Gothic Theater, 1765-Present

Authored by: Diego Saglia

The Gothic World

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415637442
eBook ISBN: 9780203490013
Adobe ISBN: 9781135053062


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With its assorted gasps, frissons, jumps and screams, “Gothic drama” or “theater” has been putting fear on stage and into spectators for over two-and-a-half centuries. Commenting on the first night of Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Castle Spectre at Drury Lane in December 1797, the Monthly Visitor humorously warned readers that

Two or three ladies, in the boxes, absolutely fell into hysterics at the sight of Mrs [Jane] Powell, as the Ghost of Angela's mother. And we would seriously caution ladies in a certain way, against seeing the representation of the Castle-Spectre.

(Anon. 1797: 538, emphasis in text) In March 1803, when Harriet Litchfield performed Lewis's monodrama afterpiece The Captive at Covent Garden, her acting affected the audience to such an extent that, as the author wrote to a correspondent, “a Man fell into convulsions in the Boxes … a Woman fainted away in the Pit” and “two or three more of the spectators went into hysterics” (quoted in Macdonald 2000: 160). Through their oscillations between mockery and earnestness, these anecdotes confirm affective power as one of the distinctive features of stage Gothic since at least the mid-eighteenth century, the time in which we may discern the emergence of a (more or less consistent) “Gothic drama.”

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