Full Journal Article Entry, Source #2019
Cox, Jeffrey. "Ideology and Genre in the British Antirevolutionary Drama of the 1790s." ELH 58 (1991), 579-610.
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Cox wishes to highlight groups of writers and other patterns of reaction that have been excluded by what Jerome McGann calls the 'romantic ideology.' Cox writes that “these plays are part of a broader reactionary literature and culture as relevant to the literary and political situation of England in the 1790s as the work of [William] Wordsworth, [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge or [William] Blake. Considering the particular contexts that shaped these texts, we will find that these dramas have an important place in the ideological struggles of the day" (579). In three sections, the article enumerates the goals of the antirevolutionary drama and explicates numerous scripts and plots. After delineating the two forms of antirevolutionary drama, domestic melodrama and neoclassical tragedy, Cox addresses the philosophical and aesthetic theories of theater, of performer and viewer.
Cox first establishes that the number of antirevolutionary dramas of the 1790s is quite large. In broad terms, the moniker ‘antirevolutionary drama’ refers to direct attacks against the French Revolution or Jacobin principles--in France, the Jacobin society was one of violent agitators during the revolution of 1789 who met secretly in a convent and who conspired to control the National Assembly. The specific types of drama include histories or historical tragedies, Jacobin travesties or celebrations of British virtue, plays paralleling the French Revolution with biblical history, and various plays with negative allusions to the revolution. Cox then makes a further distinction, noting that antirevolutionary drama, arising after 1792, is in fact a direct response to the prorevolutionary images that began to appear on the London stage in 1789, is a revisionist attempt. Cox briefly describes these prorevolutionary dramas, and then moves forward to show how the antirevolutionary drama developed into two specific forms--the spectacular play on contemporary history and the Gothic drama.
The greatest antirevolutionary art tends to parody or satirize Jacobins, and Cox examines what he deems the most potent examples of such. He also highlights the drama's link between political resistance to authority and the welcoming of sexual freedom. Anti-Revolution attacks were often based upon the depiction of revolutionaries as immoral revelers in sexual excess, established early in Burke's Reflections on The Revolution in France. Cox outlines the plot of numerous plays which "insist upon the continuity of patriarchal order from father to king, thereby grounding their conservative ideology in "nature" and rendering revolt into an "unnatural" assault upon parental power (593). Cox presents further methodologies behind counterrevolutionary tracts, including the common emphasis upon an abundance of entities supposedly responsible for 'manipulating' the public.
Cox then examines the weighty and possibly detrimental charge with which conservative ideology, via traditional and dominant theatrical forms, could infuse antirevolutionary intentions, citing the career and work of Matthew Lewis as a "crucial example of the impact of generic choice upon intention" (598). Still, Cox does not conclude that a hegemonic conservatism subverted the drama of the day but rather draws attention to the fact that the government unilaterally and actively discouraged antirevolutionary plays. He announces that "if we, as scholars, tend to see works as aesthetic and ideological wholes .... audiences and readers often react not to the whole but to a part; a particular scene or speech might move the audience more than its aesthetic architectonics or its ultimate ideological vision" (602). That is, despite the author's intentions or the government's mandate, a play performed is a play open to radical interpretation by viewers, and it was for this reason, Cox intimates in conclusion, that after the 1790s the government essentially eliminated history from the stage.
Entered by Elisa on 30 July 2004 at 11:49 AM.