Fish, Firemen, and Prize Fighters: The Transformation of the Iliad and Aeneid on the London Burlesque Stage
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Epic Performances from the Middle Ages into the Twenty-First Century
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Burlesque drama—arguably the most widespread form of theatrical entertainment in nineteenth-century Britain—brought the Iliad and Aeneid to a wider range of spectators than those who traditionally encountered ancient literature and mythology at school. These entertainments both exploited contemporary performance culture and enacted the tensions between their composite ancient and modern sources. This chapter focuses on four successful examples of epic repackaged for the London stage, by renowned playwrights at leading theatres, who particularly revelled in negotiating the transformation of classical epic into popular drama: Thomas Dibdin’s Melodrama Mad! or, The Siege of Troy (1819, Surrey Theatre), Charles Selby’s Judgment of Paris; or, The Pas de Pippins (1856, Adelphi), Francis Cowley Burnand’s Dido (1860, St James’s), and his Paris, or Vive Lemprière! (1866, Strand). Analysis of these burlesques reveals deliberate anachronistic juxtapositions which turned the epic performances into complex games of identifying—or overlooking—their varied references.