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The Theatrical R. L. S.: an Evaluation of the Theatrical Aspects of Robert Louis Stevenson

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posted on 2021-11-07, 20:50 authored by Cairney, John

Within a format of Shakespeare's seven ages of man, the seven stages of Robert Louis Stevenson are presented here as an inaugural investigation of his theatricality. The Introduction deals with this theatricality generally and is concerned, in its two parts, with the more technical elements of theatricality as they relate to the principles of dramatic theory. Stage One is a curtailed family history as a general background to his development and deals with his introduction to Mr Skelt's Toy Theatre. Consideration is also given in Section 3 to his first juvenile dramatic writing. Stage Two tells of his beginning to 'act a part' while at Edinburgh University. This stage also covers the amateur theatricals and the friendships with Fleeming Jenkin, Mrs Sitwell and Sidney Colvin. Stage Three introduces William Ernest Henley. With Stevenson he writes Deacon Brodie for Henry Irving. Stevenson courts and marries Mrs Osbourne while the playwriting goes on by correspondence. The London performance of Deacon Brodie is discussed and its American production with Edward J. Henley. Stage Four covers 1884 - the playwriting year at Bournemouth. Beau Austin and Admiral Guinea are discussed with comment and analysis offered under separate headings. The adaptation of Macaire is considered in relation to Beerbohm Tree. The Hanging Judge and the meeting with Thomas Hardy are also considered. Then follow general remarks about all the plays with special reference to Arthur Pinero's 1903 lecture on Robert Louis Stevenson as Dramatist. Stage Five is a consideration of Early Victorian theatre and its influence on the Henley-Stevenson partnership. This Stage features the final years of the two Henleys and includes a consideration of the Henley review of Balfour's official biography of Stevenson. Stage Six shows us Stevenson as the Scotch Tusitala, the Patriarch of Vailiama, reading his work aloud from the verandah. It is the final performance and in four short sections we see him rise only to die. Stage Seven is devoted entirely to adaptations of Stevensonia by other writers for all performing media to date. A comprehensive survey of R.L.S. and the drama is an area of Stevenson scholarship which has been either neglected or ill-considered. It is the intention of this study to offer a new focus to this dimension of his literary oeuvre and thus encourage a fresh approach to the Stevenson plays as a whole. It also offers an opportunity to consider his relationship with W.E. Henley and Mrs F.V. Stevenson, his collaborators in the five finished playscripts. In doing so, it puts into perspective the place of the plays in Victorian dramaturgy. Biographical facts and quotations from the Works are used where they may reflect his lifelong preoccupation with the theatre and where they may argue, by analysis or illustration, the theatrical potential evident, not only in the plays, but in every element of his personality. This is the man of theatre as theatrical man. A complete list of adaptations of his work in all the performing media and also selected reviews of his plays are added in support of the conclusion which is, sadly, that in considering R.L.S. as dramatist - one can only regret the loss to the theatre of what might have been...


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Gordon, Ian A