Due to Christmas and New Year Holiday season we may experience shipping delays. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.

The Theatre of Shelley

The Theatre of Shelley Jacqueline Mulhallen
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-906924-30-0 £15.95
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-906924-31-7 £29.95
PDF ISBN: 978-1-906924-32-4 £0.00

Click here to read the PDF online for free Click here to read the HTML online for free

It [Mulhallen's study] succeeds as an extensive study of Shelley's works in the context of the contemporary theatre.

— Paige Tovey, Romanticism, 19.1 (2013), 108-109

The account of Shelley's plays is the book's strength, with Mulhallen's previous book, The Theatre of Shelley (2010), and her background in theatre serving her well here.

Christy Edwall, The Times Literary Supplement, 7 September 2016

This is the first full-length study of Shelley’s plays in performance. It offers a rich, meticulously researched history of Shelley’s role as a playwright and dramatist and a reassessment of his "closet dramas" as performable pieces of theatre. 

With chapters on each of Shelley’s dramatic works, the book provides a thorough discussion of the poet’s stagecraft, and analyses performances of his plays from the Georgian period to today. In addition, Mulhallen offers details of the productions Shelley saw in England and Italy, many not identified before, as well as a vivid account of the actors and personalities that constituted the theatrical scene of his time. Her research reveals Shelley as an extraordinarily talented playwright, whose fascination with contemporary theatrical theory and practice seriously challenges the notion that he was a reluctant dramatist.

Prof. Stephen Behrendt (Nebraska) has described the book as "wonderfully convincing" and "something wholly new in Shelley studies", while Prof. Tim Webb (Bristol) describes Mulhallen as having a "more precisely developed sense of the theatrical possibilities of Shelley's work than almost anybody who has written about Shelley".

The Theatre of Shelley is essential reading for anyone interested in Romanticism, nineteenth-century culture and the history of theatre.

The Jessica E. Smith and Kevin R. Brine Charitable Trust has generously contributed towards the publication of this volume.


The Theatre of Shelley
Jacqueline Mulhallen | December 2010
xvi + 289 | 21 Black and white illustrations | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781906924300
ISBN Hardback: 9781906924317
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781906924324
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0011
BIC subject codes: DSG (Literary studies: plays and playwrights), DSBF (literary studies: circa 1800 – 1900); BISAC subject codes: SOC002010 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural & Social), DRA003000  (DRAMA / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh); OCLC Number: 909879233.


You may also be interested in:

Introduction

1. The Theatrical Context: The Georgian Theatre in England


2. Shelley’s Theatregoing, Playreading and Criticism

3. Practical Technique: The Cenci

4. Turning History into Art: Charles the First


5. Ideal Drama: Prometheus Unbound


6. Drama for a Purpose: Hellas & Fragments of an Unfinished Drama


7. Satirical Comedy: Swellfoot the Tyrant


Conclusion


Appendix I: List of Performances Seen by Shelley

Appendix II: The Programme of Songs with the Performance of Douglas

Select Bibliography

Index

Jacqueline Mulhallen studied at the University of New South Wales and the University of Helsinki before receiving her doctorate from Anglia Ruskin University in 2008. She has worked as a performer and writer with Lynx Theatre and Poetry and BBC Radio, and her plays Sylvia and Rebels and Friends have toured England and Ireland. Her academic publications include ‘Samuel Johnson: Amateur Physician’ in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (1982), ‘Sylvia Pankhurst’s Northern Tour’ at www.sylviapankhurst.com (2008) and ‘Sylvia Pankhurst’s Paintings: A Missing Link’ in Women’s History Magazine (2009), plus she is a contributor to Oxford Handbook of the Georgian Playhouse 1737-1832 (2014).

Introduction

The introduction describes this book as not only the first full-length, in-depth study of Shelley’s dramatic work as a whole, but also the first to situate Shelley’s plays fully in the context of the theatre of the late Georgian, or Romantic, period, 1780-1830.  Shelley’s plays are typically considered "closet drama,” which are written to be read, but not performed. This book analyzes the performative aspects of Shelley’s plays, such as dialogue that lends itself to delivery, dramatic incident, characterisation, suspense, mystery, and opportunities for dance or song. The book also examines how Shelley re-interpreted his political philosophy in his dramas, all of which deal with the overthrow of a tyrant. This study also considers Shelley’s theatre attendance as an influence on his dramatic work and presents in Appendix 1 a list of plays seen by Shelley in England and Italy. The introduction summarizes the focus of each chapter in the book and provides numerous footnotes to the literature on English drama and English Romanticism.

1. The Theatrical Context: The Georgian Theatre in England

The late Georgian period (1780-1832) was a time of change in the theatre: technical innovations in architecture, lighting, and scenery; new theatres built in London and elsewhere; and a greater realism in scenery design and costume. The theatre was popular with a wide cross-section of society. Audiences demonstrated interest in both attending and reading plays. This chapter describes the various types of theatres prevalent in England at the time, such as the "patent” theatres and "minor” theatres, and touches on opera and ballet performances in the country. The chapter also describes some of Shelley’s theatrical experiences in England during this time. Contemporaneous illustrations depicting scenes from plays and ballet are included. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of how Shelley’s experience of the Georgian theatre influenced his plays.

2. Shelley’s Theatregoing, Playreading and Criticism

While previous critics have often characterized Shelley as disliking theatre, this chapter draws on evidence from Shelley’s writings and those of his family, friends, and wife to document Shelley’s certain and probable experiences attending theatre, opera, and ballet in England and Italy. The chapter explores the influence of Schlegel’s A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature on Shelley’s opinions and his understanding of Greek drama. Shelley’s writing on politics and drama are briefly considered, and evidence of his reading of drama is described. The chapter concludes with a description of Shelley’s unfinished play Tasso.

3. Practical Technique: The Cenci

This chapter examines Shelley’s play The Cenci in terms of its dramatic elements, characterisations, and themes; the censorship that prevented it from being staged in Shelley’s lifetime; and its production history in the twentieth century. The Cenci treats metaphorically the question Shelley raised overtly in A Philosophical View of Reform: whether the people have the right to offer armed resistance to an oppressive government. The Cenci is compared to Milman’s Fazio, a play that was a success at Covent Garden in 1818. The chapter includes contemporaneous critical appraisals of the actors that Shelley had in mind for the main parts – Eliza O’Neill and Edmund Kean – as well as considerations of these actors’ suitability for the roles that Shelley wrote. Particular attention is devoted to the character of Beatrice, whom Shelley wrote not as an ideal heroine, but as a psychologically believable character. The chapter analyzes the censorship that prevented the staging of The Cenci for so long, and the factors that led its eventual successful production in the twentieth century.

4. Turning History into Art: Charles the First

Shelley began writing Charles the First in January 1822, but at his death had completed only scenes for a first act, an outline sketch for a second, and many notes, jottings, and stray lines. Critics disagree on whether Shelley would have completed it had he lived; the reasons that Shelley may have left off writing it are examined here. This chapter details the research that Shelley did to prepare for writing this play – historical sources as well as history plays with themes of war, tyranny, and rebellion – and provides evidence that Shelley intended Charles the First to be a major work for the stage. The material that Shelley wrote for this play is discussed in detail, illustrating his ability to convey historical information through dialogue and character and his mastery of dramatic technique. He had become adept in writing for the technical requirements of the late Georgian theatre and incorporated elements of Jacobean drama which an audience would recognise. The chapter also examines what Shelley’s notes suggest about his intentions for developing the play.

5. Ideal Drama: Prometheus Unbound

This chapter posits that although Shelley did not intend his poem Prometheus Unbound to be performed in the immediate future, he included dramatic elements that suggest he may have originally conceived it as a play, and that it is in fact performable. The chapter explores the possible influence of Viganò’s ballets, which Shelley saw at La Scala, on Prometheus Unbound. The chapter explores how the music, dancing, scenery, and spectacular effects in Prometheus Unbound could have been rendered on stage, and also explores the possible reasons that Shelley wrote it as a poem rather than a play. The author describes Prometheus Unbound as not solely masque, opera, poem, or ballet, but a new form of drama which combines these, using as its framework the Greek drama from which Shelley took the myth itself.

6. Drama for a Purpose: Hellas & Fragments of an Unfinished Drama

This chapter describes the influence of the Aeschylus play The Persians on Shelley’s poem Hellas and compares elements of the two works. Two other influences on Hellas – the improvisational dramatic performer Tommaso Sgricci and the melodrama The Bride of Abydos, adapted from Byron’s poems – are also explored. The apparent influence of techniques from these three sources, all of which were successful on stage, suggests that Shelley intended Hellas to be performable. The dramatic elements that could have been realized in a performance are described, and the reasons that Shelley did not submit it to a London stage are explored. The chapter includes a description of a 1976 radio play production of Hellas, demonstrating the success of many of Shelley’s dramatic techniques. The chapter also describes the Fragments of an Unfinished Drama, which appears to have been intended for performance by members of Shelley’s friends and family. Shelley’s knowledge of Indian mythology and music is discussed in connection with Fragments.

7. Satirical Comedy: Swellfoot the Tyrant

This chapter explores Shelley’s play Swellfoot the Tyrant, a response to Queen Caroline’s return to England in 1820 to contest King George IV’s divorce case against her. Evidence is given of Shelley’s views on the situation. Although Shelley did not intend it to be performed, the chapter shows how Swellfoot might have been successful in a radical private theatre: the stage directions are detailed, the characters are written as impersonations offering great scope for comic performance, and the structure and style draw on plays oriented primarily on highly skilled performance. Swellfoot is influenced by the Athenian dramatist Aristophanes and includes elements from commedia dell’arte, British pantomime, Punch, and eighteenth-century burlesque, all of which are described here. The chapter argues that Swellfoot is an underrated work because of elements that would be appreciated in performance but are easily overlooked on the page, such as comedic timing, costumes, scenery, choruses, acting, and stage effects. The detailed analysis of the play draws connections with other works of Shelley’s that are analyzed in this monograph.

Conclusion

This chapter discusses Shelley’s dramatic works in chronological order, to show the development of his dramatic writing over time. His approach to research and revision are summarized. Shelley derived the stories and structure of his plays from other playwrights and returned consistently to the theme of opposition to tyranny. The conclusion reviews Shelley’s adaptation of classical forms to modern and popular theatrical forms and describes his achievements as a dramatic writer. The chapter discusses recent revivals of late Georgian drama, recaps the production history of Shelley’s dramas, and imagines the performance possibilities of his plays.
A collection of images showing contemporary theatre scenes can be found here.

The Theatre of Shelley makes a provocative contribution both to Shelley studies and to Romantic theatre history. Mulhallen’s contention is that all of Percy Shelley’s dramas and dramatic fragments were written with stage production prominently in mind, and that each shows evidence that he was an instinctive theatrical craftsman. [...] The work represents [...] a significant, urgent and closely researched intervention in the study of Romantic drama.
—Jeremy Davies, The Year's Work in English Studies 91 (2012)
You can read the full review here.

Overall, The Theatre of Shelley is a valuable contribution to critical understanding of an often-neglected aspect of Shelley’s work. Mulhallen’s greatest achievement, perhaps, lies in gathering together in a single volume the disparate strands of a particular area of Shelley scholarship. What emerges from this synthesis, however, is an undeniably new sense of the importance of the theatre in Shelley’s workThe Theatre of Shelley is a detailed and enjoyable account of Shelley’s dramatic writing in its historical context. […] Mulhallen is equally adept at discussing Swellfoot the Tyrant and discussing his debt to Schlegel’s dramatic theory. Much of the book is dedicated to presenting the fruits of Mulhallen’s wide-ranging historical research and investigations into the composition of all Shelley’s theatrical writings. Yet some of its best moments come when Mulhallen, clearly drawing on her experience as a practicing actor and dramatist, attempts to imagine how, for example, an actor might most successfully interpret the part of a "fanatical character" like Count Cenci, or how Shelley might have envisioned a scene working with particular actors […] I certainly share Mulhallen’s hope that it won’t be too long before Shelley’s plays are staged again.

—Ross Wilson, The Times Literary Supplement (4 November 2011)
 
Mulhallen’s groundbreaking research redefines our view of Shelley as an artist and as a revolutionary, and is an important and inspiring contribution to understanding Shelley [...] The well-chosen and beautiful illustrations enhance the text and help the reader to envisage the world of the late Georgian theatre.
Katherine Connelly, Counterfire (10 June 2011)
You can read the full review here.

Jacqueline Mulhallen's monograph is a triumph! It is the first book I have read entirely onscreen. I purchased the PDF format for £4.95 and it was physically comfortable to read and well-produced by the admirable publisher. I particularly liked the first two chapters and learned a very great deal from them. And I think Appendix I is a very serious contribution to Shelley studies in its own right, for which the author deserves the highest praise. Throughout I was engaged and warmed to the analysis of Shelley's dramas as a whole from Scenes for Tasso through Fragments of an Unfinished Drama. No-one has ever done that before, to my knowledge. The sense of the author's professional expertise and her being qualified to comment on theatrical effect shone through, and was unfailingly illuminating. I also liked the admirable attempt to identify a distinctively Shelleyan conception of drama and to ground it through reference to relevant primary sources and his reading, especially Schlegel. I have a few minor quibbles. I wondered about the ordering of Chapters 3-7; on this first reading I remain not entirely convinced by the arguments about the dramatic qualities of Prometheus Unbound and Hellas, and in a very few places I dissented from the views expressed. But these really are minor issues which did not mar my enjoyment of the book at all. It is well written, intelligently illustrated and scholarly. I shall return to itand make my students read it!Michael Rossington, Senior Lecturer in Romantic Literature, Newcastle UniversityJacqueline Mulhallen's The Theatre of Shelley places one of the giants of English literature brilliantly in the context of the theatre for which he wrote. Early Nineteenth Century English theatre is still widely misunderstood, and Mulhallen's book proves the value of having a researcher and practitioner who is prepared to go back to familiar and unfamiliar sources with a fresh eye. Each chapter punctures prevailing myths about Shelley and the drama he wrote, provoking a complete reassessment of conventional views about 'closet' drama and the gulf between poet and theatrical practice. I discovered a huge amount from the book and am delighted by the passionate and well-argued case it makes for us to rethink this fascinating point in dramatic and literary history.
Carl Miller, Playwright and Associate Director of the Unicorn Theatre
 
Certainly The Theatre of Shelley is something wholly new in Shelley studies. This is a book that takes us very far in reassessing Shelley's eminently practical knowledge of theatre practices in his time. Too often (as Dr. Mulhallen reminds us) Shelley is accused of impracticality and misguided idealism when it comes to those works (like The Cenci) that he wrote specifically for the stage. And yet, as Dr. Mulhallen also reminds us, he knew a great deal about not just the theatrical practices of the time but also about the physical capabilities of various theatres themselves, about the types of stagecraft that was possible in each of them, about the scenic and costume options and overall physical ‘spectacle’, and about the period's actors and actresses (together with acting styles) to ensure that we consider his dramatic works within the parameters of the theatres of his lifetime. This approach not only makes a great deal of sense but also reveal an extraordinarily talented playwright who knew very well how to calculate the physical aspects of his works to achieve the greatest possible effect. The resulting study is wonderfully convincing and a very major contribution to the reassessment of Shelley's work.
Stephen Behrendt, University Professor and George Holmes Distinguished Professor of English, University of Nebraska

The Theatre of Shelley has many virtues. Clearly, it is the work of someone who has had a working connection with the theatre and consequently has a more precisely developed sense of the theatrical possibilities of Shelley's work than almost anybody who has written about Shelley. I'm delighted, too, that she has researched the theatrical contexts of Shelley's age. Even more valuable, perhaps, is Jacqueline Mulhallen's reconstruction of the theatrical performances which Shelley saw when he was abroad. On their own, these two areas of research add a dimension to our understanding of the world in which Shelley customarily operated and which helped to form his own concepts of theatre.
— Tim Webb. Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol

The Theatre of Shelley offers the first full treatment of Shelley's drama in terms of performance and brings to its discussion of the author an impressively wide knowledge of the theatrical performances that Shelley witnessed or might have witnessed not only in England but in Italy.
Richard Cronin, Professor of English, University of Glasgow
 
I've loved The Theatre of Shelley, read it twice, and particularly enjoyed Chapter 4. Charles I really was a dreadful man wasn't he? Congratulations... it really is great to have something so scholarly that is so easy to read.
Stewart Healey, Sydney