William Gladstone and the theatre

Heinrich, A. (2011) William Gladstone and the theatre. Theatre Survey, 52(1), pp. 83-103. (doi:10.1017/S004055741100007X)

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Abstract

This article discusses the various links between 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone and the theatre, his understanding of its function in society and his role in shaping the argument for a subsidised National Theatre. It links Gladstone to wider debates in theatre historiography calling for a reassessment of orthodox approaches to Victorian culture.

Gladstone, ‘colossus of the Victorian Age’, serious, respectable and deeply religious, seems an unlikely advocate for the theatre in general and publicly subsidised theatre in particular, and research so far has largely overlooked this issue. Yet Gladstone was not only an avid theatre- goer with a broad taste but he also had clear ideas about the theatre’s function in society. Despite finding himself in opposition to widespread beliefs that the state should not ‘meddle with the arts’ and that theatres should remain commercial concerns, he actively supported the theatre’s cause by lobbying for official honours, state subsidies and the establishment of a National Theatre. In doing so Gladstone was well ahead of the debate about state aid to the performing arts, crucially influenced decisions well after his death and proved vital for the eventual foundation of a National Theatre after World War II.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Heinrich, Dr Anselm
Authors: Heinrich, A.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Journal Name:Theatre Survey
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0040-5574
ISSN (Online):1475-4533
Published Online:03 May 2011

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