Date of Award

1-1-2011

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Department

English Language and Literatures

Sub-Department

English

First Advisor

Tony Jarrells

Abstract

This dissertation uses the plays of George Colman the Younger to trace out a system that arose in the theater of the early Romantic period, a textual and cultural process that, like Romanticism, reflected, reacted to and productively affected the social, economic and political changes occurring in Britain at the end of the 18th century. The over-arching genre of popular theater functioned as an alternate reaction to and negotiation of aspects of encroaching modernity such as the emergences of capitalism and imperialism. The alternate negotiation inspected in this project differs from Romanticism in that it privileges a set of long-marginalized investments such as derivation, formula and collaboration; it also consistently posits quick, easy and complete solutions to difficult problems. But rather than dismissing such investments as cheap and vulgar, I investigate the ways they reflected and drove the emerging Romantic-period identity, which synthesized the concerns of capitalism and imperialism at the end of the 18th century. A large part of tracing this response involves inspecting the prominent and productive developments of often-dismissed practices such as adaptation (which I argue developed in its current form in the early Romantic period), literary pastiche and genre-mixing, and the happy ending. This dissertation argues that the textual processes that emerged from the early Romantic-period theater composed a system of moderate conservative containment that helped to define and develop an alternate spirit of the age and determine public attitudes. I investigate the aesthetic system and social implications of a series of culturally central but under-read texts in order to develop a more well-rounded understanding of this vital cultural moment. The process out of which these texts sprang acted as a major driver of what I call the alternate spirit of the age.

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