We often misuse the word melodrama with abandon, especially to characterize other people’s behaviors, but Greg Vargo defines it for us once and for all. Emerging in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the predominant Western theatrical form, it is a genre of crisis. To that end, it employed hyperbolic language, extreme situations, extraordinary coincidences, stark oppositions and so on. Greg talks about his own ongoing work on melodramas about race, their histories of performance, and the storied career of the African American actor Ira Aldridge.

Greg Vargo is Associate Professor at the Department of English, New York University. His research focuses on the literary and cultural milieu of nineteenth-century British protest movements and the interplay between politics, periodical culture, the novel and theater. His first book, An Underground History of Early Victorian Fiction: Chartism, Radical Print Culture, and the Social Problem Novel (Cambridge UP, 2018), won the 2019 North American Victorian Studies Association’s award for best book of the year in Victorian Studies. He has recently edited Chartist Drama (Manchester UP, 2020), a collection of four plays written or performed by members of the working-class movement for social and political rights known as Chartism. A new project focuses on anti-imperialism in nineteenth-century popular culture (across such media as penny novels and stage melodrama) as well as in radical politics.

Image: © 2024 Saronik Bosu

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Biscuit Art

Ella Hawkins talks about the biscuits she makes, inspired by her research on Elizabethan dress, and on everything from William Morris wallpapers to TV shows like Outlander and Game of Thrones. She also talks about her upcoming monograph, titled Shakespeare in Elizabethan Costume: ‘Period Dress’ in Twenty-First-Century Performance (forthcomin from Bloomsbury), which examines how early modern garments are recycled and reimagined in contemporary costume design for Shakespeare.

(You’ll hear Saronik trying, and failing, to recall something Oscar Wilde said. Turns out he was slightly misremembering the exact quote; it’s in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” and the passage begins with the sentence: “Now, I have said that the community by means of organisation of machinery will supply the useful things, and that the beautiful things will be made by the individual.”)

Ella is a design historian and artist based in Birmingham, England. She has a PhD in
Shakespeare Studies and specializes in the study of stage and costume design, dress history,
and material culture. Drawing on her academic work, Ella creates edible art inspired by museum collections, art
history, and costumes designed for the stage and screen. She uses a range of decorative
techniques to make iced biscuit sets that celebrate the material culture of the past and
present.Ella has previously worked with the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Shakespeare
Birthplace Trust, and the Royal Shakespeare Company on various projects relating to
design and theatre history.

(For our American listeners, ‘biscuit’ in this case means ‘cookie’.)

Image: Assortment of Ella’s biscuits

Music used in promotional material: ‘pastorale’ by Dee Yan-Key

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