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date: 19 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Romantic-period theatre faced long-standing legal constraints on where playhouses could be built, the kind of plays that could be staged, and the social status of actors. This chapter shows how new legislation and historical conditions gradually altered this picture. The impact of the French Revolution and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars created a demand for forms of theatrical entertainment that would mediate the rapidity and scale of cultural and political change, forms for which the ‘illegitimate’ theatres of London were particularly suited. The dominant ‘legitimate’ theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane responded to this competition by becoming bigger in scale and developing new, visually spectacular genres such as melodrama and Gothic drama. By the 1820s the two-tier system of legitimate and illegitimate theatres had lost its cultural force and actors were legally recognized as no longer akin to vagrants but as professional artists, analogous to poets and novelists.

Keywords: regulation, censorship, social status, actors, London theatre, provincial theatre, melodrama, Gothic drama, legitimate theatre, illegitimate theatre

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