"Announcing Each Day the Performances": Playbills, Ephemerality, and Romantic Period Media/theater History

By Russell, Gillian | Studies in Romanticism, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

"Announcing Each Day the Performances": Playbills, Ephemerality, and Romantic Period Media/theater History


Russell, Gillian, Studies in Romanticism


OF THE DIVERSE RANGE OF PRINTED EPHEMERA IN LATE GEORGIAN BRITAIN, the playbill, with the significant exception of the lottery ticket, was the most ubiquitous. Its presence as part of a late Georgian media ecology is apparent in a comment made by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a letter to Sara Hutchinson in 1802. Fancying himself as a stage manager of the deity's theater of nature in the Lake District, Coleridge writes: "Blessings on the mountains! to the Eye & Ear they are always faithful. I have often thought of writing a Set of Play-bills for the vale of Keswick--for every day in the Year--announcing each Day the Performances by his Supreme Majesty's Servants, Clouds, Waters, Sun, Moon, Stars, &C." (1) Coleridge imagines himself as a kind of diurnal historiographer, the playbill representing the possibility of inscribing and retaining traces of the constantly changing beauty of the natural "scene." As stage manager of God's theater of the world Coleridge not only exemplifies a Romantic poetics of ephemerality--which in its epistolary instantiation is itself to the moment--but also the embeddedness of such a poetics in the practices of collecting, as indicated by the fact that a file of playbills for the Keswick Theatre does in fact survive, in the playbill collections of the British Library. (2) These playbills serve as a correlative of and also, we might say in their status as printed ephemera, an enabling condition of Coleridge's theater historiography of the everyday natural world.

The playbill, which is of central significance to the history of Georgian ephemerology, thus deserves to be recognized as having a place in a cultural history of Romantic textuality as a whole. (3) Throughout her career Jane Moody was attentive to how the playbill could evoke the specificity in time and place of the performance event, vividly imagining, in Illegitimate Theatre in London, "many a spectator poring over the contents of a bill by the light of a candle in a gloomy rented two-pair back." (4) The playbill enunciated the play to be performed, the actors, the existence of the playhouse, and implicitly, a potential audience, while at the same time signifying dimensions of theater and theatricality beyond the specific performance event. This dual dimension of the playbill, I want to suggest, accounts for why Georgian men and women were attracted to it, why they collected it, and why, for such an apparently "ephemeral" document, so many playbills survive. I am interested in the playbill as an artifact of both the theater and Romantic print culture, a zone in which print textuality and theatricality are profoundly imbricated. The playbill can be said to make visible the performative aspects of print, specifically its embedded orality and ocularity--the appeal to both "the Eye & Ear"--that made Coleridge think that the playbill was an appropriate metaphor for the panorama of the vale of Keswick.

Holding the Playbill to the Light

The importance of the playbill in theatrical and urban culture dates from the early modern period, the records of the Stationers' Company showing that a succession of printers were authorized to produce playbills from 1587 onwards. As well as being distributed within and around playhouses, these bills would have been posted on walls and doorways, amplifying the impact of the theater, as Tiffany Stern has argued, within the cityscape as a whole. (5) No playbills survive from this period. It was in the eighteenth century, with the expansion of both the print trade and the theater that the playbill became widely used and also archived. The production of playbills was a significant dimension of the jobbing trade for printers, both in London and the provinces. Some of the major metropolitan theaters had their own in-house printing shops, while there was a close association between local print trades and theater in the provinces, particularly after the boom in theater building caused by changes in the regulation of the theater in 1788. …

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

"Announcing Each Day the Performances": Playbills, Ephemerality, and Romantic Period Media/theater History
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.