Conservative Propaganda in the Shakespearean Gothic of James Boaden

Title: Conservative Propaganda in the Shakespearean Gothic of James Boaden
Authors: Penich, Jacqueline
Date: 2012
Abstract: The plays of James Boaden, an author all too often forgotten in the pages of theatre history, are usually dismissed by scholars as mercenary adaptations of popular Gothic novels for the stage. Boaden’s plays of the 1790s—Fontainville Forest (1794), The Secret Tribunal (1796), The Italian Monk (1797), Cambro-Britons (1798) and Aurelio and Miranda (1799)—were certainly popular successes in their own time, but this should not discount them from serious consideration as aesthetic and ideological objects. In fact, these plays are intelligently wrought, using popular Gothic conventions to further a conservative ideology that was not originally associated with this genre. This fact has gone unrecognized by scholars partly because these plays have not been previously analysed for their dramaturgical structure as adaptations: Boaden borrows conventions from the Gothic, to be sure, but he also borrows dramaturgical techniques from Shakespeare. In so doing, Boaden harnesses both popular appeal and theatrical legitimacy to write Tory propaganda at a time when the stage was a key tool in the ideological war against France and French sympathizers in Britain. Political threats, both domestic and foreign, were of ongoing concern in Britain in the years following the French Revolution. Immediately after 1789, the Gothic was ideologically charged in ways that promoted revolutionary thinking. Boaden’s adaptation of the Gothic form responds to the revolution and the Reign of Terror by replacing the genre’s iconoclasm with a strongly nationalist orientation, drawn, in part, from eighteenth-century Shakespeare reception, itself often strongly nationalist in tone. Boaden’s plays are reactionary in that they comment on the current political situation, using allegory to play on the audience’s emotions. In his first phase, Boaden depicts the demise of a villainous usurper, a scapegoat figure, but his second phase reintegrates the villain into domestic and social harmony. In so doing, Boaden serves as a case study in the shifting attitude towards Britain’s revolutionary sympathizers, the Jacobins, and illustrates the important use of the Gothic mode for conservative purposes. Boaden emerges, in this study, as a figure whose relevance to theatre history in this fraught period requires reassessment.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -