Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Criticism, Performance, and the Passions in the Eighteenth Century

James Harriman-Smith

Back in the 1700s, the first performance of an actor in the patent theatres would often be under some anonymous title like ‘A Gentleman (who never appear’d on any stage)’. Sometimes, actors even pushed this a bit further, and maintained a kind of pseudo-anonymity in later performances, using titles like ‘the Gentleman who perform’d King Richard’. Both of my examples here are actual notices about David Garrick, and both make use of his newness to promote his work. They are at the beginning of what Leslie Ritchie has shown to be this star’s career-long manipulation of the press. I think of such notices here, as I am myself writing for The Cambridge University Press Blog, 1584 and using my status as a newcomer to promote my work: not only am I a gentleman (who never appeared on any blog), but I am also the gentleman who wrote Criticism, Performance, and the Passions, my first academic book, published by Cambridge early in March 2021.

When Garrick was advertised as having ‘never appear’d on any stage’, the playbill was being rather economical with the truth: we know that he had already acted in Ipswich (under the pseudonym of ‘Mr Lydall’) and stepped in to play Harlequin in London when another actor got sick. Like that playbill, this blog is also lying to you, as I have my own personal blog, where you can find much more about my research, teaching, and publication in general. But there is, of course, a difference in scale between my blog and 1584, and between Garrick’s acting in Ipswich and his London debut. There’s also a difference of scale between publishing a book and publishing a chapter or article, and it is such a difference that above all makes me a ‘first-time author’, as my commissioning editor, Bethany Thomas, eloquently put it.

Until Criticism, Performance, and the Passions appeared, the longest thing I had published was a 10,000-word article on David Garrick’s influence on the French and German reception of Shakespeare. That article had its roots in my thesis, and so – like many first-time academic book authors – did my monograph. Yet while the thesis was as long as my book ended up being (and arguably broader), it did not have the depth or focus of the book. Working out how to create such depth – a sustained, coherent argument that gets to the bottom of a single subject – was the toughest part of my experience as a novice author. In the end, my whole process could be summarized as taking a single chapter of my thesis and turning it into around 90 000 words of argument. I had a lot of help along the way, and, even as I write as a ‘first-time author’, I’m very conscious of all the other authors, friends, and colleagues who got me to this point. Those playbills advertising Garrick elide the people who supported him (like Charles Macklin and Henry Giffard), and I don’t want to do the same thing here.

Indeed, being able to write an acknowledgments section was one of the real new pleasures of publishing a book. I still do, however, have momentary panics about having forgotten someone who should really have been included. One paragraph I did make sure to have, though, thanked all those who helped produce my book: the anonymous peer reviewers, the editors at Cambridge, my copyeditor, and my indexer. While I’ve worked with editors and peer reviewers before, the newness here was once again a question of scale and substance: this book, more than any article, represents a big chunk of what I think, and so of what I am as a scholar. As a result, I felt much more deeply the engagement of all those who gave their time to evaluate and to improve it. Working with an indexer was particularly revealing in this respect. Not only was this a complete novelty, but it also allowed me to see my work through a new lens, and one which, thanks to the indexer’s professional experience, might even anticipate how future readers would understand my writing.

I won’t stretch to an eighteenth-century theatre analogue for that.

Criticism, Performance, and the Passions in the Eighteenth Century By James Harriman-Smith
Criticism, Performance, and the Passions in the Eighteenth Century By James Harriman-Smith

About The Author

James Harriman-Smith

James Harriman-Smith is a lecturer at Newcastle University. He is a trustee of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and a former trustee of the British Shakespeare As...

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