Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Pizarro opened at Drury Lane in late May 1799 and proved to be one of the most popular dramas of the Romantic period. Situating Pizarro in the contexts of theatrical history and the history of British imperialism, this essay argues that Sheridan’s final play functioned more as an incipient melodrama than as a tragedy. Sheridan’s generic experimentation reflected a cultural transformation taking place within London’s theatres: the incorporation of melodramatic theatrics, a reliance upon spectacle, and the utilization of the theatre as a performance space in which political identities, human suffering, and historical events were negotiated and transformed into commodities. As a proto-melodrama, Pizarro staged complex, even oppositional ideological positions and produced a new form of theatricality that could map the conflicting, disparate, and inconsistent relationships that Britain maintained with its colonies.


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pp. 179-195
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