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In: John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera 1728-2004
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The present collection of essays grew out of a conference, held in Dresden in December 2001, exploring the relationship between the public sphere and legal culture. The conference was held in connection with the ongoing research undertaken by the Sonderforschungsbereich 537 ‘Institutionalisation and Historical Change’ and, in particular, by the project ‘Circulation of Legal Norms and Values in British Culture from 1688 to 1900’.
The conference papers include essays on the theory of the public sphere from a systematic and historical point of view by Gert Melville, by Peter Uwe Hohendahl and by Jürgen Schlaeger, all of whom try to re-evaluate and/or improve upon Jürgen Habermas’ seminal contribution to the discussion of the emergence of modernism. Alastair Mann’s contribution investigates the situation in Scotland, particularly censorship and the oath of allegiance; Annette Pankratz focuses on the king’s body as a site of the public sphere; Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock looks into the widespread ‘culture of contention’ at the beginning of the eighteenth century; and Eckhart Hellmuth considers the reform movement at the end of the century and the radical democrats’ insistence on the right to discuss the constitution.
Ian Bell, who took part in the conference, suggested the inclusion of part of the first chapter of his seminal study Literature and Crime in Augustan England (1991). Beth Swan, Anna-Christina Giovanopoulos, and Christoph Houswitschka respectively analyse the ideologies of justice, the interrelation between journalism and crime, and the juridical evaluation of the crime of incest and its representation in public. Greta Olson investigates keyholes as liminal spaces between the public and the private, Juliet Wightman focuses on theatre and the bear pit, Uwe Böker examines the court room and prison as public sites of discourse, and York-Gothart Mix discusses the German emigrant culture in North America.
The present collection of essays is the outcome of the Oscar Wilde conference held at the Technical University of Dresden, 31 August - 3 September 2000. The papers cover a wide range of historical and comparative aspects: they look into the status of Wilde as poet, dramatist, essayist and intellectual during his own times as well as investigate the meaning of his work for subsequent writers and critics, thus, giving an outline of the Wildean history of literary reception, intellectual discourse and media transformation. Intellectually brilliant and challenging, Oscar Wilde had been a favourite of the late Victorians, performing the roles of the dandy and the poet of art for art's sake. However, due to his questioning of prevalent moral double standards and his insistence on the autonomy of art, he was indicted for gross indecencies, convicted, and sent to prison. Instead of being ostracised, he became a source of inspiration for writers and artists on the British isles as well as on the European continent.
The papers in this volume explore such topics as Wilde's concepts of socialism and aestheticism, his fashioning of the femme fatale and of the dandy, his use of fashion and of simulation, his impact on modernism and postmodernism as well as on genres such as crime writing and fictional biography, and the influence of Wilde on writers such as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Joe Orton, Peter Ackroyd, Tom Stoppard, David Hare and Mark Ravenhill. Other papers focus on the reception of Wilde in Russia, former Yugoslavia, Hungary and Germany as well as on cinematic and Internet representations of Wilde. Critical and creative responses vary from the general to the specific – from traditional assessments to analyses of the arts of camp, parody, and pastiche; thus, indicative of the (sub)cultural appropriation of 'Saint Oscar' (Terry Eagleton).
When Richard Steele remarked that the greatest Evils in human Society are such as no Law can come at, he was not able to forsee the spectacular success of John Gay's satire of society, the administration of law and crime, politics, the Italian opera and other topics. Gay's The Beggar's Opera, with its mixture of witty dialogue and popular songs, was imitated by 18th century writers, criticized by those on the seats of power, but remained a favourite of the English theatre public ever since.
With N. Playfair's 1920 revival and B. Brecht's and K. Weill's 1928 Dreigroschenoper, Gay's play has been a starting-point for dramatists such as V. Havel (Zebrácká opera, 1975), W. Soyinka (Opera Wonyosi, 1977), Ch. Buarque (Ópera do Malandro, 1978), D. Fo (L'opera dello sghignazzo, 1981), A. Ayckbourn (A Chorus of Disapproval, 1984), as well as others such as Latouche, Hacks, Fassbinder, Dear, Wasserman, and Lepage.
Apart from contributions by international scholars analysing the above-named plays, the editors' introduction covers other dramatists that have payed hommage to Gay.
This interdisciplinary collection of essays is of particular interest for scholars working in the field of drama/theatre studies, the eighteenth century, contemporary drama, postcolonial studies, and politics and the stage.