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Spheres of Action

Spheres of Action: Speech and Performance in Romantic Culture

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Spheres of Action
    Book Description:

    Spheres of Actionexamines the significant intersections between language and performance during the Romantic period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8918-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Romantic Spheres of Action
    (pp. 3-18)

    ‘Romanticism has come down to us as an imaginative rather than a performative movement, a movement of mind rather than mouth, as it were; and, like other Romantic ideologies, this bias against speech has coloured not only literary history but the study of language.’ So writes Judith Thompson in the essay that opens this volume. Her call to ‘liberate the bastilled tongue of Romanticism so that it may sound again’ is an apt summary of what the essays inSpheres of Actionseek to do. The now-familiar premise that language is a form of action, that people do things when...


    • 1 Re-sounding Romanticism: John Thelwall and the Science and Practice of Elocution
      (pp. 21-45)

      In one of his best-known essays, William Hazlitt defines ‘The Difference between Writing and Speaking’ in the Romantic era. The essay is built around the following anecdote:

      The most dashing orator I ever heard is the flattest writer I ever read. In speaking, he was like a volcano vomiting out lava; in writing, he is like a volcano burnt out. He was the model of a flashy, powerful demagogue [but …] what he delivers over to the compositor is tame, and trite, and tedious […] The thunder-and-lightning mixture of the orator turns out a mere drab-coloured suit in the person...

    • 2 Coleridge the Lecturer, A Disappearing Act
      (pp. 46-72)

      On the afternoon of Friday, 15 January 1808, Coleridge faced London’sbeau mondewho were gathered to hear his first lecture on literature at the Royal Institution. He stood in a semi-circular space behind a wooden desk large enough to hold apparatus for the science lectures that were the Royal Institution’s main agenda. The theatre is the only room in London in which Coleridge lectured that survives.¹ It was naturally lit, but a movable ceiling could be lowered to darken it for scientific demonstrations. Not far from the desk, eleven rows of semicircular benches rose at a steep angle toward...

    • 3 Wordsworth’s Lament
      (pp. 73-99)

      When Coleridge died in July 1834, Wordsworth wrote a consoling letter to his friend’s nephew, Henry Nelson. ‘We are much obliged to you,’ Wordsworth wrote, ‘for entering so far into the particulars of our ever-to-be-lamented Friend’s decease, and we sincerely congratulate you and his dear Daughter upon the calmness of mind and the firm faith in his Redeemer which supported him through his painful bodily and mental trials’ (D. Wordsworth and W. Wordsworth,Letters727). He then related that Hartley Coleridge reacted differently to his father’s death: ‘He was calm but much dejected, expressed strongly his regret that he had...

    • 4 Blasphemy Trials and The Cenci: Parody as Performative
      (pp. 100-123)

      Blasphemy is a speech act that posits a legitimate authority and simultaneously assaults it. When launched against a state-supported religion, blasphemy allegedly weakens the ideological underpinning of the government by ridiculing the justification for its power. While the blasphemy charge had been used in England after the Restoration mainly to persecute religious nonconformists, especially Unitarians, by 1812 the charge had become a favoured legal strategy to be used against radical reformers. Prosecutors held that disrespect for the Christian religion undermined the ability of government to function because its legal institutions depended on belief in established religion to guarantee its oaths...

    • 5 A Race of Devils: Frankenstein, Romanticism, and the Tragedy of Human Origin
      (pp. 124-146)

      Almost two centuries after the nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley wroteFrankenstein, her monster is so firmly entrenched in the popular imagination that the novel’s title is frequently mistaken for the name of the monster himself. The desire to associate the monster with a proper name is natural enough, for by naming him we implicitly accept him as our moral equal. But ‘our’ moral reciprocity with the monster is undermined by the ethical reality depicted by the novel. No one else sees fit to name the monster. Is this why Shelley leaves her monster unnamed? Is his anonymity a condition of his...


    • 6 Telling Lies with Body Language
      (pp. 149-177)

      In the period from David Garrick (1717–79) through Sarah Siddons (1755–1831) and John Philip Kemble (1757–1823), the use and understanding of gesture underwent radical changes that affected conventions in acting. Classical works on gesture discussed ways in which movement of the body, hands, legs, and feet, as well as gait and tilt of the head, display attributes of gender, of age or state of health, of social class and profession. Studies of chironomia had, from Elizabethan times, replicated the same description of arm and hand gestures with the same prescription for their rhetorical use. During the latter...

    • 7 Cross-Dressing and the Performance of Gender in Romantic-Period Comic Plays by Women
      (pp. 178-193)

      It has become a commonplace that incidents of cross-dressing in Romantic-period plays by women anticipate the ‘questioning’ or relativistic arguments about gender in postmodern feminist and queer theories of performativity.¹ There has been less attention, however, to the way the performance of gender during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries helped to change the meanings and functions of cross-dressing. Breeches plays written in the late eighteenth century suggest several ways in which the general idea of ‘gender’ was being figured and codified as a discourse, as performance, and as a normative category. Both contemporaneous commentary about cross-dressed performers and...

    • 8 Fox’s Tears: The Staging of Liquid Politics
      (pp. 194-221)

      On the evening of 6 May 1791, during debate on the Quebec Bill, the two most powerful Whigs in the House of Commons publicly disagreed about the appropriate British response to the French Revolution and brought to a crisis schisms in the party which had been forming from at least 1788, if not before.¹ Having barely recovered from the embarrassment of the Regency crisis, the party had been in a state of anxiety since Edmund Burke’s publication ofReflections on the Revolution in France, but internecine political conflict took on an unexpectedly theatrical form. In response to Burke’s oratorical assault,...

    • 9 Citational Cosmopolitics: Staël, Byron, and the Foreignizing Effect of Cultural Translation
      (pp. 222-247)

      Until recently, little attention has been paid to the importance of Romanticism for contemporary discussions of cosmopolitanism, discussions that too often draw a strict historical and intellectual-historical distinction between Romantic nationalisms and Enlightenment cosmopolitanism.¹ For a number of intellectual historians, the Enlightenment ideal of cosmopolitanism is characterized as a universal humanism transcending regional differences, while Romanticism is cast, rightly or wrongly, as a reactionary endorsement of national particularities, such as the development of a common territory, religion, culture, language, or even racial demographic.² Recent studies, however, have begun to revisit and problematize this unstable historical schema. What this narrative fails...

    • 10 Captain Barclay’s Performance: Decoding Pedestrianism in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain
      (pp. 248-272)

      Between 1 June and 12 July 1809, on a stretch of public road at New-market-heath, Robert Barclay Allardice, Esquire of Ury (also known to the sporting world as Captain Barclay), walked one thousand miles, one each in one thousand consecutive hours. This pedestrian performance, one of the most impressive if idiosyncratic in the heyday of pedestrian athleticism, ensured Barclay’s reputation as one of the greatest footmen of his era. Barclay, who was approaching thirty when he undertook this walk, had since the late 1790s been engaging in match races and solo wagered performances, gradually building his reputation.

      Of Barclay, owner...

  7. Works Cited
    (pp. 273-292)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 293-296)
  9. Index
    (pp. 297-306)