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What James Boswell tells us about 18th‐century acting theory

Lookup NU author(s): Dr James Harriman-SmithORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This article reads a series of essays on the actor by James Boswell through recent scholarship on the theory of acting in order to elaborate an expansive and historically grounded definition of what was and is meant by ‘18th‐century acting theory’. I thus show how 18th‐century texts on acting are important documents that should be read not as isolated phenomena but as works that can illuminate contemporary stage performance and the culture that produced it. In particular, I follow Boswell by placing a specific, illustrative emphasis on three key themes of professionalism, theatrical expression and ephemerality: each theme is both essential to thinking about the stage (and criticism on this topic) while also, like so much about the 18th‐century theatre, applicable far more widely both then and now.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Harriman-Smith J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Literature Compass

Year: 2020

Volume: 17

Issue: 10

Pages: 1-11

Print publication date: 13/10/2020

Online publication date: 26/08/2020

Acceptance date: 13/07/2020

Date deposited: 01/12/2020

ISSN (electronic): 1741-4113

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1111/lic3.12600


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