Seeing Things ("as They Are"): Coleridge, Schiller, and the Play of Semblance

By Thomas, Sophie | Studies in Romanticism, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Seeing Things ("as They Are"): Coleridge, Schiller, and the Play of Semblance


Thomas, Sophie, Studies in Romanticism


1

COLERIDGE IS NOT BEST KNOWN AS A PLAYWRIGHT, OR EVEN AS A THEORIST of the stage, in spite of his sustained critical assessment of late eighteenth-century theater--itself familiar to readers chiefly through his lectures on Shakespeare (this is to gesture toward the alleged "anti-theatricality" of his general position). Nevertheless, Coleridge did make serious attempts to write plays, largely, it seems, in response to the abysmal state of English drama in the 1790s, as it was then perceived not only by Coleridge but by other public commentators as well, such as Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt. Contemporary plays were often dismissed as sentimental, gothic, formulaic, and highly melodramatic--or, as Wordsworth famously declared in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, "sickly and stupid german tragedies." These comments need to be understood in terms of a highly idealized sense of what theater could accomplish, in political as well as dramatic terms. To reinvigorate the productions of the English stage would be not only to elevate it again to the level of its "golden age," in Elizabethan and Jacobean culture, but to fulfill an agenda related to a nationalist impulse that, if not explicitly revolutionary, was politically reformist. (1) Thus the familiar narrative of Coleridge's involvement in the theater begins with his early radicalism (evident in so much of his work in the 1790s, not least in his 1797 play Osorio, and in The Fall of Robespierre, co-written with Robert Southey), and with a sense of the theater as an ideal space not only to represent and engage current events (chiefly of course the French Revolution and the English reaction to it, and with it, issues of freedom and censorship), but also to educate the public response to those events. On the other hand, the political ambivalence of Coleridge's maturity, and the critical pronouncements he would later make on the state of the theater, did nothing to counter the general sense that "highbrow" Romantic theater was either fixated unproductively on old models (classical or Shakespearean), or obsessed by subjects that were fundamentally unsuitable for the stage--fit only for the closet, or specimens of what Byron was to call a "mental" theater. (2)

It is in this loosely-sketched context, though, that we may now consider the following event. In 1813, Coleridge's play Remorse, a highly successful revision of his 1797 play Osorio, was performed to considerable acclaim, and ran for nearly three weeks at Drury Lane. As far and away the most financially rewarding production of Coleridge's career (he is thought to have made 400 pounds out of it), this turn of events was remarkable enough. But more remarkable still, though rarely mentioned in discussions of Coleridge's theory of dramatic illusion, is how a play, written by such an adamant critic of Georgian stage-craft could unreservedly accept and deploy its conventions. (3) The paradox here draws from Coleridge's assertion that while Shakespeare's stage was effectively bare--merely "a naked room, a blanket for a curtain"--his appeal to the imagination fitted it out as "'A field for monarchs.'" (4) Theater productions of Coleridge's day, on the other hand, including those of Shakespeare's plays, appealed not to the imagination, but to the senses, through an emphasis on visual display and special effects, and were thus deemed inappropriate not only for Shakespeare's genius, but for any serious drama. Meanwhile, the 1813 production of Coleridge's own play, at the newly rebuilt Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was state of the art: the theater itself had been re-equipped with the latest in lighting and stage technology, and for Remorse, there were to be lavish sets and startling effects, in keeping with the kind of exotic popular fashion created by Byron's Eastern tales (Holmes 321, 325). The play may have been vilified by many critics for its awkward emphasis on description in place of action (what we might construe as an emphasis on the written over the visual) and for its attendant abstractions, but it was unanimously appreciated for its stage effects, and particularly for the "coup d'oeil" of the famous "sorcery" scene. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Seeing Things ("as They Are"): Coleridge, Schiller, and the Play of Semblance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.