Elizabeth Maddock Dillon. New World Drama: Tire Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849

By Donahue, Jennifer | ARIEL, January 2017 | Go to article overview

Elizabeth Maddock Dillon. New World Drama: Tire Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849


Donahue, Jennifer, ARIEL


Elizabeth Maddock Dillon. New World Drama: Tire Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849. Durham: Duke UP, 2014. Pp. x, 354. US$94.95.

In New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon reframes the study of theatre in Atlantic rather than national terms. New World Drama aims to remedy the gap in the study of eighteenth-century Atlantic theatre by highlighting the emergence of early American theatre as an independent cultural form. Throughout, Dillon calls for a broader consideration of representation as she examines how the theatre serves as a space for reinforcing and contesting social belonging. In each chapter, Dillon draws on archival evidence to illustrate that Atlantic world theatres functioned as representational and inherently political spaces.

New World Drama begins by positioning the 1649 beheading of King Charles I and the 1849 Astor Place Riot as turning points in theatrical performance in the Atlantic world. Dillon introduces the commons as a collective that often challenged political, economic, and religious boundaries. She argues that this new performative commons emerged in the eighteenth century and functioned as a means of individual and collective representation. Central to Dillon's analysis is the concept of the colonial relation, which she defines as the "connection between the colony and the metropole in the Anglo-Atlantic world of the eighteenth century" (31). She explores this connection in works such as The West Indian and Oroonoko. Expanding upon Giorgio Agamben's concept of "homo sacer," or "bare life," Dillion contends that slaves exist as figures of "'bare labor'--labor stripped of the resources of social life and the capacity for social reproduction" (35). As Dillon suggests, the colonial relation was rendered visible through displays of belonging and non-belonging that reflected the racialized division inherent in colonial appropriation.

Chapter Two returns to King Charles I's execution as a moment of emerging popular sovereignty. Dillon views the theatre as a mobilizing force and asserts that the staging of tortured bodies in Tears of the Indians enabled the English public to witness the genocidal acts of the Spanish. She suggests that the performance of Spanish cruelty "generate[d] the identity of the Englishman as rightful occupant of the New World" (81). By establishing the staging of tortured bodies as symbols of sovereign power, Dillon calls attention to the links between theatre, nationalism, and empire. The third chapter continues the text's discussion of tortured native bodies in works such as The Tempest and The Enchanted Island. Dillon distinguishes between the seventeenth-century figure of the tortured Indian and the eighteenth-century image of the royal slave. I found this chapter illuminating, in part because it touches on the disruptive function of women's bodies. Since Dillon's text surveys eighteenth-century Atlantic theatre, the subject of women performing as men is outside the book's scope. Nevertheless, the reference to cross-gendered casting is a compelling addition to a chapter that addresses the erasure of indigenous bodies.

Dillon's fourth chapter investigates how slave bodies in Charleston were required to be both present (in terms of labor) and absent (in terms of political agency). …

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