Bloomsbury at Play

By Wright, Elizabeth | Woolf Studies Annual, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Bloomsbury at Play

Wright, Elizabeth, Woolf Studies Annual

The authors have sent me, and asked me to say They beg all your pardons for writing this play, And hope none of our audience consider us rude Either those we've no time for, or those we include. So please don't object to the tales we have told For they're all of them true and they're most of them old. Besides, before blaming us, think of the pain Which we might have inflicted, and yet we refrain.

--Julian Bell, 'Epilogue' to unidentified play, King's/JHB/1/12

An evening's entertainment in Bloomsbury could range from Shakespeare to can-can dancing; from ballet to bawdy music-hall ditties; it could be meticulously planned or entirely spontaneous; topical or historical; serious, but generally silly. The participants in and subjects of these dramas often included Leonard and Virginia Woolf; Vanessa, Clive, Julian, Quentin and Angelica Bell; Adrian, Ann and Judith Stephen; Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes; Desmond and Molly MacCarthy; Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, Jane Bussy and David Garnett, though the theatrical evenings often widened their cast to include any visitor (in one instance a German refugee was asked to give a parody of Hitler [Bell 21]). One of the large variety of theatrical pieces performed in Bloomsbury was Freshwater: A Comedy, the only piece of theatre exclusively written by Virginia Woolf. (1) To date critics have scarcely considered the significance of private theatre in Bloomsbury and yet it performed a number of interesting tasks, while masquerading as comic family entertainment--revealing secrets, lampooning embarrassing idiosyncrasies, flattering, criticizing, resolving disputes and soothing hurts.

The theatricals exposed as much about the participants' attitudes and opinions as many of their letters, diaries and autobiographies. Plays written and privately performed by the group of friends revolved around their sexual and social relationships; their political and artistic stances and their response to their Victorian upbringing, all of which were explored through a miasma of allusion, parody and satire. The primary function of this form of entertainment was to allow the authors and performers to bring the impermissible into the open. This could be to comment on a friend's folly; to explore the latest scandal; launch an attack on the social, moral, political and artistic structures of their parents' generation; or to criticize the current hierarchy. In Performance Theory, Richard Schechner describes this process of theatricalization as

a reflection of, or mediation among [...] interactions, freed as they are by theatrical convention from being "really real." Instead, actions are segregated "in the theatre" where through exaggeration, repetition, and metaphorisation they can be displayed and handled. (Schechner 243)

The relationships between the group of friends, family and acquaintances, and their reactions to the world at large, were often dramatized in comic skits which, as Schechner avers, allowed disagreements or sensitive subjects to be "displayed and handled," explored and occasionally resolved in a safe environment. The safety of this theatrical environment was largely secured through the use of jokes and the creation of comedic situations, which, as Simon Critchley points out in On Humour, act as "small anthropological essays [...] defamiliarising the familiar, demythologising the exotic [and, one might add, the taboo] and inverting the world of common sense" (Critchley 65). Critchley argues that by setting up this fictional frame colored by comedy, humor reveals the hidden, and forces both audience and performer to confront their reality with the aim of either celebrating it or altering it. As the private productions written by members of the group took inspiration from the group itself, comedy, which as Henri Bergson notes is "situated on the borderline between art and life" (Bergson 150), was the most suitable tone to strike. Thus humor, combined with the performance frame, allowed for the safe exploration of difficult subjects, not only in the therapeutic sense propounded by Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer, whose work on humor considered the comic to provide a physical feeling of relief, (2) but also in a Freudian sense, whereby rebellion against others and their ideas was made safe by the comic performance, (3) as well as in a Bergsonian disciplinary sense, whereby laughter contains "an unavowed intention to humiliate, and consequently to correct our neighbour" (Bergson 136). …

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

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

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

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
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.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Bloomsbury at Play


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?

Full screen

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

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, 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."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    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.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.