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Eighteenth Century Drama

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Censorship, Society and the Stage

Delve into the theatrical world of eighteenth-century society, and explore how the Larpent plays reflect the politics of the time, the role of women, views on race and religion, opinions on empire, and European and British history.

The theatre held a prominent place in lives of everyone – from commoners to royalty – in the eighteenth century; acting as a social barometer of the time, it was the most widely available form of entertainment for many.

The plays and social documents in this resource provide an essential view of every aspect of theatre culture and wider society, from Walpole’s censorship of the theatres to Garrick’s revolutionary acting style, from the staged triumphs of Greek Gods to slapstick scenes of domestic life. Follow the rise, and changing styles of, opera; view the role of women through thirty years of Anna Larpent’s meticulous diaries and the biting social commentary of Hannah Cowley and other female playwrights in their plays. Collections of correspondence provide fascinating insight into the relationships between actors, theatre managers, composers and playwrights; both the supportive friendships and the fierce rivalries.

This truly interdisciplinary resource is a rich trove of material for researchers in, not only theatre and drama, but literature, history, politics, music, censorship, gender, romanticism and the long eighteenth century.


Key themes include:

  • Censorship and politics
  • Satire, political endorsement, and social commentary
  • Celebrity culture and fashion
  • The rise and development of the opera in British theatre
  • The business and legalities of theatres
  • Women in eighteenth-century drama and society – very notably, Anna Larpent’s diaries but also actresses, authors, and contemporary women’s issues represented in theatre
  • Key figures in theatre; David Garrick, Charles Fleetwood, Charles Macklin, Charles Dibdin, Handel, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the Kembles, the Siddons
  • Relationships between theatre managers, producers and the Examiner of Plays and Lord Chamberlain’s office
  • Staging, technology, and performance
  • Representations of conflict, war, race, religion, historical events in drama
  • Representations of domestic, familial and pastoral scenes in drama