Moving Between the Transnational and the Local. Kotzebue’s ‘Menschenhaß und Reue’ on the London Stage c. 1800

von | 23/04/2021

Guest Contribution by Annelies Andries (Oxford and Utrecht) and Clare Siviter (Bristol)

August von Kotzebue’s Menschenhass und Reue (premiered 1788; printed 1790) spread like wildfire through the literary and theatrical landscape of Europe around 1800. This paper examines how three translations for London published in the late 1790s combine transnational networks and local adaptation strategies to cater for their intended audiences, before turning to the version performed at Drury Lane in 1798: The Stranger (translated by Benjamin Thompson and adapted by Richard Brinsley Sheridan).

Here, we focus on selected extracts from Act V and then Act IV. In the first of these, we discuss how the play’s adulterous woman, labelled a ‘just martyr to her own crimes’, became a site of contestation, and how through her, authors and critics reflected on international legal and moral issues (e.g. divorce).

In the second, we examine the importance of including two songs for the Drury Lane performances and the frequent programming of The Stranger with Blue Beard (1798)In so doing, we consider how these strategies address local theatrical customs, lend an extra-theatrical lens to interpret Kotzebue’s play through links to celebrity culture (one song was by Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, whose love affair with Charles Grey caused a stir in the 1790s), and fuel the debate around the main character’s alleged crime.

Ultimately, this analysis illuminates how transnational and local agents in theatrical mobility networks were capitalising on Kotzebue’s plays, setting up the networks and trying out adaptation strategies that would ensure his success on the London stage well into the nineteenth century.

Project homepage: Theatre on the Move in Times of Conflict (1750-1850)

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