As part of this ongoing series on Teaching Romanticism we will consider the ways in which we lecture on and discuss individual authors, whether during author-specific modules or broader period surveys. I thought it would be particularly useful to hear about which texts educators use and in what context, whether they place certain poems or prose works against those of other writers, or use contemporary or modern theoretical texts, or something else entirely. For this strand of blog posts I invite academics across the world to share their advice and tips on any aspect that interests them about teaching Romanticism. Many thanks to all of those who answered my call through NASSR-L, The BARS Review, and elsewhere (lightly edited samples are reproduced below with permission of the authors). Please do feel free to contact me with proposals for future subjects. We will be considering a range of writers, canonical and non-canonical alike, in the coming months. This eight-part issue was edited by Dana Van Kooy.
Juan L. Sanchez (University of California, Los Angeles): Teaching Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Pizarro and the Politics of Mediation
Abstract: This essay outlines some of the challenges of teaching Romantic-period drama at the intersection between British Romanticism and the Spanish-speaking world and proposes several pedagogical strategies designed to encourage students to think about the political and ideological implications of staging the Spanish conquest of the Americas for late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century British audiences. Situating Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Pizzaro: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1799) within the long tradition of English New World dramas, this essay more specifically examines the historical and cultural conditions behind the play’s success in order to suggest approaches to introducing students to the complex ways in which Romantic-era drama mediated cultural debates about many of the controversial and widely contentious issues of the day.
This essay outlines some of the challenges of teaching Romantic-period drama at the intersection between British Romanticism and the Spanish-speaking world and proposes several pedagogical strategies designed to encourage students to think about the political and ideological implications of staging the Spanish conquest of the Americas for late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century British audiences. Situating Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Pizzaro: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1799) within the long tradition of English New World dramas—from William Davenant’s masque The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, or, The Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards (1667) to John Thelwall’s The Incas, or The Peruvian Virgin (1792) and Thomas Morton’s Columbus, or, A World Discovered (1792)—this essay more specifically examines the historical and cultural conditions behind the play’s success in order to suggest approaches to introducing students to the complex ways in which Romantic-era drama mediated cultural debates about many of the controversial and widely contentious issues of the day.
After over two decades of pioneering work by critics like Jeff Cox, Jane Moody, and Michael Gamer, among many others, Romantic-period drama remains a hot topic in Romantic-era studies. As one of the most important cultural institutions of the period, the British Romantic stage continues to attract theater historians and cultural critics attentive to the powerful ways in which social, political, and cultural debates were represented to a mass audience eager to participate in the life of the nation. Few debates proved more responsive to theatrical representation than the evolving controversy over Britain’s imperial ambitions. As Moody and Daniel O’Quinn point out in their Preface to The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre, 1730-1830, Romantic drama occurs at “the historical moment when British theatre goes global, both in the sense of being exported around the world and in the sense of starting to represent the emerging British Empire.” Consequently, according to O’Quinn, the staging of British colonial rule in the late eighteenth century, a time of major changes in British imperial policy, arguably constitutes a form of “theatrical imperialism” in which representations of British superiority on the stage—cultural, racial, sexual, and other—dramatizes the natural suitability of British rule throughout the world (Staging Governance).
In the context of the Britain’s loss of its transatlantic empire and its subsequent turn to the East, O’Quinn and others analyzing the relationship between theater and empire in the Romantic period naturally focus on the orientalist discourse on full display in theatrical representations of the East. Plays like Isaac Bickerstaffe’s The Sultan (1775), Elizabeth Inchbald’s The Mogul Tale (1784), and Hannah Cowley’s A Day in Turkey, or the Russian Slaves (1791), for example, offer a small sampling of dramatic pieces that have attracted critical attention as cultural productions deeply immersed in the contemporary politics of British imperial expansion to the East. Yet, even plays like Sheridan’s Pizarro, whose colonial subject matter returns both to the West and to the past, become implicated in a more general analysis of Romanticism’s so-called “anxieties of empire,” which Nigel Leask and others associate primarily with British encounters with India, the Ottoman Empire, and other parts of Asia. Late-eighteenth-century representations of the Spanish conquest of Peru, consequently, become mere surrogates for imperial concerns more directly expressed in the form of British Romantic Orientalism, “conflating,” as Leask puts it, “the rapine of Spanish colonialism in the New World and contemporary British imperialism in the East.”
Pizarro, a play that recreates the tragedy of Francisco Pizarro’s sixteenth-century invasion and conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru, thus represents an important case study for exploring the politics of staging colonial history. Beyond its subject matter, Pizarro provides, in fact, a much more direct material link between dramatic production and imperial politics than most other plays featuring imperial themes. As contemporary reviewers were quick to point out, Rolla’s much-celebrated denunciation of Spanish colonial violence contains obvious echoes of parts from Sheridan’s famous 1788 Begums speech in the House of Lords, wherein Warren Hastings, the British Governor General of Bengal, was charged with “high crimes and misdemeanors” for his mistreatment of and corrupt dealings with the Begums of Oudh. In the speech in question, Sheridan memorably compares Britain’s “protection” of the indigenous population to “that of a vulture to a lamb; grappling in its vitals! thirsting for its blood! scaring off each petty kite that hovers round; and then, with an insulting perversion of terms, calling sacrifice, protection!” In Act 2, scene 2, Rolla attempts to inspire a band of Peruvian warriors to resistance by also adopting the analogy of the vulture and the lamb, similarly dismissing Spanish overtures of “protection as vultures give to lambs—covering and devouring them!” Highlighting other areas of similarity between Rolla’s Peruvian address and Sheridan’s parliamentary speech, Sara Suleri goes so far as to characterize Pizarro as “a rewriting of the trial” in a way that “collaps[es] colonial space into melodramatic space.” Like Suleri, who views Sheridan’s melodrama as a dramatization of “the inefficacy of discourse to halt colonial logic,” David Taylor similarly locates in the play a failure of oration, as he puts it, “to counter regimes of despotism and torture.”
According Julie Carlson, however, the power of Rolla’s speech is based less on its clear connections to the Hastings impeachment trial, as compelling as those are, and more on its actual lack of specific “historical referents” that allow “present-day and contemporary commentators [to] hear in it different lessons for different times.” Contemporary reviewers of Pizarro, for example, were just as ready to associate Rolla’s speech with a patriotic call to resist the threat of French invasion as to emphasize its ties to colonial politics. As a rallying cry contrasting the rapacious Spaniards, who “follow an Adventurer whom they fear,” with the heroic Peruvians, who, by contrast, “serve a Monarch whom we love—a God whom we adore,” Rolla’s speech provided “some very happy allusions,” as one commentator put it, “to the contest in which we are at present engaged with the inveterate enemies of social order and happiness.” For Carlson, Sheridan’s appeal to passion over reason allows for the apparent contradiction between a reading of Rolla’s speech as an indictment against British colonial practices and an endorsement of British resistance to Napoleon. In stressing the “nonrational” basis of patriotic sentiment, Sheridan thus succeeds in allegorizing the British as both Spanish imperial aggressor and patriotic Peruvian victim, the result of a melodramatic performance, in Dana Van Kooy’s reading, that “rendered historical events (in)visible by subjecting specific moments in British imperial history to a theatrics that simultaneously demonstrated and occluded the events’ significance.” In a similar vein, Michael Wiley accounts for Pizarro’s shifting meanings by identifying the “linguistic and representational instability” inherent in playfulness of the drama’s oratory performances: “In this play, words turn on words and meanings turn on meanings […]. Language is contradictory in the play; it both reveals and conceals information.”
Despite the impressive scope of such linguistic and rhetorical analyses, recent arguments about Pizarro, as Susan Valladres has noted, remain “prone to overlook Pizarro’s specifically Spanish theme,” replicating in many ways Leask’s framework for reading the subject matter of late-eighteenth-century Spanish conquest tales exclusively in terms of British concerns with imperial expansion to the East. While it is impossible to ignore the anti-colonial resonances of Pizarro’s adaptation of Sheridan’s Begum speech, the suggestion that Spain simply operates as the incidental object of a displaced critique overlooks the important role literary engagements with Spain played in shaping rather than undermining Britain’s colonial ideology. Sheridan himself calls attention to the legacy of British anti-Spanish sentiment as a source of British imperial self-fashioning in his earlier play The Critic (1778). Like Pizarro, Mr. Puff’s play within the play, The Spanish Armada, rehearses the defeat of the Spanish empire as an emblem of patriotic pride, staging the so-called “Black Legend” of Spain in order to highlight the superiority of Britain’s Protestant maritime empire. Parodying the real and widespread fear of invasion following the French and Spanish declarations of war on Britain in 1779, Sheridan’s meta-commentary on what Mr. Dangle refers to in the play as “theatrical politics,” however, also obliquely alludes to a larger tradition of politicizing the English staging of the Spanish Conquest stretching back to William Davenant’s masque, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and John Dryden’s The Indian Queen (1664) and its sequel The Indian Emperour, or, The Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards (1667). Drawing on Bartolomé de Las Casas’s signature history, Brevíssima relación de la destruyción de las Indias (1552), all three plays exploit de Las Casas’s vivid depictions of the Spanish mistreatment of Amerindians for dramatic effect, and do so for clear ideological reasons. By illustrating the difference between the “bad” colonialism of Spain and the “good” colonialism of England, plays about the Spanish invasion of the Americas ultimately work to clarify England’s imperial mission rather than discount it.
In thinking about teaching Pizarro and the issues of empire from a historical perspective, I find it important to have students measure the anti-colonial implications of its allusions to the Hasting’s impeachment trial against the legacy of anti-Spanish sentiment in the development of British imperial ideology. This process, of course, involves outlining the stakes involved in Sheridan’s and Edmund Burke’s condemnation of the East India Company in 1788, and it also requires recovering the much-neglected history of Anglo-Spanish rivalry in the Americas throughout the eighteenth century. Although Spain may have not been the formidable enemy it once was in the early part of the century, the collapse of Britain’s transatlantic empire and Spain’s important role in producing it continued to cultivate the deep-seated, anti-Spanish sentiments that gathered momentum throughout the eighteenth century with the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Spain’s decision to side with revolutionary France and declare war on Britain in 1796 had revived the memory of these past Anglo-Spanish conflicts, arguably intensifying British Hispanophobia by its alignment with the nation’s growing hatred for Napoleon. It is important for students to realize that in spite of Britain’s recent losses in North America and growing public skepticism about the value of its old colonial system, Britain had no intention of giving up its imperial aspirations in America. Britain had, after all, supplanted France as the dominant colonial power in Canada and had recovered its valuable West Indian possessions in the Paris Peace Treaty (1783). It was not long before plans were formulated to regain possession of West Florida and transform it, in the words of Richard Oswald, into “a Centre of a great part of the Trade of America […] by which means […] England […] may still enjoy an exclusive Monopoly of a large share of North American Commerce.” Although such plans never came to fruition, Britain continued to keep a covetous eye on Spanish America, a potential boon for an enterprising imperial rival determined to settle old scores.
Recovering the Spanish context of Sheridan’s play with respect to its dramatic tradition and colonial history thus creates a space for students to understand Pizarro as a “supersaturated drama,” as Van Kooy describes it, “that mirrored and critiqued the ideologies of British imperial power.” To help students grasp this concept, I ask them to think of films that aestheticize violence or suffering, offering Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) as possible examples of films that are able to evoke emotional appeal for the very thing to which they raise rational objections—in these examples, revenge and sacrifice. Even if these examples do not quite explain the staging effects of melodrama, they introduce students to the power of spectacle to elicit complex and sometimes contradictory responses. In the case of Pizarro, the sensationalist portrayal of Spanish avarice works both to denounce and reinforce forms of imperial desire while the representation of the excessive suffering of the Peruvians repulses even as it elicits sympathy for empire’s victims.
Thus, while Van Kooy is right to suggest that Pizarro’s spectacles of empire “emblematized the eroticized allure of imperial power” (illustrated, for example, by Pizarro’s “magnificent Pavilion” 1 and the sumptuous pageantry and elaborate scenery featuring Peru’s Temple of the Sun), the process by which Sheridan evokes colonial desire in order to implicate his audience in his critique also deserves emphasis. Sheridan’s dramatization of Spanish colonial violence against the Peruvians in the fifteenth century may have produced uncomfortable associations with British exploitations of the native populations of India (and Jamaica) in the eighteenth century, but it did so, like other British New World dramas, in the service of the larger ideological aim of reinforcing the belief in the superiority of a Protestant empire of trade to a territorial empire of conquest. Pizarro, it is important to remember, does not end with the destruction of Peru but with the defeat of the Spanish. In her final speech of the play, Elvira concisely articulates the ostensible lesson of the play: “Spaniards returning to your native home, assure your rulers, they mistake the road to glory, or to power.—Tell them, that the pursuits of avarice, conquest, and ambition, never yet made a people happy, or a nation great.” An attempt to clarify the mission of the British Empire recently distorted by the acquittal of Warren Hastings rather than discount it wholesale, Sheridan’s widely popular drama not only raises awareness of the dangers of British imperial expansion to the East, it also implicitly advocates for a nonviolent return to the West, an argument that would ultimately serve as the basis of Britain’s so-called informal empire in the Americas.
While the neocolonial concept of informal empire, a form of imperial control by means other than territorial conquest, describes the economic exploitation of Latin American markets and resources following their independence from Spain, the politics of mediation at the center of British dramatic productions like Pizarro helps explain the cultural basis for a new imperial experience that made such an empire even possible. No parliamentary speech seeking to reform the empire could hope to succeed without a fundamental change in how national subjects felt about and imagined both distant lands and foreign peoples. For this reason, as Edward Said has reminded us long ago in Culture and Imperialism, “the connection between imperial politics and culture is astonishingly direct.” The lessons of that work are now so commonplace they hardly need repeating except to emphasize the influence of cultural productions on what Said argues are the “structures of feeling that support, elaborate, and consolidate the practice of empire.” To this list we should now add mediation. For it is in mediating the conflict between colonial violence and imperial desire that Sheridan’s melodramatic re-production of empire on the British Romantic stage determines the value of an informal empire in America. By combining spectacle and music in a way that aestheticizes both violence and suffering, Sheridan’s Pizarro thus emerges as an exemplary text that points to the melodrama as a new form of mediating the empire in the Romantic period, one in which imperial ideology is shaped as much by theatrical representations of the East as it is by the drama of the West.
Aguirre, Robert D. Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Britton, John. Sheridan and Kotzebue. The Enterprising Adventures of Pizarro . . . at the Royal Circus, and Royal Amphitheatre. London: J. Fairburn, 1799.
Burke, Edmund. Articles of Charges of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, against Warren Hastings, Esq. Late Governor General of Bengal; Presented to the House of Commons, on the 4th Day of April 1786. London: J. Debrett, 1786.
Carlson, Julie. “Trying Sheridan’s Pizarro.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 38.¾ (1996): 359-378.
Cox, Jeffrey N. “Baillie, Siddons, Larpent: Gender, Power, and the Politics in the Theatre of Romanticism.” In Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840, ed. by Catherine B. Burroughs. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Crisafulli, Lilla Maria and Fabio Liberto, eds. The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014.
Gamer, Michael. Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception and Canon Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Harlow, Vincent T. The Founding of The Second British Empire, 1763-1793. 2 vols. London:Longmans, Green, 1952.
Heinowitz, Rebecca Cole. British Romanticism and Spanish America, 1777-1826: Rewriting Conquest. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.
Kucich, Greg. “Women’s Cosmopolitanism and the Romantic Stage: Cowely’s A Day in Turkey, or the Russian Slaves.” In Transnational England: Home and Abroad, 1780-1860, ed. by Monika Class and Terry F. Robinson. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009. 22-40.
Leask, Nigel. British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Loftis, John. “Whig Oratory on Stage: Sheridan’s Pizarro.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 8.4 (1975): 454-472.
Maltby, William. The Black Legend in England: The Development of Anti-Spanish Sentiment, 1558-1660. Durham: Duke University Press, 1971.
Moody, Jane. Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
— and Daniel O’Quinn. “Preface” In The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre, 1730-1830, eds. Jane Moody and Daniel O’ Quinn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). xiii-xvii.
O’Quinn, Daniel. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
Sánchez, Juan. “Helen Maria Williams’s Peru and the Spanish Legacy of the British Empire.” In Romanticism’s Debatable Lands, eds. by Claire Lamont and Michael Rossington. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 55-73.
Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
Saggii, Francesca. The Gothic Novel and the Stage: Romantic Appropriations. London:Pickering and Chatto, 2015.
Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Sheridan, Richard Brinsley. Pizarro: A Tragedy in Five Acts. eds. Selena Couture and Alexander Dick. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2017.
—. Speeches of the Late Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Ed. A Constitutional Friend. 3 vols. London: Patrick Martin, 1816.
—. The Critic. ed. David Crane. London: Bloomsbury, 1989.
Taylor, David Francis. Theatres of Opposition: Empire, Revolution, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Valladares, Susan. Staging the Peninsular War: English Theatres 1807-1815. London: Routledge, 2015.
Van Kooy, Dana. “Darkness Visible: The Early Melodrama of British Imperialism and the Commodification of History in Sheridan’s Pizzaro.” Theatre Journal, 64.2 (2012): 179-195.
Wiley, Michael. “Linguistic Instability in R. B. Sheridan’s Pizarro.” SEL 55.3 (2015): 603-620.
 See Jeffrey N. Cox, “Baillie, Siddons, Larpent: Gender, Power, and the Politics in the Theatre of Romanticism,” in Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840, ed. Catherine B. Burroughs, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 16-46; Jane Moody, Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception and Canon Formation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
 See, for example, The Romantic Stage: A Many-Sided Mirror, ed. Lilla Maria Crisafulli and Fabio Liberto, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014); Daniel O’Quinn, Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); and Francesca Saggini, The Gothic Novel and the Stage: Romantic Appropriations (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2015).
 The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre, 1730-1830, eds. Jane Moody and Daniel O’Quinn, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), xiv.
 In addition to O’Quinn, see Greg Kucich, “Women’s Cosmopolitanism and the Romantic Stage: Cowely’s A Day in Turkey, or the Russian Slaves,” in Transnational England: Home and Abroad, 1780-1860, eds. Monika Class and Terry F. Robinson, (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 22-40.
 Nigel Leask, British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
 Leask, 32.
 Edmund Burke, Articles of Charges of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, against Warren Hastings, Esq. Late Governor General of Bengal; Presented to the House of Commons, on the 4th Day of April 1786 (London: J. Debrett, 1786). For more on the staging of this speech, see John Loftis, “Whig Oratory on Stage: Sheridan’s Pizarro,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 8.4 (1975): 454-472.
 “Proceedings against Warrant Hastings,” in Speeches of the Late High Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan, ed. A Constitutional Friend, 3 vols (London: Patrick Martin, 1816), II. 113.
 Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Pizarro: A Tragedy in Five Acts, ed. by Selena Couture and Alexander Dick, (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2017), ii. 2. 34-35.
 Sara Suleri, The Rhetoric of English India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 68.
 Suleri, 68; David Taylor, Theatres of Opposition: Empire, Revolution, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Oxford University Press, 2012), 126.
 Julie Carlson, “Trying Sheridan’s Pizarro,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 38.3/4 (1996), 359-378, ( 362).
 ii. 2. 25; ii. 2. 26.
 John Britton, Sheridan and Kotzebue. The Enterprising Adventures of Pizarro . . . at the Royal Circus, and Royal Amphitheatre (London: J. Fairburn, 1799), 141.
 Carlson locates this rhetorical strategy in the eighteenth-century British elocution movement.
 See Carlson, 363; Dana Van Kooy, “Darkness Visible: The Early Melodrama of British Imperialism and the Commodification of History in Sheridan’s Pizzaro,” Theatre Journal 64.2 (2012): 179-195 (179).
 Michael Wiley, “Linguistic Instability in R. B. Sheridan’s Pizarro,” SEL 55.3 (2015): 603-620 (612).
 Susan Valladares, Staging the Peninsular War: English Theatres 1807-1815 (London: Routledge, 2015), 16.
 See Juan Sánchez, “Helen Maria Williams’s Peru and the Spanish Legacy of the British Empire” in Romanticism’s Debatable Lands, eds. Ian Haywood and Diego Saglia, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 55-73.
 The Black Legend of Spain is a long-standing tradition of characterizing Spain as fanatical, depraved, and excessively inhumane rooted in legendary accounts of Spanish cruelty in the Americas. For more on the Black Legend, see William Maltby, The Black Legend in England: The Development of Anti-Spanish Sentiment, 1558-1660 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1971).
 Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Critic, ed. by David Crane, (London: Bloomsbury, 1989), i. 1. 8.
 William Davenant’s self-explanatory masque Cruelty is the most obvious example. In its final entry, Davenant dramatizes the British defeat of the Spanish and rescue of Peru, a counter-factual history that enacts the fantasy of Oliver Cromwell’s Western Design, the imperial project aimed at conquering and claiming the Spanish West Indies for England itself.
 “Oswald to Townshend,” 2 October 1782, as cited in Vincent T. Harlow, The Founding of the Second British Empire, 1763-93, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, 1952), I. 305. For more on the formulation of such plans, see Harlow, I. 305-6.
 Van Kooy, 180.
 Van Kooy, 184.
 v. 3. 32-36.
 For more on Britain’s informal empire in America, see Robert D. Aguirre, Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004); and Rebecca Cole Heinowitz, British Romanticism and Spanish America, 1777-1826: Rewriting Conquest (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010).
 Edward. W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 8.
 Said, 14.
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