The first book-length study of Horace Walpole’s scandalous The Mysterious Mother, including critical essays, an abridged script, and a facsimile edition
Horace Walpole’s five-act tragedy The Mysterious Mother (1768), a sensational tale of incest and intrigue, was initially circulated only among the author’s friends. Walpole never permitted it to be performed during his lifetime except as a private theatrical. He described his play as a “delicious entertainment for the closet” and claimed that he “did not think it would do for the stage.” Yet the essays in this volume trace a history of private readings, amateur theatricals, and even early public performances, demonstrating that the play was read and performed more than Walpole’s protests suggest. Exploring a wide variety of topics—including the play’s crypto-Catholicism, its treatments of incest, guilt, motherhood, orphans, and scientific spectacle, and the complex relations between print and performance—the essays demonstrate the rich relevance of The Mysterious Mother to current critical discussions.
The volume includes the proceedings of a mini-conference hosted at Yale University in 2018 on the occasion of a staged reading of the play. Also included are the director’s reflections, an abridged script, a facsimile of Walpole’s own copy of the full-length play, and reproductions of the illustrations he commissioned from Lady Diana Beauclerk.
Cynthia E. Roman is curator of prints, drawings, and paintings at the Lewis Walpole Library. Jill Campbell is professor of English and affiliated faculty in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale University. Jonathan Kramnick is the Maynard Mack Professor of English at Yale University and the director of the Lewis Walpole Library.
“This handsome, erudite, and entertaining volume is in every way the perfect companion to Horace Walpole’s rarely recognized masterpiece.”—George E. Haggerty, University of California, Riverside
“Every expert contribution to Staging ‘The Mysterious Mother,’ like every room of Horace Walpole’s Gothic Strawberry Hill, contains well-curated treasures.”—Joseph Roach, Yale University
“This outstanding volume propels Horace Walpole’s Mysterious Mother out of the closet and onto the boards in illustrious fashion. Bringing the insights of brilliant scholars into conversation with both the shocking original and a masterfully cut text provides a daring provocation for us all to stage this ‘theatre of monstrous guilt.’”—Lisa A. Freeman, University of Illinois Chicago
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