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Tragedy Walks the Streets

The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama

Matthew S. Buckley

Publication Year: 2006

Tragedy Walks the Streets challenges the conventional understanding that the evolution of European drama effectively came to a halt during France's Revolutionary era. In this interdisciplinary history on the emergence of modern drama in European culture, Matthew S. Buckley contends that the political theatricality of the Revolution tested and forced the evolution of dramatic forms, supplanting the theater itself as the primary stage of formal development. Drawing on a wide range of texts and images, he demonstrates how the social and political enlistment of dramatic theatricality inflected rising social and political tensions in pre-Revolutionary France, shaped French Revolutionary political culture, conditioned British political and cultural responses to the Revolution, and served as the impetus for Büchner’s radical formal innovations of the 1830s. Setting aside traditional boundaries of literary scholarship, Buckley pursues instead a history of dramatic form that encompasses the full range of dramatic activity in the changing cultural life of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, including art, architecture, journalism, political performance, and social behavior. Surveying this expanded field of inquiry, Buckley weaves together a coherent formal genealogy of the drama during this period and offers a new, more continuous generic history of modern drama in its first and most turbulent phase of development.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. 1-10

The aim of this book is to explore the role of the French Revolution in the history of drama. Specifically, it is an attempt to understand the Revolution’s relationship to the formal development of modern drama between 1780 and1840. Within literary history, that development has long appeared to be radically, even fundamentally discontinuous—less a coherent process of change than a...

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1. The Theater of the Revolution

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pp. 11-33

The political performances of the French Revolution did not take place only in Paris, but Paris was their central stage. The French capital was also the primary locale in which the language and conventions of Revolutionary theatricality—those practices of performance and of spectatorship that would drive much of the Revolution’s action—were developed. That development did not...

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2. The Drama of the Revolution

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pp. 34-68

Despite a widespread desire for reform, French theatrical drama in the period immediately preceding the Revolution remained tightly constrained by institutional regulation: only three theaters—the Opéra, the Comédie Française, and the Théâtre des Italiens—enjoyed official support, and to them were granted ex-...

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3. The Revolution and British Theatrical Politics

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pp. 69-95

In consequence of the Revolutionary explosion of the international news press, the events and actions of the French Revolution were experienced by outside observers with a sensible force and a temporal immediacy without precedent. Nowhere was this phenomenon more intense than in Britain, and particularly in London, where an already well-established news press was rapidly...

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4. The Fall of Robespierre and the Tragic Imagination

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pp. 96-119

As a critical gesture, this chapter can be understood as an effort to close a current discontinuity between romantic studies of the impact of the French Revolution on British tragedy and eighteenth-century scholars’ work on the representation of the Revolution in print. There is good reason for staging an encounter between these two areas of inquiry. Through the work of George...

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5. Reviving the Revolution: Dantons Tod

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pp. 120-148

Georg Büchner’s plays are widely understood to mark the origins of modern drama, and it is to modernism that critics have tended to turn for an interpretive framework in which to situate his work. Many of the most radical and influential figures and movements of the modern age have been enlisted in this process, from Marx, Nietzsche, Brecht, and Camus to dadaism, naturalism, and...

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pp. 149-152

In the foregoing pages I have argued that the transition from traditional to modern drama is best understood not as an aggregate of disconnected ruptures—of isolated and irreconcilable formal experiments gathered about the French Revolution’s epistemological void—but as a continuous and extended crisis, worked out not only in literature and the theater but also in political and social performance, of the drama’s authority as a narrative form. ...


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pp. 153-183


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pp. 185-191

E-ISBN-13: 9780801892394
E-ISBN-10: 0801892392
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801884344
Print-ISBN-10: 0801884349

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 9 halftones, 2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 794701462
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tragedy Walks the Streets

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Subject Headings

  • France -- History -- Revolution, 1789-1799 -- Literature and the revolution.
  • European drama -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • European drama -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
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