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Reviews469 Richard Foulkes. Church and Stage in Victorian England. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. xiv + 263. $59.95. On a recent winter Sunday, I found myself managing my time between a holiday church celebration in the morning, and a one-man stage performance ofCharles Dickens's works in the afternoon. Moving from being a communicant in a congregation to a member of an admiring audience, I was struck by the similarities in the two settings and moods, particularly the somewhat reverential spells cast by the mesmerizing leaders. I was also mulling over my reading of a recent book, Church and Stage in Victorian England, which considers the curious intersection of these two areas. According to Richard Foulkes's insightful and original work, a rapprochement occurred during the reign ofQueen Victoria between the stage and the Church ofEngland, a testament to the connection between the pulpits and the prosceniums ofnineteenthcentury Britain. Chapter 1 provides a compelling background for Foulkes's argument. After citing Jeremy Bentham's oft-quoted comparison of all amusements, including theater, to mere push-pin games, Foulkes points out that when Parliament investigated the patent theaters in the same year as the Reform Bill, more enlightened critics, such as Edward Bulwer Lytton, "subscribed to the need for amusements for all," particularly the poorer classes; he also felt that the state should promote betterentertainments for the working classes (3). Foulkes then turns to the Kemble family, a family he feels embodied the connection between England's theater and church. In fact, one close friend, John Sterling, wrote reviews of Fanny Kemble's performances in the recently launched ArTienaeum (2 January 1828), a journal that defended the Victorian stage: "We are not among those" they editorialized, "who affect to despise the stage," adding that "to hold the drama in contempt is a mistaken affection"(12). At the close of the chapter, Foulkes cites Coleridge's On the Constitution of Church and State (1830), a document in which the "arts were elevated into a virtuous trinity with the church and state" (15). Detailing the early church's opposition to the theater, chapter 2 covers a well-traveled road, including Augustine's turn against the theater later in life. But Foulkes returns quickly to the nineteenth century, reminding us that by this time, the theater had distanced itselffrom the plays of Wycherly, Congreve, and others who had so outraged the Puritan powers ofthe time. In fact, Foulkes records some preachers who by midcentury were even citing scripture to defend the theater, arguing that the "talents displayed in the theaterwere as much God's gift as those professed in other walks of life" (26). Chapter 3 traces the rising respectability of acting in individual families. 470Comparative Drama The two most prominent characters in this instance were William Charles Macready and Charles Kean. After a stint at Rugby, Macready took it as a personal challenge to elevate the status of acting, to make "his enforced profession worthy of him" (37). Indeed, any one who has browsed through Macready's diaries would agree with Foulkes that Macready became the model of a "Victorian paterfamilias" (38). Kean also tried to rescue the nineteenthcenturytheater . Attempting in part to banish the ghost ofhis notorious father's reputation, Kean specifically produced Shakespearean drama as a way to elevate the status ofthe Victorian stage. As Foulkes reports, in 1841, there were some 1,463 actors compared to 14,613 clergymen; by 1901, the number had changed dramatically to about two clergymen for every one actor, a rise of some 70 percent (46). This increase, according to Foulkes, demonstrates an important cultural shift: "The fact that well-to-do young men, some from clerical families, some even considering ordination, were increasingly turning to the stage as a profession, a calling, a vocation even, reflected the theatre's success in elevating its status" (49). From individual change to societal change is the focus ofchapter 4. Even with a revised perception by many, there was still a lack of "organized religious thought which was conducive to a more favourable attitude towards the theatre" (50). Yet, Foulkes claims, this problem was "remedied" from midcentury on by the "main movements" ofthe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 469-472
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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