Helen M. Burke
“ Riotous Performances is a thorough and daring analysis of the theater as a cultural space. Through this work Burke recovers the voices of the dispossessed Irish and the non-elite members of the Dublin audience. I think it will be essential reading for those interested in Irish Studies and eighteenth-century English literature.” —Christopher Wheatley, Catholic University of America
Riotous Performances explores the significance of theater “riots” and other disruptive practices that occurred in Dublin playhouses between 1712 and 1784. Helen Burke’s study reveals that during this period Irish theater was a site of struggle between different ethnic, religious, and class factions competing for power in eighteenth-century Ireland. Key players in this drama included Irish Protestant patriots, an emerging Catholic middle class, a dispossessed native gentry, and an increasingly politicized Dublin “mob.” Burke contends that these groups expressed their resistance to the ruling British culture through explosive acts as well as through more subtle counter-cultural behaviors such as wearing Irish manufactured clothing, singing Irish songs, and opposing the Theater Royal.
Using a wide array of primary materials, including dramatic texts, newspaper accounts, pamphlets, broadsides, and songs, Burke places the riotous performances she describes in their social and political context. Her analysis reveals that in the 1740s and 1750s the theater was the focus of intense struggles between Catholic-identified gentry reformers and Protestant-identified populist reformers. But by the1780s new, united Irish themes were emerging in Dublin playhouses. She argues that the Irish Parliament passed the first Irish Stage Act in 1786 to contain these revolutionary theatrics.
Riotous Performances demonstrates that eighteenth century Irish theater was not a static colonial institution, but rather a deeply contested arena of intense ethnic, religious, and class struggle.
“_Riotous Performances_, by Helen M. Burke, is one of only a handful of modern books dealing with eighteenth-century Irish theatre, and it is the first to attempt to explain in a coherent political context why an apparently inconsequential drink-fuelled brawl, such as the Gentleman’s Quarrel of 1747, could spark days of civil unrest on the streets of Dublin. . . . A book that brings to life so vividly a theatrical period in which the meaning of a play could take on, without warning, the dangerous, fractured life of a whole culture.” — Times Literary Supplement
“Ms. Burke’s combination of theatrical information, play texts, and social context provides a new perspective on Irish history.” — The Scriblerian
“Lovers of theatre polemic will be amply indulged by this book. . . . Burke’s book . . . provides a satisfying immersion in such historical and political data in whose company alone the theatrical conflicts that are its ostensible object of study make the fullest sense. It is a distinct contribution, and to be welcomed warmly.” — Irish Studies Review
“. . . An excellent, and provocative book. Its claim to use the disturbances surrounding the stage as a way of understanding the popular voice is an innovative and attractive idea. The most significant achievement of this book is that it provides a way of looking at popular protest in eighteenth century Dublin (since the provincial stage is not touched on here) by considering audience reactions. . . . A genuinely original and exciting book. . . .” — Canadian Journal of Irish Studies
“ Riotous Performances is the first detailed study of the politics of the eighteenth-century Dublin theatre to be written, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Irish theatre history or Irish political history in general. . . . Burke’s thought-provoking analysis lays the foundation for what will undoubtedly be fruitful discussion of the subject for decades to come.” — Yearbook of English Studies
“. . . Burke’s study offers an important historical exploration that will prove illuminating both for those endeavouring to understand the politics of eighteenth-century Ireland or the history of the theatre as a cultural force.” — Theatre Research International
“Helen Burke’s Riotous Performances is a work of outstanding scholarly importance. . . . This book demonstrates with compelling clarity and detail the centrality of theatre to the wider socio-political issues of eighteenth-century Ireland. Riotous Performances constitutes a ground-breaking intervention in the social, political and cultural history of eighteenth-century Ireland and offers an exemplary demonstration of theatre scholarship. Cogent and lucid throughout, this is a vitally important book for anyone interested in theatre, Irish studies or eighteenth-century cultural politics.” — European History Quarterly
“Burke helps the study of eighteenth-century Irish theater break out from the sidelines, becoming more central to the study of the eighteenth century and to the study of the theater. . . . Riotous Performances will remain a rich and suggestive resource for many years to come.” — _Modern Philology _
Winner of the 2003 Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books on Language or Culture, American Conference for Irish Studies