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Book Review

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In Spectacles of Reform Amy Hughes advocates for “spectacle as methodology” (4), a means of interpreting spectacle in nineteenth-century melodrama, as well as a wide variety of other media, that rehearses and reforms concepts of citizenship and identity related to race, class, gender, and morality. Through this lens, Hughes seeks to answer the questions “where and how do activist spectacles appear before and beyond the theatrical encounter?” and “why is spectacle kept alive through reinvention, revision, and repetition long after the drama is over?” (5). Hughes traces her theory of the spectacular instant through three popular sensation themes of the mid-nineteenth century: temperance, abolition, and suffrage. Each chapter is devoted to a spectacle related to one of these issues and ends á la melodrama, with a dénouement rather than a conclusion, wherein Hughes shares “speculative, rather than conclusive, meditations on the broader significance of [her] discussion” (12). This rhetorical move opens up Hughes’s spectacularly constructed display of historiographic scholarship and dramaturgical analysis for further consideration and discourse.


This article was originally published in Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, volume 29, issue 1, in 2014. DOI: 10.1353/dtc.2014.0019

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