Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In recent years, we have come to better understand how nineteenth-century burlesques critiqued and lampooned the respectable humbuggery of patent theater productions and middle-class culture. Their carnivalesque spectacle and low humor turned topsy-turvy what was falsely revered or pretentious in English society. This study, however, explores the extent to which some burlesques responded conservatively to social and legislative change, which supposedly weakened established hierarchies constituting English culture and society. My chapters examine how two burlesques of Shakespeare’s Othello—Charles M. Westmacott’s Othello, the Moor of Fleet Street (1833) and Maurice M. M. G. Dowling’s Othello Travestie (1834)—contributed to discourse surrounding debate concerning the 1832 Reform Act and the 1833 Slave Emancipation Act. These burlesques ultimately reject the transformative potential bound up in such legislation, and their mechanism of critique is a punitive compounding of low social standing with blackness, with the implied inferiority of each descriptor inflecting and intensifying the other. Finally, I suggest this link helps explain why many burlesques, and specifically ones depicting black characters, originated in and remained popular at London’s West-End minor theaters but not others, in that their demeaning coupling of blackness with low social standing limited their appeal to more socially varied audiences at other metropolitan theaters.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Weltman, Sharon Aronofsky