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The Culture of Spectacle

Session Leader


  1. For Archenholz and Wendeborn, what are the chief characteristics of the London theatre? Specifically what is “English” about it?

  2. Changes or innovations in exhibition and theatrical culture in the eighteenth century were sometimes met with anxiety or fear. Why was this so?

  3. Sentimental drama of the eighteenth century is much denigrated. In what ways does Bridget Orr undertake to rehabilitate it ideologically?

  4. The emergence of the middle class remains a master narrative when thinking about the constitution of a public for theatre and art in the period. What are the problems of such a thesis?

Essential Reading

  • John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: HarperCollins, 1997), parts III and IV.

  • Johann W. Archenholz, A Picture of England (London: Edward Jeffrey, 1789), vol. 2, ch. 4.

  • Frederick Augustus Wendeborn, A View of England towards the close of the Eighteenth Century (London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1791), vol. 2, chapters on “The State of Arts”, “Painting”, and “The Stage”.

  • C. Suzanne Matheson, “Viewing”, in An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age, ed. Iain McCalman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

  • Shearer West, “Manufacturing Spectacle” and Bridget Orr, “Empire, Sentiment, and Theatre”, in The Oxford Handbook of Georgian Theatre, ed. Julia Swindells and David Francis Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).


Further Reading

  • Richard D. Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1978)

  • Marc Baer, Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992)

  • John Barrell, ed., Painting and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)

  • Peter de Bolla, The Education of the Eye: Painting, Landscape, and Architecture in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003)

  • Rosie Dias, Exhibiting Englishness: John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and the Formation of a National Aesthetic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013)

  • John O’Brien, Harlequin Britain: Pantomime and Entertainment, 1690–1760 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2004)

  • Jane Moody, Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

  • Gillian Russell, Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society, 1793-1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

  • David H. Solkin, Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993)

  • David H. Solkin, ed., Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780-1836 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001)

  • David Francis Taylor, Theatres of Opposition: Empire, Revolution, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)