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Epilogue If there is an underlying premise that has guided the ideas of this book, it is that articulated by Victor Turner in the course of elucidating his theory of the relationship between performance and society: For me, the anthropology of performance is an essential part of the anthropology of experience. In a sense, every type of cultural performance ... is explanation and explication of life itself. ... [T]hrough the performance process ... what is normally sealed up, inaccessible to everyday observation and reasoning, in the depth of sociocultural life, is drawn forth. 1 Turner understands performance as an outlet for social concerns in which various crises and anxieties are not only accessed and reflected but also interpreted and assigned meaning. He places drama not only at the center of human experience, but also at the center of processes for making sense out of that experience. For Turner, drama is no less than "our native way of manifesting ourselves to ourselves and, of declaring where power and meaning lie" (78). The theater is thus a site of cultural ferment, a place where new ways of seeing can be tested and new ways of locating value can be elaborated and explored. Throughout this study, I have sought to illustrate the ways in which the drama of the eighteenth century can be read not only as text but also as sociocultural phenomenon. I have attempted to delineate the complex dialectical negotiations not only between form and content but also between form and society. I have tried to demonstrate, moreover, that while each genre offers a particular cultural logic with which to engage particular social issues and categories of identity, form itself is not intransigent but rather transformed and rearticulated in relation to the cultural work it is asked to perform. We can look to the theater of the eighteenth century both for the traces it bears ofa performative past and for the intimations it offers for a performative future. Through a study that offers a fixed window into this period, moreover, we can discern how eighteenthcentury English society represented itself to itself and how theater mediated the oscillations between continuity and change in the self-conception of that society. I have turned in the final chapter of this study to sentimental comedy because it performs each of these temporal positions simultaneously. As the only dramatic genre in this study that could be said to have been "bred" in the eighteenth century, sentimental comedy bears the traces of the generic tradition from which it evolved and which, to some extent, it still resembles, even as it points toward a new standard of normativity in the dramatic meanings it produces and naturalizes. More immediately, it provides us with a case in point to illustrate the ways in which eighteenth-century society coped with the concerns and anxieties that were raised by the emergence of a burgeoning commercial culture in which new forms of wealth, property, and social mobility had undermined traditional notions ofvalue. Here we find a new political economy aestheticized and draped under an affective canopy that serves as both justification and rationalization for a new dominant class. While the other genres discussed in this study had to be adapted to address these new conditions, in sentimental comedy we find a dramatic genre that was created precisely to serve the interests of the new merchant, trading, and middling classes. Hence, like its counterparts in periodicals such as The Spectator, we find sentimental comedy actively engaged in the process of constructing a new ideology, an ideology, that would speak for the moral probity; virtue, stability, and sincerity of the new bourgeois classes. Nevertheless, that posture of "stability" and "sincerity" could hardly have been sustained or naturalized amid the disorderly conditions of the eighteenthcentury playhouse in which the illusory and disciplinary operations of a "fourth wall" had yet to be established and audiences and critics alike thus felt free to intervene in the presentation of theatrical performances. Such a naturalization process had to wait on a series of playhouse reforms and structural alterations that could institute and enforce a space of separation-both physical and psychical -between the audience and the stage. These innovations began in the second half of the eighteenth century when Garrick first attempted to remove theatergoers from their perch on the forestage and continued into the nineteenth century with the gradual withdrawal of the action behind the proscenium and into the recesses of an increasingly deep pictorial stage. By the end of the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812201949
Related ISBN
9780812236392
MARC Record
OCLC
606607593
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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