Representative government: The “problem play,” quotidian culture, and the making of social liberalism
English Literature History (ELH)
The Johns Hopkins University Press
1093 - 1120
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Late-Victorian social liberalism held that individuals should tune their thought and behavior to nationally standardized values; theater was central to the theorization, and to the practice, of this socialization of thinking. This theory was given its most precise articulation by Walter Bagehot’s concept of emulation. Theaters spearheaded both Bagehot’s theorization of social emulation and its real-world practice, giving rise to the so-called problem play of social critique and reform. In a new reading of the genre, through its unexpected origins in Dion Boucicault’s The Corsican Brothers (1852) to its mature form in T. W. Robertson’s M.P. (1870) and A.W. Pinero’s Trelawny of the “Wells” (1898), I demonstrate how problem plays created spectacles that invited audiences to emulate their examples, as well as how late-liberal political philosophy made use of this model of theatrical emulation.