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Striking an attitude: tableaux vivants in the British long nineteenth century

Striking an attitude: tableaux vivants in the British long nineteenth century
Striking an attitude: tableaux vivants in the British long nineteenth century
This thesis examines one instance of the long nineteenth-century’s engagement with the Antique: the medium of entertainment known as tableaux vivants. In tableau vivant performances, men, women and children were arranged into motionless (or nearmotionless) configurations, and presented to audiences in parlour rooms, pleasure gardens, circuses, public houses, exhibition halls, variety theatres and music halls. Many performances derived inspiration from Antique statues or classicising paintings, although some captured elements of distant cultures. All performances collapsed distances in space and time, permitting spectators to view – with arresting immediacy – both human bodies and the ideals or ideas which these bodies represented. Performances worked to consolidate the notion of a correspondence between ancient Greek and Roman societies and modern British society, as critics and impresarios proclaimed tableaux performers to represent vessels through which an impression (or a ‘sense’) of Antiquity was conveyed. Even those tableaux performances which instantiated ‘foreign’ peoples served to underline this correspondence, representing the inverse of the ‘civilised’ ancient societies to which modern British society aspired. For contemporaries, the same tableaux seemed to contain within them the promise of ‘the ideal’ and the threat of viewers’ and performers’ debasement; indeed, it was the latter threat which underpinned social purists’ anti-tableaux campaign towards the end of the nineteenth century. This thesis argues that tableaux vivants ought to be acknowledged as a fundamentally neoclassical phenomenon. Like visits to the British Museum or the Crystal Palace’s Greek and Roman Courts, tableaux vivants offered spectators the opportunity to engage with the classical past. For many working-class men and women, Antiquity was accessible only by virtue of these ‘popular’ exhibitions. As such, the thesis is situated within the field of Reception Studies, and explores responses to – and the broader impact of – a medium of entertainment which has hitherto been overlooked by historians of Classical receptions.
University of Southampton
Stevens, Elena
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Stevens, Elena
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Conlin, Jonathan
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Tumblety, Joan
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Stevens, Elena (2017) Striking an attitude: tableaux vivants in the British long nineteenth century. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 261pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This thesis examines one instance of the long nineteenth-century’s engagement with the Antique: the medium of entertainment known as tableaux vivants. In tableau vivant performances, men, women and children were arranged into motionless (or nearmotionless) configurations, and presented to audiences in parlour rooms, pleasure gardens, circuses, public houses, exhibition halls, variety theatres and music halls. Many performances derived inspiration from Antique statues or classicising paintings, although some captured elements of distant cultures. All performances collapsed distances in space and time, permitting spectators to view – with arresting immediacy – both human bodies and the ideals or ideas which these bodies represented. Performances worked to consolidate the notion of a correspondence between ancient Greek and Roman societies and modern British society, as critics and impresarios proclaimed tableaux performers to represent vessels through which an impression (or a ‘sense’) of Antiquity was conveyed. Even those tableaux performances which instantiated ‘foreign’ peoples served to underline this correspondence, representing the inverse of the ‘civilised’ ancient societies to which modern British society aspired. For contemporaries, the same tableaux seemed to contain within them the promise of ‘the ideal’ and the threat of viewers’ and performers’ debasement; indeed, it was the latter threat which underpinned social purists’ anti-tableaux campaign towards the end of the nineteenth century. This thesis argues that tableaux vivants ought to be acknowledged as a fundamentally neoclassical phenomenon. Like visits to the British Museum or the Crystal Palace’s Greek and Roman Courts, tableaux vivants offered spectators the opportunity to engage with the classical past. For many working-class men and women, Antiquity was accessible only by virtue of these ‘popular’ exhibitions. As such, the thesis is situated within the field of Reception Studies, and explores responses to – and the broader impact of – a medium of entertainment which has hitherto been overlooked by historians of Classical receptions.

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STRIKING AN ATTITUDE: TABLEAUX VIVANTS IN THE BRITISH LONG NINETEENTH CENTURY - Version of Record
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Published date: December 2017

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 419028
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/419028
PURE UUID: 93032b8b-2362-4a43-964c-b11632f38245

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Date deposited: 28 Mar 2018 16:30
Last modified: 13 Mar 2019 18:43

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