Intermedial Forms: Painting, Sculpture & Theatre,
Assoc. Prof. Claudine van Hensbergen
And this unhappy Monument is all
Of the whole World, that I my own can call.
(Sir Charles Sedley, Antony and Cleopatra, 1677)
Restoration theatre is still widely taught and conceived of as an age of comedy. Yet this obscures the dominant role of tragedy in the earlier decades of the Restoration, a genre which attracted the attention of leading playwrights and their audiences, and which underwent crucial developments that would shape the stage for the century to come. The shifting taste from heroic drama to blank verse, the adaptation of Tudor and Caroline plays, translations of French works, and the development of new forms such as she-tragedy, were key catalysts in forging the content and tastes of the nascent golden age of eighteenth-century theatre.
My lecture explores the crucial role of tragedy as a dramatic form used to engage with new ideas about the nation’s relationship to monument during the years of the Restoration. Understanding drama both as a physical embodiment of a monument (the raising, or staging, of a play) and as work that interrogated the idea of monument itself, I will explore the varied ways in which tragedy sought to engage with a wider discourse of monument which had taken on a special importance in the age. The experiences of the English Civil Wars had led to a newfound preoccupation with ideas of monument, fuelled by a need to rewrite history and shape posterity. This is seen most clearly through the raising of numerous public statues in London and beyond. Yet these more visible sculptural monuments were part of a wider cultural discourse that included the theatre.
Taking as my focus classical tragedies of the period, I will explore how dramatists engaged with the classical past of the Ancient world to draw on, and adapt, concepts of monument. The political dimensions of these plays have been explored by scholars most recently in relation to the plots and crises of the age, and the birth of party politics, but less attention has been given to the ways in which drama played into a wider, national discourse of monument that reconceptualised the very role of the Arts in the lives of the English people.
You can watch the recording of the plenary lecture here.
Claudine van Hensbergen is Associate Professor in Eighteenth-Century English Literature at Northumbria University. She works on British literary and visual culture of the 1660s to the 1730s and has published widely on drama, poetry, satire, secret history, sculpture and women's writing. Claudine is volume editor (Vol. 3) of The Plays and Poetry of Nicholas Rowe(2017) and has co-edited journal special issues on Queen Anne and British culture (JECS, 2014) and the eighteenth-century letter (Eighteenth-Century Life, 2011). Claudine is currently an AHRC Leadership Fellow on the project ‘Learning through the Art Gallery: Art, Literature & Disciplinarity’ and preparing a monograph, The Making of Monument in Britain, 1660-1736.