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Drury Lane as a Public Sphere

Aristotle defines tragedy in his Poetics (4th century BCE) as a serious play where, “the protagonist is led into a fatal calamity by a Hamartia...which often takes the form of hubris...The tragic effect usually depends on our awareness of admirable qualities - manifest or potential - in the protagonist, which are wasted terribly in the fated disaster" (Baldick; 260). This exhibit explores late seventeenth and early eighteenth century English tragedies such as John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko, Joseph Addison’s Cato, Delariviere Manley’s Lucius The First Christian King of England, and Nicholas Rowe’s The Fair Penitent and Tamerlane.  

All of these plays are performed at Drury Lane which functions as both playhouse and public sphere, “a common space in which the members of society are deemed to meet through a variety of media: print, electronic, and also face-to-face encounters; to discuss matters of common interest; and thus to be able to form a common mind about these” (Taylor; 1).  As a consequence, “Government is then not only wise to follow opinion; it is morally bound to do so. Government ought to legislate and rule in the midst of a reasoning public” (Taylor; 3). Thus, aside from bringing about entertainment, Drury Lane tragedies promote civil empowerment relating to the serious debates on colonialism, citizenship, religion, and gender roles presented in the plays.

The following pages investigate how the structure and management of Drury Lane Theater brings people with different political view points and powers together into a common space. A study of tragic performance style shows how these plays communicate societal problems to audiences. The short/long term and local/global political consequences resulting indirectly from the debates presented in the tragedies proves that Drury Lane Theater is an enduring public sphere.



Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Leech, Clifford. "The Political "Disloyalty" of Thomas Southerne." The Modern Language Review 28 (1933): 421-30. JSTOR. JSTOR. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. <>.

Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham: Duke UP, 2004. Print.


Addison, Joseph, 1672-1719. Cato. A tragedy. As it is acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, by Her Majesty's servants. By Mr. Addison. [The seventh edition.] (London : printed for Jacob Tonson, at Shakespear's-Head over-against Catherine-Street in the Strand, MDCCXIII. [1713]). 

Manley, Delariviere, d. 1724. Lucius, the first Christian King of Britain. A tragedy. As it is acted at the Theater-Royal in Drury-Lane.  By his Majesty's servants. By Mrs. Manley. (London : printed for John Barber on Lambeth-Hill, and sold by Benj. Tooke at the Middle-Temple Gate, Henry Clements in St. Paul's Church-Yard, and John Walthoe, jun. over-against the Royal Exchange Cornhill, 1717.)

Rowe, Nicholas, 1674-1718. The fair penitent. A tragedy. As it is acted at the New Theatre in Little Lincolns-Inn-Fields. By Her Majesty's servants. Written by N. Rowe, Esq; (London : Printed for Jacob Tonson, within Grays-Inn Gate next Grays-Inn Lane, 1703.

Rowe, Nicholas, 1674-1718. Tamerlane, a tragedy. Written by N. Rowe, Esq; (London [i.e. The Hague] : printed for the company [by Thomas Johson], [1720?])

Rowe, Nicholas, 1674-1718. The tragedy of Jane Shore. Written in imitation of Shakespear's style. By N. Rowe, Esq;. (London : printed for Bernard Lintott, at the Cross-Keys, between the Two Temple-Gates, in Fleet-Street, [1714]).
Gavin,Michael. "ENGL 331 001 F11 Resources / Week 1: Heroic Drama." Owl Space. Rice University. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.
"Inkle and Yarico (Open Library)." Open Library. Open Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.
"Oroonoko." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.