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Sad Realities: The Romantic Tragedies of Charles Harpur

Falk, Michael 2020. Sad Realities: The Romantic Tragedies of Charles Harpur. Romantic Textualities (23) , pp. 200-217. 10.18573/romtext.65

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Abstract

Charles Harpur (1813–68) is recognised in his native Australia as a pioneering Romantic poet, but his achievements are little recognised elsewhere. This essay considers his contribution to the development of Romantic tragedy. He wrote two tragedies, The Bushrangers (1853, orig. 1835), a gothic bandit drama in the tradition of Schiller’s Die Räuber (1781), and King Saul (c. 1838), an incomplete Biblical drama apparently inspired by Byron’s Cain: A Mystery (1821). Like many European playwrights of the period, Harpur was deeply influenced by the new kinds of melodrama that were sweeping the stage, but also sought to distinguish his literary productions from more popular fare. His alienation from the popular theatre was exacerbated by his colonial context, where strict censorship, rising snobbery and plentiful cultural imports from Britain stifled the early efforts of nationalist, convict-born writers like himself. These contexts help to explain three distinctive aspects of Harpur’s Romantic tragedies: they were direct in an age when drama was often evasive, radical even in an age of revolution, and mystical in an age of increasing religious scepticism. Whatever his theatrical merits, Harpur was a bold playwright who worked through controversial political and aesthetic problems in a remarkably explicit way.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > Z004 Books. Writing. Paleography
Publisher: Cardiff University Press
ISSN: 1748-0116
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 16 November 2020
Date of Acceptance: 9 September 2019
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2020 14:13
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/136395

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