Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Dr. John Reed


The work of James Robinson Planché, prominent in English theater from 1818 to 1856 and closely associated with Eliza Vestris, Charles James Mathews, and J. B. Buckstone, has been all but neglected by scholars. However, examining his career yields a wealth of insight into the social, theatrical, and literary atmosphere of Planché's time as well as into his particular creative processes. In particular, four classifications of his plays merit attention: melodramas, fairy extravaganzas, classical burlesques, and revues. His work has been overlooked largely because the social conditions they reflected are only accessible along very broad lines for many readers. In the dissertation, particular attention is given to the contexts of the pieces, for instance the theatrical depiction of Turks both during the Greek Revolution and the Crimean War. American slavery, the Railway Bubble of the 1840s, and the revolutions of 1848 are typical of other major concerns upon which the plays commented. Beyond politics, current events (including scientific and technological advances, trends in entertainment, and even health fads and advertising), were often lampooned in Planché's work. Typical topical references are identified, especially those featured in many different pieces, such as a rash of reputed sea serpent sightings during the 1830s and 1840s. Also of importance is Planché's involvement with what Martin Meisel calls "the pictorial theater," in which visual elements of costuming and scenery came to be of paramount importance to the audience and critics. Along with pictorialism, other demands placed upon writers, actors, musicians, and theatrical managers by the public tastes of the time form the basis for much discussion. Besides the texts of plays, correspondence, and reminiscences by Planché and some of his associates, sources of information include theatrical portraits and toy theater sheets, contemporary theatrical reviews, the published diaries and correspondence of Charles Dickens, William Charles Macready and Queen Victoria, and scholarly texts illuminating the history, society, and art of the period.