By Jim Davis. Full essay available in print edition and online at Project MUSE
The graphic representation of English theatre spectators in the long nineteenth century raises interesting questions around what they looked at and how they were looked at themselves. Drawing on Maaike Bleeker’s notion of “visuality” and Ronald Paulson’s notion of spectators as “intermediate states of being,” as well as on the subjectivity and tendency towards caricature of artists such as Thomas Rowlandson, this essay situates visual depictions of spectators within a context of both visceral and performed responses, while also recognising the fragmented and temporally limited nature of such depictions. These depictions intersect with an analysis of how Sarah Siddons, the most famous actress of her day, was also represented. Visual representation of theatrical spectators often encompass both a critique and an awareness of the complex nature of social and cultural interactions between spectators, whether engaging with the performance on stage or with each other. While attention has been paid regularly to written accounts of spectators in this period, there has been considerably less focus on the analysis of visual evidence and the moments in time that such evidence encapsulates. This essay makes the case for the significance of such evidence in exploring a doubled relationship, those of both the reactive and interactive nature of nineteenth-century theatrical spectatorship.