The French Revolution and the London Stage, 1789-1805

By George Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
England and France in 1789

While the mobs that had stormed the Bastille were still rejoicing their audacity on the night of 14 July, the audience at the Haymarket Théâtre, London, gathered to see Inkle and Tarico by the theatre's manager George Colman the Younger. First performed on 8 August 1787, this comic opera had dominated the Haymarket's last two summer seasons and between October 1788 and June 1789 had also been performed twenty-four times at Covent Garden. Its 164 patent theatre performances by 1800 were a record for the last quarter of the century beaten only by The School for Scandal1 Unlike Sheridan's play, a classic example of classic comedy, Inkle and Tarico was of a new genre rather vaguely denned as 'mixed'. 2 Containing thirteen songs, it was published as an 'opera', and, while its tone was essentially comic, its potential for tragedy locates it in the Sentimental tradition, with topical references to the anti-slave trade movement. This hybrid entertainment is indicative of what Alan Sinfield has described as a 'cultural faultline': 'Faultline stories are the ones that require most assiduous and continuous reworking; they address the awkward, unresolved issues, the ones in which the conditions of plausibility are in dispute [and which] comprise within themselves the ghosts of the alternative stories they are trying to exclude.' 3 Despite her having saved his life, the merchant Inkle attempts to sell Yarico, a Native American, as a slave. And, although the benevolent Governor of Barbados thwarts his plan, the play challenged the ideological complacency of the mid-eighteenth century. It dramatised the conflicts between slavery and liberty, moral principle and commercial self-interest, the generous instincts of 'the savage' and the hypocritical sentiments of the imperialist entrepreneur - as well as the question, that was the point of Richard Steele's earlier version of the story, of which sex is the more constant. 4

To appreciate the faultline nature of this play we need to consider

-15-

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The French Revolution and the London Stage, 1789-1805
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Note on the Text x
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - England and France in 1789 15
  • Chapter 2 - The Revolution 42
  • Chapter 3 - From the Federation to the Terror 68
  • Chapter 4 - Dramatising (the) Terror 97
  • Chapter 5 - Performance and Performing 127
  • Chapter 6 - The Shadow of Napoleon 156
  • Chapter 7 - Theatre and Alienation 188
  • Reflections Towards a Conclusion 220
  • Notes 226
  • Bibliography 249
  • Index 257
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