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Othello, the Moor of Fleet Street (1833).

The purist cannot but look down on parody and burlesque. It can expose pretension but rarely is it more than ephemeral and there is always a danger that it may, as the charming dedication to Manfred Draudt's edition suggests, distort the way a more serious work is perceived. Draudt fears that his young daughter, having enjoyed a number of Othello burlesques, will 'always consider Othello an immensely funny play'. Given that the clown is given so little to do in Shakespeare's Othello, perhaps that may be taken as Armin's Revenge. Occasionally parody and burlesque are so fine that they become works of art in their own right - 'Sir Thopas' (which has the benefit of brevity), 'The Rape of the Lock', The Beggar's Opera, and even Trial by Jury. Othello, the Moor of Fleet Street does not reach these heights but it is an interesting play of its kind. It has escaped the principal bibliographers of this genre and it has never been published. Henry E. Jacobs and Claudia D. Johnson list forty-four burlesques of Othello in An Annotated Bibliography of Shakespearean Burlesques, Parodies, and Travesties (1976). Four are earlier than this example, though one is only a few lines long and another is of a speech. An anonymous political satire, Iago Display'd, was published in 1730 and is described as an all-male travesty; Desdemona is omitted. In 1813 the anonymous Othello Travestie, in three acts (but less than twenty pages in length), was published. The five-volume collection, Nineteenth-Century Shakespeare Burlesques, selected and introduced by Stanley Wells (1977-8), includes only two burlesques of Othello, Maurice Dowling's of 1834 and that performed by Griffin and Christy's Minstrels about 1870. Thus, Mathews's burlesque is significant in the history of the genre as a whole and of Othello in particular.

In the editing of popular, or sub-cultural, material - seaside postcards, music-hall songs, 'soaps', and burlesques - a difficult line must be pursued between taking the material seriously and lapsing into portentousness that might attract the kind of burlesque notes provided for the Othello Travestie of 1813. Dr Draudt avoids this by concentrating on the theatrical and authorial issues and by supplying explicatory footnotes to the text. As so often, material of this kind can be even more obscure than the allusions and language of the author burlesqued. The text of the play (with its footnotes) and the introduction are each about forty pages in length. Textual notes follow and there are two appendices. The first discusses the relationship between the travesty and the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century acting editions of Othello and lists echoes of Shakespeare's play. The second traces the inspiration of a sung version of 'Ye potent men and grave, | My noble friends and masters' to Pierce Egan's Life in London, 'a Masquerade Supper at the Opera House'.

In his Critical Introduction, Dr Draudt discusses contemporary reviews of the travesty (unfavourable) and its attribution to Westmacott; the Adelphi Theatre, where it was performed, and the principal actors taking part; Charles Mathews's comic acts and a manuscript of his 'Comic Annual' as evidence of his authorship, for which Draudt convincingly argues; and sources of inspiration for the travesty in real-life models and popular literature. The importance of this edition lies in more than the realization and explication of the single surviving manuscript, for we are introduced into the world in which the travesty was presented a hundred years before this edition was published. The four illustrations are well chosen: the playbill announcing the travesty, a passage from the manuscript, Kean as Othello, and Tom and Jerry 'Masquerading it'. The poster shows that Mathews's travesty was the last item of a long evening which began with a serio-comic burletta, Don Quixote; this was followed by a special feature: a 'Crystallated Conservatory of Fountains & Falls of Real Water!'; a new burletta, [pounds]20,000: Or, London Love'; 'a new Piece', Cupid; and finally Mathews's Othello, described as 'an Historical, Comical, Operatical, Travestical Burletta'. After such an evening an audience might well sigh with the Host, in response to Chaucer, 'Namoore of this, for Goddes dignitee . . . Thy drasty rymyng is nat worth a toord!' - a reaction quite opposite to that towards this welcome edition of an unknown work.

PETER DAVISON De Montfort University, Leicester
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Author:Davison, Peter
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1996
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