Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Dramatic Discourse and the Romantic Stance in Joanna Baillie's Theatre

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Dramatic Discourse and the Romantic Stance in Joanna Baillie's Theatre

Article excerpt

The wide range of Joanna Baillie's output within the mainstream of Romantic drama displays a consistent creative itinerary which, starting from the series experiments in her Plays on the Passions (1798-1812), culminates in her conscious choice of a hybrid form in her last published, and never performed, play Witchcraft (1836).1 The aim of this essay is to highlight how certain aspects of Baillie's historical and cultural identity - while re-moulding eighteenth-century philosophical and moral traditions - take on a recognizably Romantic configuration, and at the same time are of primary importance in determining the changing forms of her dramatic discourse. Particularly relevant in this respect are her prefatory documents. Baillie's "Introductory Discourse" and various other prefaces prove an invaluable critical tool, both as evidence that her reflections on drama are integral to certain fundamental concerns of Romantic discourse, and as hermeneutic keys in exploring Joanna Baillie's dramatic world.

I will consider, in particular, her changing use of Gothic conventional appurtenances, by taking into consideration the various ways in which dramatic discourse and the theatrical codes which define its Gothic characteristics interact, sometimes questioning the Gothic sign in the very act of reinforcing it. To this end, I will take into consideration three of Baillie's plays: De Monfort (1798), her first and most successful "Play on the Passion" of Hatred; Orra (1812), her "Tragedy on Fear", and lastly, Witchcraft, a play in which Baillie's mature generic experimentation results in an illuminating selfreflection on the very nature of theatrical communication.2

Consider the following statement:

My care was almost exclusively given to the passions and the characters, and the positions in which the persons of the Drama stood relatively to each other, that the reader (for I had then no thought of the Stage) might be moved, and to a degree instructed, by lights penetrating somewhat into the depths of our nature.3

This passage might have been taken from any of Joanna Baillie's prefaces and notes to the numerous editions of her variously collected plays, with the possible exception of the parenthetical reference to the author's unease with respect to the stage: that is, the possibility of having the play actually produced. We recognize the language of Baillie's paratextual writings, her key words and concepts: "passions", mutual relations, "instruction" by insight "into the depths of our nature". In fact, the quotation is excerpted from the opening authorial note to The Borderers - the tragedy by William Wordsworth written between 1796 and 1797 and published only in 1842 - and serves as an indirect introduction to the subject of Baillie's place within the theory and praxis of Romantic discourse - whether it be poetic or dramatic, or both. The key text in this respect is the "Introductory Discourse" to the first volume of her Plays on the Passions (1798), in which a demanding and extensive creative project is announced, within a wide-ranging discussion on a series of issues, including a responseoriented reflection on genres, interspersed with acute observations on the theatrical practice of her time.

Baillie's concept of "sympathetic curiosity" is preliminarily established as the basis to "almost every species of moral writings, but particularly the Dramatic",4 and consists of a universal disposition of man towards his fellow-human beings. This tendency, Baillie argues, is integral to an instinctive need all men share for self-knowledge and self-recognition - "in examining others, we know ourselves" - and paves the way for self-improvement: "we cannot well exercise this disposition without becoming more just, more merciful, more compassionate". However, it is only the few endowed with a "contemplative character" who are allowed to perceive that which Baillie describes as interrelatedness of feelings: in other words, the complexity of psychic life. Here Baillie's argument deserves quoting: "A man of this contemplative character partakes, in some degree, of the entertainment of the Gods, who were supposed to look down upon this world and the inhabitants of it, as we do upon a theatrical exhibition."5 The use of this chain of figures of speech, where metaphor flows into simile and both provide the metonymic image of the creative activity which is the object of Baillie's apology, prepares for the theoretical exposition that follows. Drama is identified as the genre which allows deepest insight into human nature. The study of the latter is the privileged realm of the dramatic writer, and constitutes "the centre and the strength of the battle" since the characters' voices "speak directly for themselves",6 that is, with no mediation whatever, unlike other canonized genres. The lack of the diegetic option, which both the poet and the novelist share and rely on, makes for the emotional reliability of drama as a source of direct exploration of human nature and the "language of the agitated soul",7 that is passions, with consequent instruction.

Baillie's system of generic classification is clearly articulated within a basically eighteenth-century frame, whose sources have been variously identified8 in the empiricist line from Locke by way of Hume to Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), without overlooking the relevance of the Scottish contribution of Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and above all the Adam Smith of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). Smith's elaboration of the concept of sympathy, defined as "our fellow-feeling with any passion whatever", implies an imaginative act of identification with somebody else's "grief and joy":9

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation .... it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his ["our brother"'s] sensations.10

The evolution of late eighteenth-century philosophical and aesthetic investigation towards the dimension of subjectivity, and the identification of the natural sublime as the locus where such subjectivity can unfold beyond the limits of individual perception would result in the elaboration of Romantic epistemology. Such movement is clearly perceivable in Joanna Baillie's argument as well as in her diction, and remarkable similarities have been traced between Baillie's 1798 "Discourse" and Wordsworth's "Preface" to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads.11 In particular, Baillie's emphasis on the need - which is tout court human before being of the artist - to perceive the relations of feelings, their "many varied connections",12 prefigures Wordsworth's "continued influxes of feelings".

Wordsworth's double emphasis is laid on the subjective aspect of language as the product of the individual mind, while at the same time reflecting its social determination, as his appeal to communal values testifies. On the other hand, his search for a more natural poetic language is directed towards the re-establishment of a more direct link between word and experience. This link, as William Keach has pointed out,13 consistently negotiates individual and collective exigencies, and the emotive and expressive issues which are encapsulated in the formula of the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" are nested within the social texture of a language "really used by men". The plea for a language closer to nature is thus the other aspect that connects the dramatist and the poet, who met in 1808, and kept up a constant if not close relationship for forty years:14

DE MONFORT. Freberg, thou know'st not man; not nature's man,

But only him who, in smooth studied works

Of polish'd sages, shines deceitfully

In all the splendid foppery of virtue.

That man was never born whose secret soul,

With all its motley treasure of dark thoughts,

Foul fantasies, vain musing, and wild dreams,

Was ever open'd to another's scan.

Away, away! It is delusion all.

(De Monfort, I.ii, 80)

This passage is part of a dramatic exchange which takes place early in Baillie's play between Marquis De Monfort, the eponymous hero of Baillie's most celebrated tragedy, and Count Freberg, a relatively minor and yet fundamental character. De Monfort's statement silences Freberg's request to be taken into De Monfort's confidence, in terms which oppose "nature's man" to social man, that is, man whose behaviour is dictated by the need to act in relation to the exigencies of social contact and order, which all too often imply dissimulation. The splitting of man into two separate and ill-coexisting sides, a price to be paid for the very existence of society, seems to be the implicit and quasi-Freudian assumption at work here: the inability to check and subdue the instinctual life which constitutes the most sacred territory of secrecy in the individual psychic life creates the premise for tragedy. Freberg's dramatic importance, then, is due to his role as the embodiment of man as social being, as his failed attempt at mediation between De Monfort and his partly unaware and careless antagonist Rezenvelt later testifies. De Monfort, however, is "nature's man", who cannot and will not check and subdue his purely instinctual hatred towards his rival, only to find himself, once trespassed on the supposed natural limit of respect for somebody else's life, turned into "nothing ... Nameless and horrible ... gone / Into a desolate, and distant land" (V.ii, passim).

I emphasize these two verbs, as they are Baillie's own lexical choices in discussing the therapeutic and cathartic value of tragedy in her "Introductory Discourse", and this points to the close connection and striking consistency between her dramatic theory and praxis:

... representing the passions, brings before us the operation of a tempest that rages out its time and passes away. We cannot, it is true, amidst its wild uproar, listen to the voice of reason, and save ourselves from destruction; but we can foresee its coming, we can mark its rising signs ... and we can shelter our heads from the coming blast. To change a certain disposition of mind which makes us view objects in a particular light, and thereby, oftentimes, unknown to ourselves, influences our conduct and manners, is almost impossible; but in checking and subduing those visitations of the soul, whose causes and effects we are aware of, everyone may make considerable progress, if he proves not entirely successful.

The passage from De Monfort discussed above provides then a viable key for verifying Baillie's convictions regarding the purpose and function of dramatic writing in terms of her actual dramatic practice. It also contains an indirect invitation to detect the dramatic strategies which allow her to attain her purposes. The passage encompasses Joanna Baillie's keen interest in the identification of the contradictory many-sidedness of psychic life, to use our language, of which our soul, to rely on hers, consists. At the same time it obliquely points to the fundamental role she assigns to drama in uncovering the various veils which conceal it. Drama is an instrument able to expose or ostend that part of "the mind of man" "we are most curious to look into".15 By the time De Monfort announces that "man was never born whose secret soul ... Was ever open'd to another's scan" we have already been allowed access to his own, through the "scan" provided by its being staged.

Soliloquy and the complementary effect of dramatic irony are technical devices which Joanna Baillie often privileges in order to lift the veil, as it were, and are enacted, in this case, in the carefully prepared closure of the preceding movement:

DE MONFORT. And go thou too; I choose to be alone


[DE MONFORT goes to the door by which they went out; opens it, and looks.

But is he gone indeed? Yes, he is gone.

[Goes to the opposite door, opens it and looks: then gives loose to all the fury of gesture, and walks up and down in great agitation.

It is too much: by heaven it is too much!

He haunts me - stings me - like a devil haunts -

He'll make a raving maniac of me - Villain!

The air wherein thou draw'st thy fulsome breath

Is poison to me - Ocean shall divide us! (Pauses.)

But no; thou think'st I fear thee, cursed reptile;

And hast a pleasure in the damned thought.

Though my heart's blood should curdle at thy sight,

I'll stay and face thee still.

(I.ii, 79-80)

Setting is also used to deepen psychological investigation, in that the definition of a recognizably Gothic atmosphere parallels the movement of the plot toward its tragic climax, and turns out to be less an objective feature of place than the product of psychological and moral restlessness on the part of the hero, as the handling of perspective in Act IV most powerfully exemplifies:

Moon-light. A wild path in a wood, shaded with trees. Enter DE MONFORT, with strong expression of disquiet, mixed with fear, upon his face, looking behind him, and bending his ear to the ground, as if he listened to something.

DE MONFORT. How hollow groans the earth beneath my tread!

Is there an echo here? Methinks it sounds

As though some heavy footstep follow'd me.

I will advance no farther.

Deep settled shadows rest across the path,

And thickly-tangled boughs o'er-hang this spot.

O that a ten-fold gloom did cover it!

That 'mid the murky darkness I might strike!

As in the wild confusion of a dream,

Things horrid, bloody, terrible do pass,

As though they pass'd not; nor impress the mind

With the fix'd clearness of reality.

[An owl is heard screaming near him.

(Starting.) What sound is that?

[Listens, and the owl cries again.

It is the screech-owl's cry.

Foul bird of night! what spirit guides thee here?

Are thou instinctive drawn to scenes of horror?

I've heard of this [Pauses and listens.

How those fall'n leaves so rustle on the path,

With whisp'ring noise, as though the earth around me

Did utter secret things.

The distant river, too, bears to mine ear

A dismal wailing. O mysterious night!

Thou art not silent; many tongues hast thou.

A distant gath'ring blast sounds through the wood,

And dark clouds fleetly hasten o'er the sky:

O! that a storm would rise, a raging storm;

Amidst the roar of warring elements

I'd lift my hand and strike! but this pale light,

The calm distinctness of each stilly thing,

Is terrible. (starting.) Footsteps, and near me too!

He comes! he comes! I'll watch him farther on -

I cannot do it here


Enter REZENVELT, and continues his way slowly across the stage, but just as he is going off the owl screams, he stops and listens, and the owl screams again.

REZENVELT. Ha! Does the night-bird greet me on my way?

How much is hooting is in harmony

With such a scene as this! I like it well.

Oft when a boy, at the still twilight hour,

I've leant my back against some knotted oak,

And loudly mimick'd him, till to my call

He answer would return, and through the gloom,

We friendly converse held.

Between me and the star-bespangled sky,

Those aged oaks their crossing branches wave,

And through them looks the pale and placid moon.

(IV.iii, 95)16

While stage directions are limited to essential props ("Moonlight. A wild path in a wood, shaded with trees"), the emphasis is entirely laid on the character's altered perception, which is immediately given vent to voice that "disquiet, mixed with fear" which paralinguistic and kinesic traits have already conveyed. The place is accordingly tinged with appropriately sinister colours and sounds, lights and shadows. Conversely, for gay and carelessly rational Rezenvelt, who succeeds De Monfort on stage, the same location sets his memory in motion and conjures up a landscape of his childhood. The passage has been recognized as very close to Wordsworth's 1798 lines of "There Was a Boy",17 included in the second volume of the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, and written as part of The Prelude, where they also appeared with the posthumous publication of this work in 1850.18 The same "pale" moonlight, therefore, can be "terrible" and "placid" alternatively, in relation to the prevailing disposition of mind, which is in turn connected with the subject's individual ability to conform his or her construction of the world to external contingency. The trespassing on such a threshold entails folly.

The devastating effects of a self-constructed image of the world are also the leading theme of Orra, one of two tragedies on Fear (together with The Dream), included in the third volume of The Plays on the Passions (1812). Orra dramatizes female response to Gothic terror, which takes on a multidimensional configuration in this play, since it unfolds at different levels, inevitably entailing a process of self-reflection. In this respect, Orra proves to be a veritable dramatized treatise of the effects of autosuggestion underlying psychopathological alteration in the world perception, as well as a penetrating self-investigation of genre.

The unsettling power of storytelling is one basic issue involved. Well before her first appearance on stage, Orra is presented through other people's speeches as an easily influenced and unstable character, addict to home-spun terror by means of "stories of the restless dead, / Of spectres rising at the midnight watch / By the lone trav'ller's bed" (I.ii, 237). The pleasure she enjoys through terror is first described by the villain Rudigere, then discussed by Orra herself and the two ladies who attend on her. Rudigere is one of the three male characters for whom Orra is the object of erotic desire and his description of Orra to her guardian Hughobert is aimed at the preparation of his double-dealing scheme to win her:

HUGH. Speak plainly to me.

RUDIGERE. I have watched her long.

I've seen her cheek, flush'd with the rosy glow

Of jocund spirits, deadly pale become

At tale of nightly sprite or apparition,

Such as all hear, 'tis true, with greedy ears,

Saying, "Saints save us!" but forget as quickly.

I've marked her long; she has with all her shrewdness

And playful merriment, a gloomy fancy,

That broods within itself on fearful things.

HUGH. And what doth this avail us?

RUDIGERE. Hear me out.

Your ancient castle in the Suabian forest

Hath, as too well you know, belonging to it,

Or false or true, frightful reports. There hold her

Strictly confin'd in sombre banishment;

And doubt not but she will, ere long, full gladly

Her freedom purchase at the price you name.

(Orra, I.iii, 240)

The second-hand description of the effects of self-induced terror on Orra's physical appearance - her changing hue, in particular, which Rudigere has "seen", having "watched" and then "marked her long" - suggests the inseparable connection of pleasure and pain in her relish - "a playful merriment, a gloomy fancy" - for her altered state.

This interesting mixture of pain and pleasure is the object of the exchange between Orra and her attending ladies which follows soon after:

CATHRINA. Has thou ne'er heard the story of Count Hugo,

His ancestor, who slew the hunter-knight?

ORRA.(eagerly). Tell it, I pray thee.

AL. Cathrina, tell it not; it is not right:

Such stories ever change her cheerful spirits

To gloomy pensiveness; her rosy bloom

To the wan colour of a shrouded corse.

(To ORRA) What pleasure is there, lady, when thy hand,

Cold as the valley's ice, with hasty grasp

Seizes on her who speaks, while thy shrunk form

Cow'ring and shiv'ring stands with keen turn'd ear

To catch what follows of the pausing tale?

ORRA. And let me cow'ring stand, and be my touch

The valley's ice: there's a pleasure in it.

AL. Sayst thou indeed there is a pleasure in it?

ORRA. Yea, when the cold blood shoots through every vein:

When every pore upon my shrunken skin

A knotted knoll becomes, and to mine ears

Strange inward sounds awake, and to mine eyes

Rush stranger tears, there is a joy in fear.

(II.i, 242)

The exchange here performs a particular function, since it exposes - again, it theatrically ostends - no terror, not even the effects of terror on the suggestible character, which are only verbally anticipated, since they are actually shown as discussion is replaced by recounting: the narration of the "deed most horrible", which follows immediately, does not fail to cause a "sickly faintness" in Orra, thus obliquely commenting on the power of language to affect psychic balance and physical state.

However, the discussion of terror itself achieves a performative self-comment on the psychological mechanisms underlying response to the inherently ambiguous pleasures of the Gothic, taken as cross-generic category. In this sense one cannot overlook Baillie's attention, which emerges in particular in her "Introductory Discourse", on man's instinctive curiosity towards suffering - which she exemplifies in the "multitudes of people" who gather to assist at a public execution, "though it is the horror we conceive for such a spectacle that keeps many more away".19 In other words, Baillie's sensitiveness to the psychological dimension of experience, which precedes any consideration of aesthetic order in her theoretical argument, is actively transformed in her creative praxis into an activity of constant selfinterrogation which involves the very aesthetic paradigms she is using. This fluctuation between the psychological and the aesthetic levels consistently parallels the conceptual overlapping of the two realms which characterized the debate on the category of the sublime, which was to leave its mark throughout eighteenth-century culture, and beyond, while providing "Gothic" writers with a patrimony of imagery, situations, atmospheres. In particular, as far as the present discussion is concerned, a useful though maybe obvious key of interpretation is provided by Burke's identification, in his Philosophical Enquiry, of "Terror" as the key source, the "ruling principle of the sublime" (II.ii), which is liable to produce a form of pleasure, springing from the delicate balance of closeness and distance from danger and/or pain.20

Joanna Baillie, in Orra, develops consistently the dramatic premise of her theoretical plan which identifies this tragedy as a "play on the passion", and Orra, after relishing in the pleasure of the vicarious terror provided by narration, experiences the supposed verification of her visionary power during her contrived captivity in an aptly gloomy castle. Entrapped in what turns out to be a sort of real-life role game with double-dealing Rudigere, Orra cannot bear the crescendo of Gothic special effects which, out of a counterplot devised by the hero Theobald to save her, mistakenly add to her growing terror - and, ironically, she is thus frightened into folly:

ORRA. ... I'll tell thee how it is:

A hideous burst hath been: the damn'd and the holy

The living and the dead, together are

In horrid neighbourship - 'Tis but thin vapour,

Floating around thee, makes the wav'ring bound.

Pooh! Blow it off, and see the uncurtain'd reach.

See! From all points they come; earth casts them up!

In grave-clothes swath'd are those but new in death;

And there be some half bone, half cased in shreds

Of that which flesh hath been; and there be some

With wicker'd ribs, through which the darkness scowls.

Back, back! - They close upon us. - Oh! The void

Of hollow unball'd sockets staring grimly,

And lipless jaws that move and clatter round us

In mockery of speech! - Back, back, I say!

Back, back!

(V.ii, 259)

Orra's final loss of her power of rational speech offers matter for further discussion, as far as the tight relation of theme, form and discourse is concerned. The use Baillie makes of Gothic classic appurtenances - setting, imagery, stock characters, such as the group of outlaws who help Theobald in organizing the counterplot to save Orra - becomes instrumental to her questioning of the motivations underlying the appeal of that creative paradigm, whereas Orra's fate of mental annihilation - the tragic counterpart to Austen's Northanger Abbey, as Jeffrey Cox has observed21 - points to an exploration of the extreme, which certainly pertains to the Gothic, and which takes on in this play a disquieting value of its own.

The way in which superstition and psychological mechanisms of autosuggestion combine with determined socio-historical conditions is explored in Witchcraft, Joanna Baillie's 1836 drama included in the third volume of her last published collection of Dramas.22 While maintaining a close focus on the motivations which push individual passions in the main plot, in Witchcraft this more familiar dramatic line is enveloped within a precise historical context, shaping what turns out to be an experiment in form, a hybrid contamination of tragic and comic elements and, in Susan Bennett's words, "a startling text, not so much revising the category of tragedy as reinventing it".23 Baillie's historical interest is primary in this case, and is openly declared in the note, which was originally published as an appendix24 and reprinted in the 1851 edition of her collected plays, where she refers to the "very extraordinary circumstance, frequently recorded in trials for witchcraft, - the accused themselves acknowledging the crime, and their having had actual intercourse with Satan and other wicked spirits".25

In this respect, the plea for critical awareness of the "historical dimensions of [Baillie's] imagination", which underlies Daniel P. Watkins's reading of De Monfort,26 proves also to be a privileged key in approaching Witchcraft. The play, in fact, while making abundant use of all the paraphernalia of the Gothic (castles, storms, dungeons etc.) and in spite of the expectations of genre a title like Witchcraft arouses, enacts a radical questioning of the genre itself. This questioning is the inevitable counterpart of the piercing exploration of micro-history entailed in the attention on the desolate lives and fates of the little group of supposed witches, and in fact women led to the verge of folly out of destitution. This strategy is carried out at different levels of articulation, and assumes a generalized form of rationalist distancing from the very spectacle of the Gothic which is being acted out: the supernatural, in fact, is constantly evoked, but never shown; witchcraft is much talked of but no actual sorcery takes place; above all, history plays a role in the dramatic development, paradoxically performing the most shocking coup de théâtre through the public announcement of the 1736 act of repeal of the law punishing witchcraft with death:

[A trumpet sounds without, and the tumult increases, till a company of soldiers appears under arms, and enter an Officer, accompanied by FATHERINGHAM]

OFFICER (giving a paper to the SHERIFF). You will please, Mr. Sheriff, to make the contents of this paper public.

SHERIFF. I charge every one here, at his peril, to be silent. (Reading.)

"Be it known unto all men, that the King's Majesty, with the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled have decreed that the law punishing what has been called the crime of witchcraft as a felonious offence be repealed; and it is therefore repealed accordingly...."

[A pause of dead silence, followed by low, then loud murmurs, and then voices all out in succession

VOICES. My certes! ... - Sic a decree as that in a Christian land! - To mak Satan triumphant! - There'll be fine gambols on moors and in kirkyards for this, I trow. - Parliament, forsooth! We hae sent bonnie members there, indeed, gin thae be the laws they mak.

(V.ii, 641)

The dramatic world is thus provided with a recognizable historical framework, as in early eighteenth-century Scotland the belief in witchcraft was still alive, and supposed witches were still the object of "popular and clerical fanaticism": several women were sentenced to death up to the first quarter of the century and many more "were banished forth of the realm".27 The act of showing the Royal paper on stage, then - while performing an active function in the development of the dramatic action, in that it stops the unjust execution which is about to take place - renders the written document, once read aloud, an ostended sign of the institutional power which shapes the life of the people and the country, sometimes inevitably regardless of lingering habits and beliefs.

Witchcraft, then, opens up its focus to a wider context, and consistently needs to rely on a wider range of modes, as the continuous tension between the tragic and comic movements in the play testifies. The dialectics between high and low - tragic and comic - which had been part of the Gothic tradition since Walpole's prototype of The Castle of Otranto, is worked out in a contamination which is class-generated and linguistic. The comic relief, conventionally provided by the dramatic exchanges involving the domestics, expands into the representation of a more articulated social context. In this respect, the use of Scots Baillie refers to in her introductory note as a further token of naturalism, is exemplary of a flexibility which, combined with the choice of prose, allows her an indepth approach to a marginalized social texture, that is explored through language. In the scenes centred on the witches, for example, the dramatic dialogue acts out symmetric mechanisms of psychological manipulation and autosuggestion, which are at the basis of the relationship between the self-appointed witch and true psychotic character Grizeld Bane, and two destitute women, Elspy Low and Mary MacMurren. At the same time however, the social phenomenon, for all its psychological implications, is explained with reference to its basically economic motivations. The conventicle with the "Evil One" is designed to bring about power, but above all to overcome destitution: "We shall ha' what we list at last, - milk and meat! meat and malt!" "Mingling and merry-making" (I.iii, 616). The use of Scots then, as opposed to the English of the upper classes, is a distinctive feature of Baillie's strategy aimed at the social identification of the speakers - whether they be domestics, witches or the public at the execution. Linguistic stratification, then, further enhances the comprehensive effect the play achieves as the conscious choice of a hybrid form.

As Greg Kucich has observed, the achievement of Romantic-era women, particularly dramatic writers, offers a "unique integration of history, drama and gender".28 In this respect Joanna Baillie's creative experience stands out as especially significant, in relation to her ability, which has much to do with her being substantially Romantic, to shape into dramatic form conflicts which are individual to the point of autism but also, as we have seen, to create tragedies which involve the participation of the community, in an unrelenting search - to quote the "Introductory Discourse" again - for "the boldness of reality".


1 Actually an enjoyable first performance of the play was given by some of Professor Lilla Maria Crisafulli's students in Bologna on 7 June 2002.

2 References to all primary sources by the author are from Joanna Baillie, The Dramatic and Poetical Works (1851), Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1976. In the parenthetical references given in the text Act and scene numbers are followed by the page number.

3 William Wordsworth, The Borderers, in Poetical Works, ed. E. de Selincourt, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940, I, 342-43.

4 Baillie, The Dramatic and Poetical Works, 1.

5 Ibid., 4.

6 Ibid., 6 and 7.

7 Ibid., 3.

8 In particular by Frederick Burwick, "Joanna Baillie, Matthew Baillie and the Pathology of Passions", and Victoria Myers, "Joanna Baillie's Theatre of Cruelty", in Joanna Baillie, Romantic Dramatist, ed. Thomas C. Crochunis, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, 48-68 and 87-107. See also Peter Duthie in the introduction to his critical edition of the first volume of the Plays on the Passions, in Joanna Baillie, Plays on the Passions (1798 edition), ed. Peter Duthie, Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2001, 27-34.

9 Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), ed. Knud Haakonssen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 13.

10 Ibid., 11.

11 Among the studies which have dealt with this issue, see Stuart Curran, "Romantic Poetry: The 'I' Altered", in Romanticism and Feminism, ed. A.K. Mellor, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988, 185-207, 185-186; W.D. Brewer, "The Prefaces of Joanna Baillie and William Wordsworth", The Friend: Comments on Romanticism, I/2 (October 1991), 34-47; Mary F. Yudin, "Joanna Baillie's Introductory Discourse as a Precursor to Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads", Compar(a)ison, I (1994), 101-11; Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, 86 ff.; and Peter Duthie, "Introduction", in Baillie, Plays on the Passions (1798 edition), 44-45.

12 Baillie, The Dramatic and Poetical Works, 4.

13 William Keach, "Romanticism and Language", in The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism, ed. Stuart Curran, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 107-108.

14 See Judith Bailey Slagle, Joanna Baillie: A Literary Life, Madison-Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002, 182-87.

15 Baillie, The Dramatic and Poetical Works, 11 (my emphasis).

16 This is Act IV, scene i in the 1798 edition.

17 Slagle, Joanna Baillie: A Literary Life, 61-63.

18 William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, ed. Michael Mason, London: Longmans, 1992, 222.

19 Baillie, The Dramatic and Poetical Works, 2.

20 Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. J.T. Boulton, London: Routlege and Kegan Paul, 1958, 58.

21 Jeffrey N. Cox, "Introduction", in Seven Gothic Dramas 1789-1825, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1992, 56.

22 The final part of this present essay is expanded in my reading of Witchcraft: "Ye will discern mist and mysteries at last': The Gothic Laid Bare in Joanna Baillie's Witchcraft", in Poetic and Dramatic Forms in British Romanticism, ed. F. Dellarosa, with an introduction by Annamaria Sportelli, Rome and Bari: Laterza University Press Online, 2006, 99-114.

23 Susan Bennett, "Genre Trouble: Joanna Baillie, Elizabeth Pollack - Tragic Subjects, Melodramatic Subjects", in Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth-Century Britain, eds T.C. Davis and E. Donkin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 215-32, 227.

24 Joanna Baillie, "The Tragedy on Witchcraft", in Dramas by Joanna Baillie: In Three Volumes, London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1836, III, 483-84.

25 Baillie, The Dramatic and Poetical Works, 613.

26 See Daniel P. Watkins, "Class, Gender and Social Motion in Joanna Baillie's De Monfort", The Wordsworth Circle, XXIII/2 (Spring 1992), 116-17. The essay is also included, in slightly different form, in A Materialist Critique of English Romantic Drama, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993, 39-59.

27 G.M. Trevelyan, English Social History, London: Longmans, 1942, 444. The play's historical and legal context is extensively investigated in Alyson Bardsley's article "Belief and Beyond: The Law, The Nation, and The Drama in Joanna Baillie's Witchcraft", Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, XIV/2 (Summer 2002), 231-69.

28 Greg Kucich, "Staging History: Teaching Romantic Intersections of Drama, History and Gender", in Approaches to Teaching British Women Poets of the Romantic Period, eds Stephen C. Behrendt and H. Kramer Linkin, New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1997, 89.

[Author Affiliation]

Franca Dellarosa is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Bari, Italy. She is a member of the Centro Interuniversitario per lo Studio del Romanticismo (Universities of Bologna, Bari, Florence, Parma, Pavia, Rome "La Sapienza" and Valle d'Aosta) and of Eighteenth-Century Worlds (University of Liverpool, Corresponding Member). She has written extensively on eighteenth-century and Romantic studies, contemporary literature and cultural mediation. Her current research interests include Romantic drama and theatre, theatre and literature in the age of Antislavery and the legacy of slavery in contemporary British culture. She has just completed a book-length study on Liverpool abolitionist poet Edward Rushton (Liverpool University Press, forthcoming 2014).

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