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date: 18 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Throughout his life and writing Charles Dickens expressed profound ambivalence about the professional theatre, which in almost equal parts he adored and loathed. As writer, performer, and public man, he expended both energy and invention to describe and to experience a theatricality purged of theatre. In his prose, he explored theatricality in increasingly bold ways until in the final decades it had become a driving pattern in the novels. In his life, until the late 1850s, he used amateur performance to satisfy this quest. But as the 1850s turned into the 1860s, he was able finally to invent, in the Public Readings, his ideal performance mode: a theatricality liberated entirely from theatre, which permitted him to feel the cynosure of attention without exposing, or risking, the self. The first part of this chapter traces Dickens’s complex relationship with both the professional and amateur theatre. The second part tackles the more elusive, and more problematic, question of what it may mean to call Dickens’s work theatrical, arguing that for him theatricality involves not direct mimesis but a gesture toward resemblance.

Keywords: theatre, theatricality, amateur, professional, gesture, resemblance, mimesis

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