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  • The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror ed. by Lilla Maria Crisafulli and Fabio Liberto
  • Timothy Ruppert
The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror. Edited by Lilla Maria Crisafulli and Fabio Liberto. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014. Pp. 334. Cloth, 73,00€ / $102.00.

After generations of being neglected by scholars and disparaged by critics, the Romantic theater became a subject for serious consideration in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks in no small part to groundbreaking work from scholars such as Julie A. Carlson, Marjean D. Purinton, and Daniel P. Watkins. Recently, Reeve Parker's Romantic Tragedies: The Dark Employments of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley (2011) has provided a fresh spark. Now, with The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror, Lilla Maria Crisafulli and Fabio Liberto [End Page 162] present a collection of fourteen essays designed to kindle interest in what was the remarkably vibrant theatrical world of the Romantic period. Wisely, Crisafulli, and Liberto position the Romantic theater as a topic of interdisciplinary appeal as well as a focus for narrower (if more familiar) interpretive approaches and so offer meaningful insights to readers intrigued by the era's performers, painters, choreographers, and stage managers, as well as by its poets and dramatists. In this sense, The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror represents an ambitious and edifying contribution to the field.

Comprising fourteen essays divided into four thematic sections (treating contexts, the sister arts, the Gothic, and theory), The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror offers a nicely diversified picture without succumbing to the temptation to render a panoramic depiction of the subject. Because the editors have practiced a judicious selectivity, the volume as a whole serves as a sound beginning for readers seeking a better acquaintance with various aspects of the Romantic theater. Specialists, too, should find the book critically sophisticated and helpfully provocative. That the work accommodates different sorts of readers strikes me as crucial, inasmuch as Romantic drama, unlike its Renaissance or Modernist counterparts, has the slenderest of presences on contemporary stages in commercial and university communities alike. If Jeffrey N. Cox, in "Editing Romantic Drama: Problems of Value, Volume, and Venue," correctly attributes the marginalization of Romantic theater to a longstanding bias against a "hopelessly corrupt" milieu "dominated by selfish star actors, spectacular effects, and animal acts" (p. 27), then a reappraisal's success would necessarily involve just what Crisafulli and Liberto here attempt, namely, to show a general twenty-first-century readership that Romantic theater is relevant, exciting, and, in some instances, performable.

From the outset, the critical pieces in The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror significantly advance the notion that I have just articulated. Part One of the volume opens with Nicoletta Caputo's excellent "Theatrical Periodicals and the Ethics of Theatre in the Romantic Age," in which she discusses "the performative intent" (p. 50) of the day's theatrical reviewers as exemplified by their role in the battle between Drury Lane and Covent Garden over the actor Junius Brutus Booth (p. 45). Because "the press strongly felt it had a civilizing mission" (p. 53), reviewers strove to establish distinctions between so-called legitimate Patent House theaters and illegitimate popular entertainment and so "create an ideal theatre, peopled by ideal actors and ideal spectators" (p. 53)—a pursuit that has had meaningful consequences for Romantic theater's legacy. We find here as well Michael Gamer's "Romantic Drama and the Popular Theatre," a colorful picture of Regency London that presents valuable insights into hippodrama, pantomimes, ticket pricing, play licensing, and even the celebrated Carlo, the Wonder Dog. Carlotta Farese's well-researched commentary on the work and life of August von Kotzebue elucidates his influence on Romantics such as Elizabeth Inchbald, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Jane Austen, whose 1814 [End Page 163] Mansfield Park makes great use of Kotzebue's Das Kind der Liebe, refashioned by Inchbald into the phenomenally popular Lovers' Vows.

The book's especially intriguing second section helps to enrich what we know of Romantic theater's relationship to the visual art, music, and dance of the time, thereby inviting us to see some ways in which Romantic drama—too often misperceived...


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pp. 162-164
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