Plebian Performances: Public Display and Performance Beyond the Theater

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
ASECS (American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies)
contact email: 

Panel: Plebian Performances: Public Display and Performance Beyond the Theater

CFP for for ASECS 2020 March 19-21, St. Louis, MO

Beyond the licensed or respectable theaters of London, Paris, and the Caribbean, the eighteenth-century world was rife with plebian sites of performance and display. This panel invites the consideration of displays and performance that are plebian, familiar, common, or excluded from the recognized theater stage. Amateur actors participated in “spouting clubs,” while plebian political speakers might belong to clubs like the Robin Hood, or seek out other venues for public speech such as mock electioneering. Fairs displayed wonders from exotic animals (alive and stuffed) to extraordinary bodies, public political harangues, acrobatic demonstrations, balloon ascensions, and the promiscuous mixing of the crowd. Public festivals and saint’s day processions with their roots in medieval religious practices, but also in diasporic customs might look different when considered as public plebian performance.


The movement out of the theater of certain kinds of performances and the movement from street corners to recognized gathering places—open air commons, public squares, and taverns—signals a changing view of public performance.  Equestrian displays, acrobatics, ropedancers, and clowning moved from theatrical interludes and afterpieces to found the early circus. Philip Astley’s Riding School initiated the circus ring and demonstrated equestrian and acrobatic acts combined with pantomime. Horrified, David Garrick claimed that “nothing but downright starving would induce me to bring such defilement and abomination to the house of William Shakespeare.” Presentations that consider cultural, visual, literary, or other materials or from any field or geographic region are welcome.


Deadline: 15 September

Proposals of 500 words to

Miriam Wallace, New College of Florida


Miriam L. Wallace is Professor of English & Gender Studies at New College of Florida and Chair of the Division of Humanities. She has written on 1790s British radical and reformist fiction, legal trials, and satirical prints of speaking subjects. Her current project examines historical, literary, and visual depictions of British political and legal speech from 1780 to 1820.