Article Title

The Scriblerian Stage and Page: Three Hours After Marriage, Pope’s “Minor” Poems, and the Problem of Genre-History


Literary history usually depicts the eighteenth century as witnessing the decline of the theatre and the rise of print-culture. In the year 1717, the London booktrade was in the midst of becoming democratized, Pope and Swift were lampooning and critiquing the mass-market press, and Pope published his Works in an opulently-designed edition, a magisterial monument to the authority, and cultural capital, of print. Yet 1717 was also the year that Pope collaborated with John Gay and John Arbuthnot on the play Three Hours After Marriage, which, this essay argues, systematically interrogates the values and epistemologies inherent in the ascendant print-culture, and directly juxtaposes print-based paradigms (in which meaning is accessed through the careful perusal of surfaces) with those of theatricality (in which meaning is performatively produced), gesturing instead toward a kind of hybrid art-form, combining the strengths of both genres. Reading Three Hours alongside three strikingly “oral” and even “performative” poems written by Pope in the same year (but not, quite pointedly, included in his Works), this essay argues that the early eighteenth century may not have regarded page and stage as mutually exclusive, but rather as mutually-enriching; when joined, each mode could work to complicate the intellectual assumptions and cultural practices to which the other adhered, thus imagining a literature that reunited mind and body, perusal and performativity.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.