Selling Celebrity: Actors' Portraits in Bell's Shakespeare and Bell's British Theatre
Abstract

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, John Bell commissioned hundreds of actor portraits in dramatic roles, which were published as book illustrations in the series Bell's Shakespeare and Bell's British Theatre. These portraits contributed significantly to the emergent culture of theatrical celebrity. While paintings and engraved prints of actors mostly peddled a mode of celebrity that was sustained by audience applause within the theater walls, Bell's illustrations created a parallel visibility for the performers outside the theater, which was only tenuously and unevenly associated with their stage celebrity. The performers' images circulating through Bell's books realigned the contours of the late eighteenth-century market for theatrical celebrity.


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