Date of Award

1992

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Josephine A. Roberts

Abstract

Staging works unaccepted by and unacceptable to the establishment, Henry Fielding, Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Charke, and company produced a series of protest dramas at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket between 1730 and 1737. The playwrights deliberately ruptured theatric traditions and boldly presented plays challenging not only the mainstream theatre, but the current social system. Negating the age-old doctrine that tragedy properly concerns the great man, and comedy reviles the low-born, the playwrights at the Little Theatre in both their tragedies and comedies enlarged the province of the drama to include the ordinary human with real problems. By this means, they displaced the aristocratic concept of theatre based on class distinctions and brought in its place a realistic appraisal of the systematic exclusion by class and gender. Although critics have singled out Fielding as a precipitator of the Licensing Act, they have dwelled on his dramas as political commentary and have ignored him as part of a protest movement. He, along with Haywood and the others, go to extremes to prove that "social" and "moral" are unfortunately identical terms. While their characters vary considerably in makeup and in life experiences, one element is fundamental to them all: attempts to satisfy completely their individual needs and goals lead to complete estrangement from the social order with its definition of Reason. Outcast and marginalized themselves by reasons of poverty, madness, or sexuality, Fielding, Haywood, Charke, and the other playwrights employed the drama to decry the social system that sought to exclude them. They became the voices of unreason which dominated the stage at the Little Theatre for seven years, and their plays mirrored closely the reality of the streets. This group played a part in precipitating the closure of the theatre, for the hierarchy was shaken but not destroyed yet. As the advent of the Romantic age elevating the private and the ordinary affirms, however, the social system which the Little Theatre playwrights dramatized and protested had received a mortal blow.

Pages

595

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