Monsieur de Philipsthal’s Phantasmagoria

Monsieur de Philipsthal’s Phantasmagoria

Contributor: Dale Townshend

Location: Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut

Description: This is a broadside advertisement for the Phantasmagoria, an extraordinarily popular form of entertainment that entranced and captivated British audiences when it opened at London’s Lyceum Theatre in the Strand in October 1801. A carefully curated set of ghostly conjurations, optical illusions, trompe l’oeil effects and scientific curiosities, the Phantasmagoria show was both a development of, and an improvement upon, the earlier magic-lantern shows of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, as Simon During has argued, the first of such practices to make a significant impression upon the urban entertainment industry in the first three decades of the nineteenth century [1]. It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the Phantasmagoria to British culture, literary and otherwise, in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. As a primary point of confluence between British and Continental European entertainment, economics and technological advances, its very existence attests to the complexity and the richness of cross-cultural interaction and exchange in the period.

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Harlequin’s Invasion, 1803

Broadside of Harlequin’s Invasion,1803

Contributor: David Taylor

Location: The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Description: At a glance, this looks like a standard early nineteenth-century playbill. But it’s not. In fact, it’s a nationalistic broadside published during the invasion scare of the summer of 1803 – when it was widely feared that Napoleon was readying a fleet to cross the English Channel – and it closely mimics the typographic format and language of the playbill to make its point. The work of arch-loyalist James Asperne – who ran a bookshop in Cornhill, London, with the strikingly unsubtle name of The Bible, Crown, and Constitution – this mock-playbill informs the public of a new pantomime “In rehearsal” at the “Theatre Royal of the United Kingdom” – that is, a drama to be staged in and by the nation itself. “Some dark foggy night about November next,” the playbill exclaims, “will be ATTEMPTED, by a Strolling Company of French Vagrants, an old Pantomimic Farce, called Harlequin’s Invasion or The Disappointed Banditti”.

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