Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of Harlequin Britain
Cover image of Harlequin Britain
Share this Title:

Harlequin Britain

Pantomime and Entertainment, 1690–1760

John O'Brien

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy

In the fall of 1723, two London theaters staged, almost simultaneously, pantomime performances of the Faust story. Unlike traditional five-act plays, pantomime—a bawdy hybrid of dance, music, spectacle, and commedia dell'arte featuring the familiar figure of the harlequin at its center—was a theatrical experience of unprecedented accessibility. The immediate popularity of this new genre drew theater apprentices to the cities to learn the new style, and pantomime became the subject of lively debate within British society. Alexander Pope and Henry Fielding bitterly opposed the intrusion into…

In the fall of 1723, two London theaters staged, almost simultaneously, pantomime performances of the Faust story. Unlike traditional five-act plays, pantomime—a bawdy hybrid of dance, music, spectacle, and commedia dell'arte featuring the familiar figure of the harlequin at its center—was a theatrical experience of unprecedented accessibility. The immediate popularity of this new genre drew theater apprentices to the cities to learn the new style, and pantomime became the subject of lively debate within British society. Alexander Pope and Henry Fielding bitterly opposed the intrusion into legitimate literary culture of what they regarded as fairground amusements that appealed to sensation and passion over reason and judgment.

In Harlequin Britain, literary scholar John O'Brien examines this new form of entertainment and the effect it had on British culture. Why did pantomime become so popular so quickly? Why was it perceived as culturally threatening and socially destabilizing? O’Brien finds that pantomime’s socially subversive commentary cut through the dampened spirit of debate created by Robert Walpole's one-party rule. At the same time, pantomime appealed to the abstracted taste of the mass audience. Its extraordinary popularity underscores the continuing centrality of live performance in a culture that is most typically seen as having shifted its attention to the written text—in particular, to the novel.

Written in a lively style rich with anecdotes, Harlequin Britain establishes the emergence of eighteenth-century English pantomime, with its promiscuous blending of genres and subjects, as a key moment in the development of modern entertainment culture.

Jump to
Quick Add
Harlequin Britain

John O'Brien

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy
Related

Related Books

Preorder
Cover image of The Conversation on Gender Diversity
The Conversation on Gender Diversity

edited by Jules Gill-Peterson

$16.95
Quick Add
The Conversation on Gender Diversity

edited by Jules Gill-Peterson

Publication Date: May 2, 2023
Binding Type
Preorder
Cover image of A Centaur in London
A Centaur in London

Fabian Kraemer

$60.00
Quick Add
A Centaur in London

Fabian Kraemer

Publication Date: April 25, 2023
Binding Type
Preorder
Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture

edited by David A. Brewer and Crystal B. Lake

Volume
Volume 52
$50.00
Quick Add
Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture

edited by David A. Brewer and Crystal B. Lake

Volume
Volume 52
Publication Date: April 11, 2023
Binding Type
Preorder
Dorian Unbound

Sean O'Toole

$34.95
Quick Add
Dorian Unbound

Sean O'Toole

Publication Date: April 4, 2023
Binding Type
Preorder
Cover image of Reparative Universities
Reparative Universities

Ariana González Stokas

$34.95
Quick Add
Reparative Universities

Ariana González Stokas

Publication Date: March 28, 2023
Binding Type
Reviews

Reviews

A good read for even the most casual theater historian.

A complex, rich work... an original, important contribution to the history of the body and to political culture.

This well argued text on pantomime offers a fascinating investigation of a subgenre of British theater.

He develops his micro-history of the growth and changes in British life with finesse and precision and a rich grasp of detail.

A good example of how to write cultural history today.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
304
ISBN
9781421416939
Illustration Description
13 halftones, 6 line drawings
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Perseus and Andromeda and the Meaning of Eighteenth-Century Pantomime
2. Pantomime, Popular Culture, and the Invention of the English Stage
3. Wit

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Perseus and Andromeda and the Meaning of Eighteenth-Century Pantomime
2. Pantomime, Popular Culture, and the Invention of the English Stage
3. Wit Corporeal
4. Magic and Mimesis
Entr'acte
5. "Infamous Harlequin Mimicry"
6. Harlequin Walpole
7. David Garrick and the Institutionalizationof English Pantomime
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

John O'Brien

John O’Brien is the NEH Daniels Family Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Virginia.