Skip to content

Response to Review no. 576

The subject of the role of melodrama—which the reviewer somewhat misunderstands—is treated at some length in my monograph study, The Politics of Romantic Theatricality, 1787-1832: The Road to the Stage (Basingstoke, 2007). In short, because of the regulatory environment for writing drama in London, burletta—along with pantomime—were by the far the dominant genres for new drama. Elaine Hadfield, cited in the review, misunderstands this issue. The legal judgement against the Royal Coburg in 1821, which interdicted their attempts to mount spoken drama reinforced the necessity for non-patent playhouses to continue to perform drama set to music. Crucially, as far as the Lord Chamberlain’s Examiner of Plays was concerned, this meant song being visibly present in the licensing texts since this served to define the piece’s explicit musical content (of course, neither music nor mime were subject to licensing by the Examiner). Burlettas could certainly be melodramatic (or even comic, or tragic) but they first and foremost had to be burlettas. Colman, in particular, returned plays to playhouses unlicensed if they contained insufficient songs. In other words, legality centred on the quality of the vocalization of the human voice. Within this regulatory framework, melodrama failed to signify. These basic assumptions, that is, about censorship, the role of burletta etc, together with much more about Georgian drama’s encounter with the representation of race, are studied in my Harlequin Empire: Race, Ethnicity and the Drama of the Popular Enlightenment(London, 2007).