England's Enlightenment Theater: Sentiment, Nation, Empire


ACLS Fellowship Program




This study analyzes the many neglected plays performed in London in the period from 1700 to 1760, that argue for religious toleration, attack imperial expansion, and celebrate “low” forms of indigenous culture and “natural genius.” Plays circulating these enlightened arguments were often written by freemasons and appealed to audiences in the emergent forms of pathetic tragedy and sentimental comedy. They frequently drew on interlocution between American indigenes and Arabic and Ottoman scholarship to reproduce and circulate “energumen” or discourse of the other. Many of these texts remained in the Georgian repertory and their intercultural representations of tolerance and resistance shaped a popular theatrical Enlightenment that remains largely invisible.