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Atlantic popular theatre culture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries circulated stagings of outcast yet admired underclasses. Karl Marx's naming of these characters lent increased visibility to the lumpenproletariat, the object of both audiences' applause and authorities' censure. Theatrical archives reveal numerous performances that helped imagine and define an emerging Atlantic lumpenproletariat. I examine a broad spectrum of interconnected popular performances. The cycle I follow begins with the charismatic piracy of John Gay's Polly (first performed in 1777) and moves to the interracial affiliations and struggles in plays such as John Fawcett's 1800 Obi; or, Three-Finger'd Jack. From there, nautical circulations produce melodramas such as Douglas Jerrold's 1830 Black-Ey'd Susan and urban voyeurism pictures the lumpen in plays like W. T. Moncrieff's 1822 Tom and Jerry; or, Life in London; finally I discuss the re-emergence of Jack Sheppard, the historical model for Macheath, in a spate of plays after 1839. Popular stagings of the lumpenproletariat provided a means of imagining class; urges to protect boundaries competed with cultural transgressions and complications of class. These theatricals also reveal connections to other modes of cultural expression, influencing the work of nineteenth-century artists and authors such as George Cruikshank, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville. Such circum-Atlantic and inter-generic cultural productions reveal the importance of cultural continuities and transmissions, the relationships between class and culture, and the unexplored influences of theatre on American and transatlantic literature.
Theatre History, Nineteenth Century, American Literature, Cultural Studies
Date of Defense
April 20, 2005.
A Dissertation Submitted to the Department of English in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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