Sounds of the Metropolis: The Nineteenth-Century Popular Music Revolution in London, New York, Paris, and Vienna

By Derek B. Scott | Go to book overview

7
The Music Hall
Cockney
Flesh and Blood,
or Replicant?

Despite its significance as the major form of working-class stage entertainment over a sixty-year period, the music hall remains a neglected area in musicology. Much of the scholarly work available tends to focus on social and economic issues, which are usually linked to the troubled relationship between popular culture and public morality.1 Treatment of music hall performance has been confined mainly to biographical discussions of the stars of the halls, especially the lions comiques. In the late 1980s, however, questions of performance and style, and the representation of character types, such as the “swell,” formed the subject of a few critical studies.2 This chapter moves on from there to consider not just parodic representation or character acting but the “imagined real” of certain music hall characters. Leading the confusion of the real and the imaginary in the 1890s was the portrayal on stage and in song of the Cockney, often a costermonger (or, more familiarly, coster). These were itinerant street traders who usually sold fruit or vegetables from a donkey-drawn barrow (the name was derived from costard, a type of apple). My argument is that from the 1840s to the 1890s the representation of the Cockney in musical entertainments goes through three successive phases: it begins with parody, moves to the character-type, and ends with the imagined real. In this final phase, the stage representation is no longer derived from the flesh-and-blood Cockney; instead, it consists of a replication of an already-existing representation.3

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