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Literature and Culture of the 19th Century:
Theatricality and Empire

Course Description

According to historian Byron Farwell, “There was not a single year in Queen Victoria’s long reign in which somewhere in the world her soldiers were not fighting for her and her empire. . . . And in the process the size of the British Empire quadrupled.” From the Crimea to the Cape, British soldiers pushed the borders of empire ever further, subduing rival powers, clearing new lands for colonization, and opening new markets for British goods. Imperialism fueled the British economy and informed almost every aspect of British life.

Although the imperial frontier was far from London, Britons were keenly aware of their nation’s involvement in foreign lands. Newspapers and periodicals provided information about the most recent battles, the latest territorial acquisitions, and the crown’s newest subjects. Popular spectacles like panoramas and exhibitions brought the empire to life with pictures, objects, and even specimens of plants, animals, and people. The theatre, too, brought the empire home in hundreds of plays set in imperial locations and involving the heroic struggles between the brave British and the treacherous Other. Britons learned about their empire largely through spectacles that replicated, illustrated, and performed empire in a variety of ways. Because performance mediated the relationship between the metripole and its imperial periphery, theatricality became implicated in imperial discourse and administration. The British empire was spectacular in every sense.

This semester, we will investigate the close relationship between the theatrical and the imperial in the nineteenth-century. We will begin our survey with some general studies of empire and spectacle in the nineteenth century. Our first foray into Victorian spectacular entertainments will take us into the realm of the ethnographic exhibition, a fascinating if disturbing genre of popular entertainment that will be the subject of your first formal paper. We will then turn our attention to more traditional theatrical pieces as we consider plays with imperial themes. In your second paper, you will have an opportunity to explore one additional play in greater depth on your own. As the semester draws to a close, we will turn to the more familiar literary genre of narrative fiction, where we will have an opportunity to test whether our fresh critical perspective reveals anything new in already well-read texts.

Week One Course Overview  
Reading Empire in the Victorian Theatre Andrew Porter, “Introduction”
J.S. Bratton, “Introduction” from Acts of Supremacy
Selected stage directions, scenes, etc. (Handout)
Week Two In the Footsteps of Crusoe Augustus Harris, Robinson Crusoe (1803)
John MacKenzie, “Imperialism and Metropolitan Cultures”
Island Society J.M. Barrie, The Admirable Crichton
Week Three Island Society The Admirable Crichton (Continued)
The Novel on Stage W.T. Moncrieff, The Cataract of the Ganges
Andrew Porter, “Trusteeship, Anti-Slavery, & Humanitarianism”
Robert Druce, “National and Racial Stereotypes in the British Raj”
Week Four Imperial Spectacles Joss Marsh, “Spectacle”
The Great Siam Elephant
Bernth Lindfors, “Charles Dickens and the Zulus”
Spectacle and India Bernard S. Cohn, “Representing Authority in Victorian India”
Breandan Gregory, “Staging British India”
Harriet Ritvo, “Exotic Captives”
Week Five Staging the Mutiny D.A. Washbrook, “India, 1818-1860”
Dion Boucicault, Jessie Brown
Thomas Hand and Walter Teal, The Relief of Lucknow
Staging the Mutiny

Jessie Brown (Continued)
Patrick Brantlinger, “The Well at Cawnpore”

Week Six Anglo-Indian Life Tom Taylor, Up at the Hills
Robin Moore, “Imperial India, 1858-1914”
Ronald Hyam, “The Sexual Life of the Raj”
Anglo-Indian Life Up at the Hills (Continued)
Week Seven Crime, Sensation, and Imperial Theatre
Charles Reade, It Is Never Too Late To Mend
Donald Denoon, “Australia and the Western Pacific”
Crime, Sensation, and Imperial Theatre It Is Never Too Late To Mend(Continued)
Michael Hays, “Representing Empire”*
Week Eight Acting British George Bernard Shaw, Captain Brassbound’s Conversion
Colin Newbury, “Great Britain and the Partition of Africa”
Acting British Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (Continued)
Week Nine Spring Break--No Class Meeting  
Spring Break--No Class Meeting  
Week Ten The Empire's Operatives Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Tim Barringer,“The South Kensington Museum and the Imperial Project”
Reading Day--No Class Meeting  
Week Eleven The Empire's Operatives Kim (Continued)
Parama Roy, “Oriental Exhibits”
The Empire's Operatives Kim (Continued)
Barbara Black “An Empire’s Great Expectations”
Week Twelve Ireland and the Empire George Bernard Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island
David Fitzpatrick, “Ireland and the Empire”
George Bernard Shaw, “Introduction”
Ireland and the Empire John Bull’s Other Island (Continued)
Susan de Sola Rodstein,“John Bull and Paddy’s Pig”
Week Thirteen Ireland and the Empire John Bull’s Other Island (Continued)
Visiting the Imperial Center John Brougham, Apartments
Peter Hoffenberg, “Imperial and National Taxonomies”
Week Fourteen Theatrical Threats Bram Stoker, Dracula
Antoinette Burton, "Making a Spectacle of Empire"
Theatrical Threats Dracula (Continued)
Week Fifteen Theatrical Threats Dracula (Continued)
Stephen Arata, “The Occidental Tourist: Stoker & Reverse Colonization”
Theatrical Threats Dracula (Continued)
Week Sixteen Research Reports  
Semester Review  
First Paper Assignment

Your first paper will be a standard textual analysis paper, in which you address a single, significant issue in one or more primary texts. Your paper should focus on some aspect of the text’s engagement with empire. I’m being intentionally vague here to allow for the broadest possible range of responses to this assignment. This assignment should give you an opportunity to explore in greater detail one or more texts that caught your imagination in a particularly inspiring way. Though you may (and should) make use of the critical and historical material on the syllabus, your paper should focus on one or two of the plays we have read in class. Any of the plays on the syllabus is fair game for this assignment, but the two novels are off limits.

It might be helpful to think of this first paper as an extended response to one of the discussion questions you or one of your peers has posed to the class and posted on the course website. In essence, you are advancing an argument about a text, but the origins of your argument might be found among the questions that you and your classmates have so thoughtfully articulated. My responses to these questions can also be found on the website and may be helpful in generating an idea for your paper. Although you might take your inspiration from one of the discussion questions, you should feel free to alter the question so that it yields an interesting and significant discussion of one or more texts. You may also make use of your class notes, but your paper should not merely repeat what was said in class. I’m looking for your own contribution to our understanding of the text(s).

I also encourage you to make use of critical materials, such as the secondary texts from the syllabus, the reserve readings, or other critical discussions of the play, its author, or the issues you address in your paper. You can use the MLAB database or Web of Science to locate secondary materials. The Resources page on the course website may also be of use.

Your paper should be 5-7 pages in length and will be due Tuesday, 25 March. Note that this is the Tuesday after Spring Break, so make your plans accordingly. As I will be out of town Thursday of that week, you should not count on turning your paper in late. Early submissions are, as always, encouraged.

Provide a bibliographic reference for every source you consult in your research. Use parenthetical citations to document your use of any texts, be they primary or secondary. Be sure to check your paper carefully for grammatical errors. You have plenty of time to work on this assignment, and I expect that your final draft will reflect all the time and effort you put into it.

Second Paper Assignment

Although we’ll be reading a good number of plays together in class, our reading list includes only a small fraction of the total number of Victorian plays with imperial themes and/or settings. Sadly, most of these plays have been forgotten by scholars. Your job is to rescue one of these neglected texts from the dustbin of theatrical history by preparing an introduction to the play for twenty-first-century readers. This introduction will serve as your second paper for the semester. I’ll help you out by giving you a list of plays that engage with empire in some way. Your task will be to investigate this engagement in a 6-8 page paper. Since you are introducing your reader to a completely unknown text, it would be a good idea to begin your paper with a summary of the play. You may also want to provide some background information about the playwright, the historical venue or events invoked by the play, and the play’s reception as indicated by theatre reviews. As you put your paper together, you may want to consider the following:

1. How does the play engage with current (nineteenth-century) events and/or a real imperial location?
2. How is imperialism “performed” in the play?
3. How is imperialism indicated or communicated by the physical set (as indicated by the stage directions)?
4. How is imperialism communicated through the play’s characters?
5. What message(s) does the play offer about empire, Britons, and natives?

I will distribute a list of play titles to help you pick a text for this assignment. Those of you interested in other historical periods may, with my permission, work on a non-Victorian play. You may also, should you choose, write about one of the many imperially-inclined spectacles or exhibitions that were so popular in the period. For help in identifying a particular spectacle to research, check the books on the Reserve Reading List and the Internet resources on the course website. If you have trouble obtaining the play from our library, I may be able to provide you with a copy. Given the difficulties of access to much of this material, I suggest you give yourself plenty of time to work on this assignment. If you wait until the last minute, you may find yourself without a text to work on.

To help you understand how the Victorians reacted to your play or spectacle, you should try to locate reviews or contemporary critical discussions. You can use the Periodicals Contents Index (PCI), Poole’s Plus, or the Palmer’s Index to the Times of London (all of which are available via the Library’s Gateway to Online Sources) to locate one or more reviews. In your paper you should discuss the review and what it reveals about the imperialist overtones of your play. When you read the review(s) and draft your paper, consider the following:

1. What does the review tell you about the performance of the spectacle or play? What features of the spectacle are noted? What does the reviewer seem most interested in? How can we use the review as “textual evidence” of the event?
2. What does the review tell us about the audience for the spectacle or play? Who was in the audience? How did the audience respond to the entertainment?
3. Does the reviewer seem to align himself with the audience, or is the reviewer’s perspective differentiated from that of the audience? In other words, how does the reviewer position himself vis a vis the audience, and how does this positioning affect his response to the spectacle and/ or the audience?
4. How might the review have created future audiences for the spectacle or play? What sorts of expectations does it raise? How does it instruct future viewers on how they should respond to the spectacle or play? How does the review itself promote the spectacle or play’s Orientalist ends?

You should also make use of modern critical assessments of your particular play or spectacle or more general critical/historical treatments of relevant material. The secondary readings from the syllabus are certainly a good place to start, as are the readings on reserve. Our website also has a number of links to sites with useful information. You might also search for secondary material using the MLAB database or other academic search engines. If nothing else, a Google search may turn up a wealth of information on your text or its author. Provide a bibliographic entry for every source you consult in your research. Be sure to revise and edit your paper carefully before submitting the final draft for a grade. Remember that I am available to discuss your paper with you and to offer comments on early drafts. Your paper will be due Tuesday, 6 May.

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