypt as a site of ennui, where the ‘symbolic’ dimensions are linked intrinsically to a melancholic decadence and to death; and thirdly, Egypt as exoticism, and Orientalist sensuality, linking also to the significance of contemporary fin-de-siècle Egypt in homosexual culture. This chapter examines Walter Pater’s essay on ‘Winckelmann’ from The Renaissance (1873), and Oscar Wilde’s poem The Sphinx (1894) amongst other materials to argue that ancient Egypt was a marginal but nevertheless significant subject for the aesthetes and decadents.
This chapter addresses the ancient Egyptian dimensions of George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859). Using Eliot’s opening lines likening authorship to Egyptian sorcery as a springboard, this chapter argues for the continued significance of this reference throughout Adam Bede, demonstrating an interconnectedness between established Christian motifs and ancient Egyptian religion and mythology. In addition to the Wesleyan Methodist aspects of the novel, this chapter demonstrates a discernible recreation of the biblical Genesis story running throughout the text, combined with tangible references to ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. This analysis is contextualised through references to other works on ancient Egypt that likely influenced Eliot, including Edward William Lane’s Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836), his translations of The Thousand and One Nights (1838–40), and Charles Knight’s The Pictorial Bible (1836–38). Overall, this chapter places Eliot’s first novel within its contemporary Egyptological culture and, in doing so, proposes that Adam Bede retells the biblical story of Adam and Eve with a distinctly ancient Egyptian inflection.
This chapter focuses on a British illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s satirical short story ‘Some Words with a Mummy’ (1845), which was published posthumously in an anthology of his works in 1852. This illustration is the earliest known visual depiction of a revived Egyptian mummy, a character that later became an archetypal figure in Victorian literature. This chapter situates the unknown artist’s vision of the fictional mummy Allamistakeo within the history of visual and literary depictions of mummies and the sociopolitical discourses they articulated, comparing the illustrator’s engagement within contemporary debates with those suggested by Poe’s text. While Poe does not assign a racial identity to Allamistakeo, the illustrator gives the mummy an African appearance, evoking scientific disputes about the racial origins of the ancient Egyptians. In bringing to light this illustration and analysing it as part of the wider corpus of mummy literature as well as the racial debates that this body of literature responded to and furthered, this chapter demonstrates that both Poe and his illustrator invited contemporary readers to question commonly held racial stereotypes and European imperialist ideology.
This concluding chapter draws together some of the key problematics explored in the book and argues for the relevance of contemporary testimonial theatre-making practices within a political climate marked out by the politics of post-truth discourse and political narratives increasingly rooted in populism. Through a discussion of And the Rest of Me Floats by Outbox (2019), a London-based theatre company that explores trans and queer identities, the chapter considers the diverse ways in which testimony is now being adopted within many performance practices to examine different lived experience and identities. These new engagements with testimonial performance practices, which are marked out by fluidity and a hybridity of form and approach, lay the ground for importance critical forms of ethico-political resistance and establish performance strategies that have the potential to speak truth to power, while enacting forms of solidarity with others.
Shifting dramaturgies and performances of truthfulness
Amanda Stuart Fisher
Through the construction of a genealogical account of the verbatim play, this chapter offers a new reading of some of the key historical developments in the evolution of this form of theatre, drawing on some of the most influential verbatim plays that emerged between the early 1990s and the early 2000s in the UK, United States and Australia. Focusing on the changing use and meaning of character and direct address in these plays, the chapter considers how different verbatim dramaturgies engage with the promissory act of truth telling and how these plays have adopted different modes of enactment and characterisation in order to produce certain forms of audience spectatorship. By examining the ways in which truth telling and testimony appear in verbatim theatre, the chapter moves on to examine what the concept of authenticity comes to signify when applied to various verbatim practices and how the promise of authenticity is performed through certain dramaturgical choices and modes of acting. The chapter concludes by offering an analysis of My Name Is Rachel Corrie (Rickman and Viner, 2005). Like many other examples of verbatim theatre, the use of reiterated personal correspondence and fact in this play does not, it is argued, ultimately produce a form of witnessing. Rather, the play becomes something of a hybrid form that sits somewhat uneasily between the real and the fictive, the authentic ‘reality’ of the event and the dramaturgical choices of the writers.
This chapter interrogates the much-contested notion that verbatim theatre is defined by its claims of truthfulness understood as factualness; it does so by exploring the influence of German director Erwin Piscator on the development of documentary theatre in the first part of the twentieth century. Beginning with Piscator’s early documentary theatre work, where character was structured as an emblematic figure that tended to be representative of the proletariat, this chapter examines how Piscator’s approach to documentary theatre was informed by his exile in America in the 1930s and his growing interest in psychological realism and the Stanislavski-influenced Method he encountered there. Through an exploration of The Deputy (Hochhuth, 1963) and The Investigation (Weiss, 1965), both of which were directed by Piscator, the chapter traces how documentary theatre moved away from representations of social reality and shifted instead towards approaches rooted in truth-telling where the culpable were called to account. Positioning The Deputy and The Investigation as part of a pre-history of contemporary verbatim theatre, the chapter argues that these plays established dramaturgical strategies that engaged in forms of interrogatory truth-telling that emerged, not from a re-enactment of the real, but from a fidelity to the witness and the event.
This chapter considers Bram Stoker’s novel The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903) within the broader context of archaeological fiction, a genre that is characterised by detailed description of artefacts and strategic citation of authorities. Stoker’s credibility as a novice Egyptologist is suggested through his setting of an ancient Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Sorcerer, an obvious parallel to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, and his apparent basing of his fictional Queen Tera on the real pharaoh Hatshepsut. Equally significant, this chapter demonstrates, is his synthesis of the Egyptological writings of E. A. Wallis Budge, Flinders Petrie and Amelia Edwards into his depiction of the journey to the ‘beyond’. Stoker, as this chapter shows, relies on a wealth of academic writing to weave his fiction; the role of the narrator is to peruse relevant archaeological studies and scrutinise symbolically charged artefacts, becoming the intermediary who functions not only as a conduit between the ancient past and the modern present, but also the fictional world that Stoker creates and the real world from which he gleans a substantial quantity of Egyptological detail.
Performing the ‘promise’ of truthfulness: the hybrid practices of contemporary verbatim and testimonial theatre
Amanda Stuart Fisher
The introductory chapter establishes the central problematics of the book by introducing three interconnected areas of inquiry. Firstly, it considers what has been widely described by a number of commentators as the re-emergence of verbatim theatre practices in the UK, America, Australia and in other parts of the world over the past twenty-five years. Secondly, the chapter argues that the reliance on personal testimony within many contemporary verbatim plays distinguishes this form of theatre from other documentary theatre traditions, requiring us to think afresh about how contemporary verbatim and testimonial theatre practices engage with truth-telling processes that bear witness to real historical events. Finally, the chapter considers the dramaturgical, ethical and political dimensions of a theatre-making practice that represents real events and real people. It does so by examining the truth claims of these kinds of practices and by interrogating how concepts such as truthfulness and authenticity become activated within the different and hybrid dramaturgies that mark out contemporary verbatim theatre practice.
The introduction to this volume teases out the nuances of the ways in which nineteenth-century notions of taste, gender, religion and empire were shifting across the century, via references to ancient Egypt. It ascertains how the chapters that make up this book provide new readings of canonical authors and texts, and introduce a wealth of new material into a burgeoning critical debate, relating pertinent arguments that emerge in individual chapters to each other to provide a critical framework with which the reader might understand the collection as a whole. It also emphasises how, as the first multi-authored study of ancient Egypt in literary culture, the chapters of the volume collectively suggest that nineteenth-century cultural fascination with ancient Egypt is far more widespread than previously realised.
Responding to the resurgence of verbatim theatre that emerged in Britain, Australia, the United States and other parts of the world in the early 1990s, this book offers one of the first sustained, critical engagements with contemporary verbatim, documentary and testimonial dramaturgies. Offering a new reading of the history of the documentary and verbatim theatre form, the book relocates verbatim and testimonial theatre away from discourses of the real and representations of reality and instead argues that these dramaturgical approaches are better understood as engagements with forms of truth-telling and witnessing. Examining a range of verbatim and testimonial plays from different parts of the world, the book develops new ways of understanding the performance of testimony and considers how dramaturgical theatre can bear witness to real events and individual and communal injustice through the re-enactment of personal testimony. Through its interrogation of different dramaturgical engagements with acts of witnessing, the book identifies certain forms of testimonial theatre that move beyond psychoanalytical accounts of trauma and reimagine testimony and witnessing as part of a decolonised project that looks beyond event-based trauma, addressing instead the experience of suffering wrought by racism and other forms of social injustice.