Cassidy and the Relief of the Stage Irish Trope: Boucicault’s Critique of the British Empire

    • Cover Porto 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Vanessa Maramba, University at Albany, SUNY


    Recent post-colonial scholarship interrogates the Irish identity in relation to the British Empire during the nineteenth century, questioning Ireland’s history as a colony in the face of heavy Irish presence in the British military. Within this discourse scholars focus on representations of the Irish on the London stage that, beginning as early as with Shakespeare’s Macmorris, identified the Irish as a racially, linguistically distinct ‘Other’ that nonetheless had a place within British military pursuits. While The Colleen Bawn and The Shaughrun by the Dion Boucicault, one of the most successful playwrights of the Victorian Era, have their place within this discourse, no one has studied the equally successful Jessie Brown; or, The Relief of Lucknow. This essay intends to revive scholarly interest in this long-forgotten play by arguing that it is in Jessie Brown; or, The Relief of Lucknow that Boucicault first reworked the Stage Irish trope, reversing the stamp of disloyalty and thus recuperating the Irish character on the London stage. However, this self-proclaimed ‘greatest comedian and playwright of all time’ is, Boucicault’s critique of the English moves beyond rewriting the Stage Irish trope. Indeed, in The Relief of Lucknow Boucicault capitalizes on the most devastating blow to the British Empire in the mid-nineteenth century, the Indian Mutiny of 1857 or First Sepoy Rebellion, to critique England’s history of colonial violence in Ireland. To come at this argument, this paper analyzes the way in which Boucicault revises the Stage Irish trope, thus recuperating representations of the ‘disloyal’ Irish by identifying them as especially ‘loyal’ to the British cause. It then reveals how Boucicault subtly critiques the British Empire by haunting the crucial scene of the siege at Lucknow with the specter of the Irish Famine, which reached one of its nadirs only ten years before this play was first performed. Though Boucicault’s work of refurbishing the Stage Irish trope incorporates the Irish into the whole of the British Empire, he ultimately suggests that any such space for Ireland is ambiguous at best considering the by no means forgotten violence of Ireland’s painful history as a colony.