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Romantic AntiquityRome in the British Imagination, 1789-1832$
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Jonathan Sachs

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195376128

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195376128.001.0001

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What Is the People?

What Is the People?

Rome on the Romantic Stage after Kemble

(p.221) Chapter Six What Is the People?
Romantic Antiquity

Jonathan Sachs (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Framed by questions of popular participation in politics and the problem of public opinion, this chapter considers Roman themes on the London stage after Waterloo and Kemble's retirement. Post‐Waterloo Roman plays show how the theatre functions as a public space for debate on problems of scarcity, conspiracy, revolt, and the use of violence to achieve political ends. Payne's Brutus and Knowles's Caius Gracchus clearly align themselves with Reform politics, while Croly's Catiline uses an episode from Roman republican history to link popular sovereignty to domestic misrule and corrupt imperial governance. All three plays, however, are critical of the Roman populace, which they depict as a mob not a “people,” one incapable of articulating its interests coherently. Given increasing demands for franchise reform, this depiction of the Roman populace demonstrates republican Rome's role shaping British responses to the most contemporary of events.

Keywords:   franchise reform, public opinion, Romantic theatre, reception of Rome, John Howard Payne, James Sheridan Knowles, George Croly, popular politics

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