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The Lure of the Other: Sheridan, Identity and Performance in Kingston and Calcutta

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How did the American War affect ideas of nationality, identity, and belonging for the widely dispersed and varied British subjects? This article addresses this question through an examination of the performances of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comic opera The Duenna (1775) in Kingston, Jamaica, and his comedy The School for Scandal (1777) in Calcutta, Bengal. In each of these sites, theatrical performances enabled residents to embrace both the love of alterity and the longing for home that were each endemic to colonial life. Yet the comic figures of Jewish characters in each play suggested that Britishness and otherness were not far removed from each other, as theatrical performance, almost despite itself, began to sketch in more similarities than differences dividing us from them. In a moment when metropolitan anxieties about empire and colonial engagements with otherness had become entangled with practices and peoples that seemed to put British identity at risk, Sheridan's two comedies hint that empire could make everyone an "other," a "them." Sheridan then attempted to diffuse that insight in his plays, inviting the audience to laugh at itself as it engaged in the pleasures, and pains, of real and imagined identifications.

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... The vast majority of plays during the period premiered in London; but they had rich lives as they circulated outside of the London theaters. In tracing performances of R. B. Sheridan's WESSEL -5 of 13 plays in Jamaica and India, for instance, Kathleen Wilson (2015) argues that "performance and the 'repertoire' each powerfully enact embodied memories that are carried with bodies, in all their orality, gesture, and movement -in ways that allow us to glimpse the changing 'choreographies of meaning' attached to plays as they moved across foreign, provincial or otherwise peripheral space" (p. 511). ...
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