Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Byron's Plays... and Mine

Today I chaired a panel on "New Approaches to Lord Byron" for the BARS/NASSR 2022 "New Romanticisms" conference, and tomorrow I'll be attending my own play My Fellow Americans at the Secret Theatre in Queens.

Byron was a tremendous dramatist, penning such plays as Manfred, Marino Faliero, and The Deformed Transformed. The first panelist we had was Arif Camoglu, who spoke on Byron and the Ottoman gaze. He showed a rather trivializing account of Byron published within the Ottoman Empire that reproduced the famous portrait of Byron in Albanian dress. Oddly, there was no comment given in the publication about the famous writer wearing dress that was normally worn in the Ottoman Empire, not in Britain!

After Arif, I spoke on shaping a new Marino Faliero at Drury Lane. Byron published the play in 1821, not intending to have it performed (at least not any time soon). However, Robert William Elliston, the lessee of Drury Lane at the time, wanted to perform it anyway, so he sent a cut copy of the text to the Examiner of Plays to get it approved by the censor. Unfortunately, in order to get the play passed the censor, quite a bit had to be excised, including some of the most stirring passages. I got a chance to see the cut copy of the script at the Huntington Library, though images of it are now available online.

Our third panelist was Lesley Thulin, who spoke on deformity in Byron's unfinished drama The Deformed Transformed. Lesley is writing a dissertation on disability and political economy in Romantic literature. She noted that Byron, who had a clubbed foot, could in some ways relate the the play's disabled protagonist, but in general, she tried to steer clear from biographical readings of the drama, since the aristocratic Byron was economically insulated from many of the effects of a disabled body that the title character had to endure. Though Byron left the play unfinished at his death, Mary Shelley later wrote a short story called "Transformation" that re-envisions Byron's story and supplies it with an ending.

The conference continues until August 5th, the rest of it held in person at Edge Hill University outside of Liverpool. I couldn't get back over to the United Kingdom to attend in person, though, in part because tomorrow is the fourth performance of My Fellow Americans, which is being produced as a part of the Secret Theatre's One Act Festival. If you haven't seen it yet, please come! Make sure you get tickets to Program D.

Rachael Langton directed the play, which stars Rebecca Ana Peña as the President of the United States. I hope you can make it!