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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

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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:


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


Appendix I: List of Performances Seen by Shelley

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

Select Bibliography


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).

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