Books by Jean Marsden
Theatres of Feeling: Affect, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century Stage (Cambridge University Press, 2019)
Theatre and theatregoing was central to the cultural life of later eighteenth-century Britain. In this engaging work, Jean I. Marsden explores the playhouse as a source of emotion during a period when the ability to feel demonstrated moral worth. Using first-hand accounts, reviews, and illustrations to complement the drama of the era, Marsden examines why both critics and audiences elevated the theatre above the pulpit and how they experienced the plays and performances that they witnessed. Tears and even fainting fits were a common reaction to powerful productions, and playwrights sought to harness this emotion. The book explores this intersection of text, performance, and affect in a series of case studies of plays exploring British liberty, empire and the evils of antisemitism. With a focus on emotional response, Theatres of Feeling delivers a new approach to dramatic literature and performance, one that moves beyond more limited studies of text or performance.
Fatal Desire: Women, Sexuality, and the English Stage, 1660-1720 (Cornell University Press, 2006)
Informed by film theory and a broad historical approach, Fatal Desire examines the theatrical representation of women in England, from the Restoration to the early eighteenth century—a period when for the first time female actors could perform in public. Jean I. Marsden maintains that the feminization of serious drama during this period is tied to the cultural function of theater. Women served as symbols of both domestic and imperial propriety, and so Marsden links the representation of women on the stage to the social context in which the plays appeared and to the moral and often political lessons they offered the audience. The witty heroines of comedies were usually absorbed into the social fabric by marrying similarly lighthearted gentlemen, but the heroines of tragedy suffered for their sins, real or perceived. That suffering served the dual purpose of titillating and educating the theater audience. Marsden discusses such plays as William Wycherley’s Plain Dealer (1676), John Vanbrugh’s Provoked Wife (1697), Thomas Otway’s Orphan (1680), Thomas Southerne’s Fatal Marriage (1694), and William Congreve’s Mourning Bride (1697). The author also addresses tragedies written by three female playwrights, Mary Pix, Catharine Trotter, and Delarivier Manley, and sketches developments in tragedy during the period.
The Re-Imagined Text: Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory (University Press of Kentucky, 1995)
Shakespeare’s plays were not always the inviolable texts they are almost universally considered to be today. The Restoration and eighteenth century committed what many critics view as one of the most subversive acts in literary history—the rewriting and restructuring of Shakespeare’s plays.
Many of us are familiar with Nahum Tate’s “audacious” adaptation of King Lear with its resoundingly happy ending, but Tate was only one of a score of playwrights who adapted Shakespeare’s plays. Between 1660 and 1777, more than fifty adaptations appeared in print and on the stage, works in which playwrights augmented, substantially cut, or completely rewrote the original plays. The plays were staged with new characters, new scenes, new endings, and, underlying all this novelty, new words.
Why did this happen? And why, in the later eighteenth century, did it stop? These questions have serious implications regarding both the aesthetics of the literary text and its treatment, for the adaptations manifest the period’s perceptions of Shakespeare. As such, they demonstrate an important evolution in the definition of poetic language, and in the idea of what constitutes a literary work.
In The Re-Imagined Text, Jean I. Marsden examines both the adaptations and the network of literary theory that surrounds them, thereby exploring the problems of textual sanctity and of the author’s relationship to the text.
The Appropriation of Shakespeare: Post-Renaissance Reconstructions of the Works and the Myth (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991) (St. Martins, 1992)
This is an examination of the way in which Shakespeare’s plays have influenced, and been influenced by, the various ages through which they have passed. It examines the poet and dramatist as a cultural phenomenon about which many myths have grown.