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Entertaining Crisis in the Atlantic Imperium, 1770–1790

, 440 pages

18 halftones

April 2011


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Entertaining Crisis in the Atlantic Imperium, 1770–1790

Honorable Mention, 2012 Joe A. Callaway Prize in Drama and Theater

First Place, Large Not-for-Profit Publisher, Typographic Cover, 2011 Washington Book Publishers Design and Effectiveness Awards

Less than twenty years after asserting global dominance in the Seven Years' War, Britain suffered a devastating defeat when it lost the American colonies. Daniel O'Quinn explores how the theaters and the newspapers worked in concert to mediate the events of the American war for British audiences and how these convergent media attempted to articulate a post-American future for British imperial society.

Building on the methodological innovations of his 2005 publication Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800, O’Quinn demonstrates how the reconstitution of British imperial subjectivities involved an almost nightly engagement with a rich entertainment culture that necessarily incorporated information circulated in the daily press. Each chapter investigates different moments in the American crisis through the analysis of scenes of social and theatrical performance and through careful readings of works by figures such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Cowper, Hannah More, Arthur Murphy, Hannah Cowley, George Colman, and Georg Friedrich Handel.

Through a close engagement with this diverse entertainment archive, O'Quinn traces the hollowing out of elite British masculinity during the 1770s and examines the resulting strategies for reconfiguring ideas of gender, sexuality, and sociability that would stabilize national and imperial relations in the 1780s. Together, O'Quinn's two books offer a dramatic account of the global shifts in British imperial culture that will be of interest to scholars in theater and performance studies, eighteenth-century studies, Romanticism, and trans-Atlantic studies.

Daniel O'Quinn is a professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph, Ontario, and author of Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770–1800, also published by Johns Hopkins. He is also coeditor of the Cambridge Companion to British Theater, 1730–1830 and editor of Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan.

"Danny O’Quinn, who has written brilliantly on the performative dialogues between London and British-ruled India during the Hastings trial, here takes on the subtle shifts of national mood as Britain reacted to the American war of independence. In this masterful account, O’Quinn relates the coextensive media of newspapers and performance (theatre and music) to demonstrate key incidents in the chastened nation’s rearticulation of British liberty, subjunctively projected onto a future conditioned by divine will. Never before has entertainment been so explicitly demonstrated as central to the conception of sovereignty, the practices of empire and the public life, and the defining values of British subjectivity."

" Entertaining Crisis is cultural history as it should be done, a meticulously researched account of how the British mediated and shaped the news from America in the 1770s and 1780s through theatre and related forms of public performance. It is a major achievement which not only reinforces the centrality of theatre in eighteenth-century life but also advances a genuinely interdisciplinary eighteenth-century and Romantic studies."

"The result of reading such an intense and lengthy study is a feeling of great satisfaction."

"Deserves a prominent place among recent publications by literary scholars... investigative, interpretative, and integrative. With Daniel O'Quinn, it is also intrepid."

"This is an erudite and entertaining book, and a brief review like this one cannot really do justice to the complexity of O'Quinn's analysis or to the sheer number and variety of texts, events, and artifacts that are examined in the course of his discussion.This is a book that will requard and enlighten any patient reader with an interest in cultural studies and the history of the British empire."

"In this remarkably original and detailed study... O'Quinn's authoritative synthesis of theatricality and audience response gives us a deep and refreshing understanding of how a culture constitutes itself through creative expression and thoughtful mediation, and ultimately, how it knows that despite defeat, the show must still go on."

" Entertaining Crisis in the Atlantic Imperium is an engaging and erudite study of British reception of the American Revolutionary War through the combined media force of theatre and newspapers during the late eighteenth century... Ultimately, this book presents a satisfying chronological narrative that contributes to greater understanding of how media reception of social performances shaped British subjectivity during and after the American Revolution."

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