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Reading: Introduction: Victorian Theatricalities


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Introduction: Victorian Theatricalities


Michael Dobson

About Michael
Michael Dobson is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he is chair of the new MA programme in Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance. His publications include The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (with Stanley Wells, 2001, most recently revised 2009), The Making of the National Poet (1992), Performing Shakespeare's Tragedies Today (2006), and England's Elizabeth (with Nicola Watson, 2002). As a theatre historian, he has also contributed to volumes such as The Cambridge Companion to English Restoration Theatre (ed. by Deborah Payne Fiske, 2001), Players, Playwrights, Playhouses (ed. by Michael Cordner and Peter Holland, 2007), and Shakespeare, Memory and Performance (ed. by Peter Holland, 2006), and he was theatre reviewer for the annual Shakespeare Survey from 1999 to 2007. He reviews regularly for the BBC, the London Review of Books and other publications. He has a strong research interest in non-professional performance, and once appeared in an amateur production of Trelawney of the Wells, written by Birkbeck alumnus Arthur Wing Pinero.
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After a barrage of manipulative fan-letters from Sir Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes, Sir Henry Irving, titan of the Victorian stage and the first actor to be knighted, eventually came to stay, briefly, at East Cliff Hall in Bournemouth. A peculiar but attractive compound of Scots baronial castle, Italian villa, French château and Bournemouth seaside bungalow, complete with lavish Art Nouveau interiors and a fountain in the entrance lobby, the house was always designed in and of itself as a dramatic location and was also intended as a magnet for theatrical celebrities. Sir Merton and Annie amply stuffed it with nineteenth-century British paintings, miscellaneous sculptures, and souvenirs of their extensive overseas holidays. Today the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum remains the late Victorian treasure house par excellence, and I can imagine few more vivid short-cuts into the culture and mindset of the late nineteenth-century haute bourgeoisie than an afternoon spent marvelling at the tons of accumulated trophies and bibelots cluttering its rooms or the acres of tastefully-exposed nipples adorning its walls. What the Russell-Cotes Museum also makes clear, even at its gloomiest, is the key place of drama in the Victorian imagination. After Irving's death in 1905, the Russell-Cotes bought many of Irving's personal effects at auction. Adding these to their existing collection of Irving memorabilia and other theatrical paintings and souvenirs, they converted the bedroom in which Irving had stayed into a permanent shrine to his memory. The Henry Irving Room would make an ideal introduction to most of the contents of this volume.
How to Cite: Dobson, M., (2009). Introduction: Victorian Theatricalities. 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. (8). DOI:
Published on 01 Apr 2009.
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