Sharon Marcus

Victorian Studies, Spring 2012


For these reasons, I come neither to praise Victorian plays nor to disinter them. This is not a manifesto for reading Victorian drama as literature; instead, it is a manifest, a list of reasons to take an interest in Victorian theater as performance, and of ways to study it that go beyond reading texts. Treated as literary texts, Victorian plays will neither instruct nor delight the English department professors and students who constitute the majority of those attending NAVSA and reading Victorian Studies. Reading plays is literally the last thing we should do to understand expressive cultural forms that achieved more on the stage than on the page (Booth, “Social” 8; Davies 269) in an era when, as actor-manager Henry Irving put it, theater was bigger than the playwright: “plays are made for the theatre and not the theatre for plays” (qtd. in Vardac 89). Weak authors made for bad literature but good theater, and some of the best methods for studying Victorian performance culture accordingly downplay the dramatic text.

View the paper here: Victorian Theatrics: Response