Historians of the London theatre have long argued for the wonderful inventiveness and vitality of the Restoration stage; more recently, critics have begun to remind readers that plays written and performed between 1660 and the late eighteenth century (like other forms of literary expression in this period) fused parochial and domestic concerns with themes and plots located overseas. Events from past and contemporary European imperial histories were dramatised and provided occasions for comparisons with, or meditations upon, “British” culture as it was forged in the smithy of empire. Over the course of the century, the stage became home to characters and socio-economic types who represented the enormous energies and anxieties that accompanied commercial and colonial expansion. Indeed, on occasion, the spectacular forms of stage performances in this period derived from their staging of “exotic” places and events. In many ways then, the gratifications theatre offered its patrons and audiences were inescapably tied up with its ability to dramatise the coming into being of “Great Britain”—a powerful imperial state possessed of a national culture and a people adequate to its needs.
The syllabus will feature plays representative of the various styles and forms of drama in this period, and we will also follow the complex transitions from aristocratic to bourgeois self-representation that they embody.