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In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, historical subjects became some of the most popular topics for stage dramas of all kinds on both sides of the Atlantic. This collection of essays examines a number of extraordinary theatrical works in order to cast light on their role in shaping a popular interpretation of historical events. 

The medium of drama ensured that the telling of these histories – the French Revolution and the American War of Independence, for example, or the travels of Captain Cook and Christopher Columbus – were brought to life through words, music and spectacle. The scale of the productions was often ambitious: a water tank with model floating ships was deployed at Sadler’s Wells for the staging of the Siege of Gibraltar, and another production on the same theme used live cannons which set fire to the vessels in each performance. 

This illustrated volume, researched and written by experts in the field, explores contemporary theatrical documents (playbills, set designs, musical scores) and images (paintings, prints and illustrations) in seeking to explain what counted as history and historical truth for the writers, performers and audiences of these plays. In doing so it debates the peculiar contradictions of staging history and re-examines some spectacular box office hits. 

Michael Burden is Professor in Opera Studies at Oxford University, Fellow in Music at New College, and Chair, Faculty of Music Board. Wendy Heller is Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at Princeton University. Jonathan Hicks is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Music Department at Kings College London. Ellen Lockhart is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

  • Paperback with flaps
  • 224 pages, 210 x 210 mm
  • 74 colour illustrations
  • ISBN: 9781851244560
  • Publication October 2016

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