The Popular Theater of Samuel Foote and British National Identity


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

For some time now it has been generally recognized that the relative neglect and conventional aesthetic and moral disapproval of the eighteenth-century London theater's most notorious figure, Samuel Foote, must give way to both formal and contextual reevaluations. Much of the impetus behind this general call for reevaluation lies in an appreciation of Foote's extraordinary success and popularity, for in his day he was as well-known and widely discussed as David Garrick. Foote was the author of some thirty comedies and was a highly successful wit, actor, and theater manager.1 To dismiss him for reasons moral (he should not have made fun of people) or aesthetic (he wrote farce; his farce is possibly sentimental; his farce is usually topical; his farce is badly plotted) would appear to miss the point. To dismiss as ill-considered the good (if sometimes outraged) opinion of contemporaries ranging from Samuel Johnson to the large numbers of anonymous and semi-anonymous admirers who patronized his plays at the theater and who read his plays in print seems arrogant. Foote must have been doing something interesting-if only we could work out what it was.

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