Spectacular feasts: Herbert Beerbohm Tree and the mise-en-scene of consumption
Schulz, David V., 1966-
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The production style of English actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree embodied the mechanisms of conspicuous consumption. Producing spectacular Shakespeare, lavish historical melodramas, and high society dramas for English bourgeois audiences at the turn of the century, Tree filled his stage with scenery, props and supernumeraries that together testified to his wealth as a producer and his ability to consume. This study investigates Tree's apparati of spectacular production and consumption from the mise-en-scene on stage, a conglomeration of signs and sign-systems, to the various mises-en-scene of consumption that surrounded it, spaces designed for spectacular display: the ornate architecture of Tree's H Majesty's Theater, the neighboring West End Department Stores, and the enveloping Edwardian metropolis of London. Chapters 1 and 2 examine the 1906 historical melodrama Nero by Stephen Phillips to reveal the commodity-based mechanisms of Tree's production style, to describe the subject of its representation--not only the Emperor Nero, but also the celebrity persona of Tree--and finally to demonstrate how the subject it carefully constructed (the Imperial gentleman) was dramatically set against contemporary anxieties that threatened its consolidation: New Women, urbanization, and colonial and civil unrest. Chapter 3 moves through various spaces of consumption, Edwardian spectacular topographies, to explore how they, in addition to the stage representation, operated within the signifying modality of consumption. These spaces include the city of London, the Edwardian audience, Harrod's Department and H Majesty's Theater, the principal focus of the chapter. Finally, Chapter 4 examines Tree's Shakespeare Festivals from 1905 to 1913 along with their rival festivals in Stratford-on-Avon as projects to revise the English national identity and their attempts to be subsequently institutionalized as the National Theater of England. Throughout, this study uses tools borrowed from semiotics, commodity theory, and critical theories of the subject. Moreover, this study approaches its spectacular subject spatially, not only as spaces to be described, but as a discursive field to move through. Both theoretically and historically it examines its subject, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who is spatially and spectacularly configured.
- Drama