Of Ships and Spectacles: Maritime Identity and the Politics of Authenticity in Regency London

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Abstract

This article considers three case studies – the first aqua-drama at Sadler's Wells in 1804, the naumachia in Hyde Park of 1814, and the launching of HMS Nelson at Woolwich, also in 1814 – in order to discuss maritime spectacle in Regency London. I identify an essentially political distinction between the representation of ships and the role of sailors, linked to wider questions of authenticity as understood by contemporary London audiences. I argue that the Thames riverscape itself contributed to Londoners' self-identification as nautically literate connoisseurs, unlikely to acclaim spectacles they perceived to be inauthentic. By this reading, the maritime spectacles of early nineteenth-century London constitute a misstep in a longer and more successful history of nautical theatre and melodrama, that remained fundamentally entangled with questions of democratic representation, the real versus the represented, and London's maritime identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-160
Number of pages25
JournalNineteenth Century Theatre and Film
Volume46
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

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