The theatre in the nineteenth century was a source of entertainment similar in popularity to today's film culture, but critics, of both that age and today, often look down on nineteenth-century theatre as lacking in aesthetic merit. Just as many of the films now being produced in Hollywood are adapted from popular or classic literature, many theatrical productions in the early 1800s were based on popular literary works, and it is in that practice of adaptation that value in nineteenth-century theatre can be discerned. The abundance of theatrical adaptations during the nineteenth century expanded the arena in which the public could experience and interact with the great popular literature produced during the period. Additionally, theatrical adaptations afforded audiences the opportunity of considering how the medium of theatre functions artistically, since a story on stage is communicated differently than a story in print. Studying theatrical work as adaptation – especially when we focus on the manner in which the subject is communicated rather than on alterations in the subject itself – reminds us that the theatrical medium is not constituted of the same formal elements as literature and should not be judged according to the same criteria. The stage of the early nineteenth century, perhaps more than in any other age, was defined by its appeal to the sense of sight rather than by attempts to be literary by using literary devices on the stage. Instead, theatre of this age found ways of communicating the subject material of popular literature in an entirely new "language" system, with varying degrees of success. Considering adaptation as a process of translation from one aesthetic language to another reveals that some creative minds were more attuned to the unique aesthetic capabilities of each medium than others. Two case studies of theatrical adaptations produced in nineteenth-century England apply this model of adaptation while considering the unique stage conventions, expectations, and culture of the day. These analyses reveal differing degrees of sensitivity to the mode of communication in literature and theatre.



College and Department

Humanities; Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature



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nineteenth-century, theatre, adaptation, literature, Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, film, The Lady of the Lake, A Christmas Carol