In the 1780s and 90s, theatre critics described the stage as a state in political tumult, while politicians invoked theatre as a model for politics both good and bad. In this 2001 study, Betsy Bolton examines the ways Romantic women performers and playwrights used theatrical conventions to intervene in politics. Reading the public performances of Emma Hamilton and Mary Robinson through the conventions of dramatic romance, Bolton suggests that the romance of national identity developed by writers such as Southey and Wordsworth took shape in complex opposition to these unruly women. Setting the conventions of farce against those of sentiment, playwrights such as Hannah Cowley and Elizabeth Inchbald questioned imperial relations while criticizing contemporary gender relations. This well-illustrated study draws on canical poetry and personal memoirs, popular drama and parliamentary debates, political caricatures and theatrical reviews to extend current understandings of Romantic theatre, the public sphere, and Romantic gender relations.
Betsy Bolton is Associate Professor of English at Swarthmore College.