Sei sulla pagina 1di 26
Caricature, Cultural Politics, and the Stage: The Case of Pizarro Author(s): Heather McPherson Source: Huntington

Caricature, Cultural Politics, and the Stage: The Case of Pizarro Author(s): Heather McPherson Source: Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 (December 2007), pp. 607-631

Published by: University of California Press

Stable URL: .

Accessed: 29/10/2014 10:19

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .


JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


information about JSTOR, please contact . University of California Press is collaborating with JSTOR

University of California Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Huntington Library Quarterly.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Caricature, Cultural Politics, and the Stage:

The Case of Pizarro

Heather McPherson

pizarro, richard brinsley sheridan’s much anticipated adaptation of August von Kotzebue’s Die Spanier in Peru, opened at Drury Lane on 24 May 1799. 1 Despite an initial running time of nearly five hours and annoying opening-night glitches, Pizarro took London by storm. From its opening performance until its clos- ing on 29 June, Pizarro was performed on thirty-one successive nights, grossing £13,624—almost one fourth of Drury Lane’s total receipts for the 1798–99 season. 2 Sheridan assembled an exceptional cast, headed by John Philip Kemble, Sarah Sid- dons, Charles Kemble, and Dorothy Jordan, and spent lavishly on the production. 3 The splendid costumes and spectacular sets, particularly the Temple of the Sun and Pizarro’s pavilion, which Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg may have had a hand in designing, contributed to the spellbinding visual effects and pageantry. 4 The play’s

A visiting Fellowship at the Lewis Walpole Library (2001) and a grant from the School of Arts and Humanities, University of Alabama at Birmingham (2002), funded my research on caricature and cultural politics. I would especially like to thank Sheila O’Connell, Maggie Powell, Joan Sussler, and the staffs of the Lewis Walpole Library, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings for their assistance. A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference in Colorado Springs in 2002.

1. Kotzebue’s drama was based on Jean-François Marmontel’s Les Incas (1777). In Sheridan’s

adaptation, he combined and compressed two plays by Kotzebue, Die Sonnenjungfrau (1788) and Die Spanier in Peru, oder Rolla’s Tod (1796). For the text of Pizarro, see Cecil Price, ed., The Dramatic

Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1973), 2:651–704. Price reproduces the first printed edition, published by James Ridgway on 25 June 1799.

2. See Charles Beecher Hogan, ed., The London Stage, 1660–1800 (Carbondale, Ill., 1968), pt. 5,

vol. 3, 2097. Exceptionally, the theater stayed open through June to accommodate demand. In the 1799–1800 season, Pizarro was performed thirty-six times and grossed £16,422 (pt. 5, vol. 3, 2202). Although Pizarro’s appeal was initially topical, it remained popular for many years and in 1856 was

still playing at two London theaters.

3. See The London Stage, pt. 5, vol. 3, 2177.

4. Anthony Oliver and John Saunders argue that Loutherbourg designed some of the scenery;

see “De Loutherbourg and Pizarro, 1799,” Theatre Note-book 20 (Autumn 1965): 30–32. Although

huntington library quarterly | vol. 70, no. 4


Pp. 607–631. ©2007 by Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. issn 0018-7895 | e-issn 1544-399x. All rights reserved. For permission to photocopy or reproduce article content, consult the University of California Press Rights and Permissions website, DOI: 10.1525/hlq.2007.70.4.607.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

phenomenal success was crowned by a command performance on 5 June 1799, at- tended by George III and the royal family, who graced the premises for the first time in four years. 5 Pizarro’s extraordinary public reception can be attributed to a combina- tion of factors—the stellar acting of John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons, the heroic plot and spectacular staging, and, above all, its patriotic appeal, epitomized by Rolla’s moving address to the Peruvian army (act 2, scene 2). Pizarro’s hold over the popular imagination is further demonstrated by the re- markable series of caricatures it generated, in which contemporary politics fused with melodramatic spectacle and real political figures appeared in the guise of theatrical characters. Beginning in early June a dozen satirical prints appeared in rapid succes- sion, an unprecedented graphic response to a theatrical production. 6 This essay exam- ines the multi-layered verbal and visual responses to Pizarro and its complex personal and political subtexts, and shows the ways in which theatrical and political identities and warring ideologies were dramatically re-envisioned and conflated— making the play an especially rich terrain for caricaturists. A cultural phenomenon as well as a commercial blockbuster, Pizarro provides a useful lens for scrutinizing the overlapping preoccupations of politics, satirical prints, and the stage in Georgian London and the ways in which caricature and the theater came to function as a public forum for contesting and asserting British identity and patriotic sentiment in the late eighteenth century. Although my discussion focuses primarily on the caricatural responses, Pizarro also inspired celebratory images, such as Robert Dighton’s theatrical portraits of Kem- ble as Rolla and Siddons as Elvira, which I consider later in the essay, as well as paint- ings. Thomas Lawrence’s iconic canvas of Kemble as Rolla, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800, represents the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum from the cari- catures. The painting, which I turn to in my conclusion, highlights the dramatic inten- sity and picturesque beauty of Kemble’s heroic performance, effectively blurring the lines between portraiture and history painting, between actor and stage persona— much as the play itself did. 7

his name does not appear in the advertisement, their claim is supported by John Britton’s assertion that “some of the scenes are from sketches by the ingenious Loutherbourg” (Sheridan and Kotzebue [London 1799], 143). On 25 May 1799, the Times gushed, “Pizarro’s Pavilion and the Temple of the

Sun are equal in point of brilliant effect to the best scenes of any of our Theatres; and the machinery, decorations, and dresses were marked with appropriate taste and splendour”; cited in John Loftis, Sheridan and the Drama of Georgian England (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), 137.

5. Joseph W. Donohue, Dramatic Character in the English Romantic Age (Princeton, N.J. , 1970),

128. The royal command performance paid off handsomely, to the tune of £639, and receipts increased after 5 June; see The London Stage, pt. 5, vol. 3, 2182.

6. See M. Dorothy George, British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, vols. 5–11

(London, 1935–42)[BM hereafter], nos. 9396, 9397, 9398, 9399, 9402, 9406, 9407, 9409, and 9417. Dighton’s theatrical portraits of Kemble and Siddons as Rolla and Elvira (BM 9436, 9437) were published June 1799 and 14 December 1799, respectively. The Rival Managers (not in BM), published June 1799, and BM 9409 conflate politics and the theater and satirize Pizarro’s patriotic oratory. The

Peel Collection, vol. 6 (Pierpont Morgan Library), contains eight Pizarro prints, indicating that they were collected as a series.

7. See Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Complete Catalogue of the Oil Paintings (Oxford,

1989), no. 451c, 216. The painting (formerly Kansas City Art Institute) was engraved by S. W. Reynolds

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


Surprisingly little attention has been paid to the cultural and political contexts that contributed to Pizarro’s reception, or to the trenchant, ideologically engaged satir- ical prints it spawned. Scholars for the most part have concentrated on the play’s com- position and the text itself. 8 But the text offers only faint glimmerings of the theatrical experience that dazzled and captivated contemporary audiences. Sheridan’s over- the-top production depended heavily on visual pageantry and special effects, as well as choral and instrumental music. 9 The elaborate staging and processional aspect so crucial to the play’s visual impact can be gleaned from an annotated prompt book for Pizarro, which notes the order and stage blocking for scenes such as the spectacular procession at the Temple of the Sun and documents the extensive excisions and other modifications. 10 While offering pointed remarks about the play and its faults, Mrs. Larpent, wife of the Lord Chamberlain’s examiner and an astute theatrical observer, nonetheless rec- ognized that Pizarro’s spectacular appeal transcended its shortcomings:

Pizarro with innumerable faults interests. It is a Pastic[c]io—Opera, Tragedy,—very Showy. A flash of Language which when examined is more Sound than Sense, forced violent Situations, and every thing brought forward to seize the Imagination—Judgment has nothing to

do in the business

Mrs. Siddons acts Elvira well but rather too highly wrought. The whole is a magnificent Spectacle. 11

Kemble Acts Rolla in the most perfect manner.

Although the scenic effects and patriotic speeches were widely applauded, Pizarro elicited an extraordinary range of critical responses, from extravagant praise to with- ering denunciation, in the case of the Anti-Jacobin Review. In Sheridan and Kotzebue (1799), John Britton claimed that Pizarro “has excited the greatest variety of praise and censure from the critical fraternity of any production ever brought out upon the English stage.” 12 Britton also observed that the responses to Pizarro were highly

in 1803. See Shearer West’s insightful analysis in “Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Half-History’ Portraits and the

Politics of Theatre,” Art History 14, no. 2 (June 1991): 235–39. There is also a painting, Mrs. Jordan as Cora (ca. 1799; Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection).

8. The most useful sources are Donohue, Dramatic Character, 125–56; Loftis, Sheridan and the

Drama, 124–41; Thomas Moore, Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan,

2 vols. (London, 1825), 2:286–92; and Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 2:625–50, the most complete account. See also Grzegorz Sinko, Sheridan and Kotzebue: A Comparative Essay (Wroclaw, 1949).

9. See The London Stage, pt. 5, vol. 3, 2177. The music was composed and selected by Michael Kelly;

the machinery, decorations, and dresses were under the direction of Johnson; and the scenery was

designed and executed by Marinari, Greenwood, Demaria, Banks, and Blackmore.

10. See the Prompt Book for Pizarro, 3d ed. (London, 1799), Folger Shakespeare Library, PROMPT

P46, which is extensively annotated and appears to be a final or souvenir prompt book dating from the early 1800s. Because it records the running time, the extent of the excisions can be gauged. The first act was cut to thirty-five minutes and the seminal second act to forty-five minutes.

11. See Mrs. Larpent’s diary, 14 January 1800 (Huntington MS. HM 31201), cited in Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 2:636–37.

12. Britton, Sheridan and Kotzebue, 140.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

partisan and frequently dictated by party allegiances. 13 As we shall see, Sheridan suc- ceeded at angering both the Pittites, who resented his political opportunism and popu- lar success, and the radical Whigs, who were appalled by Sheridan’s “defection” and the play’s loyalist rhetoric. 14 According to Samuel Rogers, Charles James Fox declared that Pizarro was “the worst thing possible.” 15 Even though partisan politics were at the heart of the polemics surrounding Pizarro, hostile critics tended to focus on the play’s literary and historical short- comings or its perceived immorality. 16 Thomas Moore, Sheridan’s official biographer, scathingly characterized the text as an ambiguous hybrid—neither verse nor prose, in which pomp and inversion were substituted for meter. 17 Moore also denounced Pizarro’s dialogue as unworthy of its author, noting with relief that Sheridan actually bore little responsibility for either the play’s defects or its merits. 18 Most critics, how- ever, gave Sheridan considerably more credit for his treatment of the original, notably for having streamlined the action and greatly improved the dialogue by clothing “the sentiments of Kotzebue in his own language.” 19 Among the most rabid critiques was “Remarks on Kotzebue’s Pizarro,” pub- lished anonymously in the Anti-Jacobin Review in June 1799, which excoriated Kotze- bue’s plays for making the great vicious and the low virtuous. The author denounced Elvira as a Godwinite heroine, calling her “one of the most reprehensible characters that was ever suffered to disgrace the stage.” 20 The derisive Critique on the Tragedy of Pizarro (1799) complained that Pizarro was a pantomime in five long acts, deficient in plot, character, and language and lacking greatness of mind in the character of Pizarro. 21 Turning Sheridan’s own lines from The Critic against him, the anonymous reviewer, referring to the spectacular opening scene of Pizarro, maliciously cited Mr. Puff ’s “Smaller things must give way to a striking scene at the opening.”

13. Ibid., 141. Envy and Sheridan’s notoriety also came into play.

14. See Lady Elizabeth Foster to Augustus Foster, 27 December 1799, cited in Price, ed., Dramatic

Works, 2:635. According to Lady Foster, there was no other subject of conversation, and opinions were divided: “The violent Ministerialists are angry that Sheridan should have such applause; the violent

oppositionists are as angry at the loyalty of the Play; and the rigid and censorious are suspicious of such pure morality and mild religion from the pen of a person esteemed profligate.”

15. Cited in Samuel Rogers, Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (New York, 1856), 95.

16. See A Critique on the Tragedy of Pizarro (London, 1799), and Samuel Argent Bardsley, Critical

Remarks on Pizarro (London, 1800). In 1802 The Oracle denounced Kotzebuemania as a mental malady reaching its apogee with Pizarro (cited in Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 2:63–67).

17. See Moore, Memoirs of Sheridan, 2:287. Extrapolating from Moore’s commentary, I have coined

the phrase “amphibious hybrid.” Moore vehemently insists that the play “ought never, from either mo- tives of profit or the vanity of success, to have been coupled with his [Sheridan’s] name.”

18. Ibid., 2:287–88. Although Sheridan deviated little from the original drama, and the dialogue

follows the English translations he used, he rewrote some speeches and scenes entirely. See Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 2:625–27, 640–50, for the most helpful discussion of the text’s genesis.

19. See Britton, Sheridan and Kotzebue, who cites the Monthly Mirror, 142.

20. See the Anti-Jacobin Review, cited in Britton, Sheridan and Kotzebue, 127–28.

21. See A Critique on the Tragedy of Pizarro, iv, 25.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


In his more staid Critical Remarks on Pizarro (1800), Samuel Argent Bardsley praised Pizarro’s pathetic sentiment and energetic declamation but denounced its his- torical improbability. 22 He also considered the characters morally flawed, complaining that Elvira was not suitable for a tragic heroine, and even detecting something morally insidious lurking in Rolla’s address to Pizarro. 23 Like the Anti-Jacobin Review, Bardsley and other conservative critics attacked Pizarro primarily on moral and literary grounds rather than attempting to unpack the complex political and personal subtexts and cultural tensions that, as we shall see, the caricaturists ruthlessly exposed. Not surprisingly, the most damning account of Sheridan’s political oppor- tunism and hypocrisy was penned by one of his bitterest enemies, William Cobbett. In The Political Proteus (1804), Cobbett denounced Sheridan as a demagogue and a hyp- ocrite, who pulled out his “true English feeling” like a stage prop and shamelessly played to the gullible gallery of public opinion. 24 In particular, he condemned Sheri- dan’s shameless circulation of Rolla’s speech at Drury Lane, his invitation to the Volun- teer Corps to attend Pizarro, and the way in which the playhouse performances were connected with parliamentary proceedings. 25 Cobbett also alleged that Sheridan had perniciously modified Rolla’s address in his text by substituting “country” for “king” and inserting the inflammatory words “people’s choice,” subversively aligning Pizarro with radical politics and French republicanism. 26 However, Cobbett’s denunciation of Sheridan did not derail Pizarro, which remained popular into the early 1800s. The public enthusiastically applauded the play, vindicating the Morning Herald’s prophetic reviewer, who had hailed Rolla’s address to the Peruvian army as one of the “most suc- cessful appeals to Patriotism, that has ever distinguished the English Drama.” 27 In 1803, in response to heightened fears of invasion, Sheridan once more donned the mantle of Pizarro. He became colonel of the Westminster volunteers and reissued Rolla’s patriotic speech as a broadside entitled Sheridan’s Address to the People. 28

Although Pizarro has frequently been dismissed as a derivative, commercial pot- boiler unworthy of Sheridan’s dramatic genius, it commands attention as a cultural and political phenomenon. 29 Moreover, there is every indication that Sheridan

22. He also criticized the music and scenic decoration, finding them “splendidly insipid.”

See Bardsley, Critical Remarks, 47–48. The pamphlet was written for the Manchester Literary Society.

23. Ibid., 44–47. This is the only critique of Rolla’s speech I have found.

24. William Cobbett, The Political Proteus: A View of the Public Character and Conduct of

R. B. Sheridan, Esq. (London, 1804); see esp. 76–93.

25. Ibid., 78.

26. Ibid., 83–84.

27. The Morning Herald, 25 May 1799, cited in Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 633.

28. West, “Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Half-History’ Portraits,” 237 n. 56; Cobbett, Political Proteus, 78–80.

29. Like The Beggar’s Opera, Pizarro was a widely discussed cultural phenomenon. It inspired a

five-act parody, attributed to Matthew West (London, [1799]), and popular songs, such as “Paddy’s De- scription of Pizarro,” in A Garland of New Songs [Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1800]. The Marches in the Play

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

himself took great pride in Pizarro and its text, which was published under his name on 25 June 1799 and went through twenty-one editions, selling an extraordinary thirty thousand copies that year alone. 30 The impetus for mounting Pizarro was in part fi- nancial. After the costly expansion of Drury Lane in 1794, the theater was deeply leveraged and its finances were particularly precarious. Having borrowed heavily from the theater’s treasury, Sheridan was forced to obtain loans from banks and pri- vate individuals to pay the company. Actors, notably Mrs. Siddons, were pressing Sheridan for payment of their salaries. 31 The Stranger’s highly successful run at Drury Lane in 1798 was indeed a powerful incentive for adapting another of Kotzebue’s emotion-laden, crowd-pleasing dramas for the English stage. 32 However, in the para- noid ideological climate of the late 1790s, mounting a Kotzebue play about military conquest, conflicting loyalties, and betrayal steeped in topical references was a bold gamble that could easily have backfired if the play had been proscribed as disloyal or politically subversive. 33 All the evidence indicates that Sheridan was emotionally as well as financially invested in Pizarro, and its personal and political subtexts prevent our dismissing it as mere hackwork. 34 For Sheridan, who was seeking to regain the moral high ground after the disastrous Maidstone Trial and the failed rebellion of the United Irishmen, Pizarro was a bold political maneuver and personal coup. 35 In his adaptation Sheridan daringly commandeered Kotzebue’s drama for his own ideological purposes, ingen- iously injecting radical Whig politics and bits of his famous parliamentary speeches from the Hastings Trial 36 into the cauldron of patriotic sentiment and nationalistic

of Pizarro, composed by Kelly, was published [1799], and Cora’s song from Pizarro, sung by Mrs. Jordan, was anthologized.

30. Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 2:648–49. Demand was so great that several unauthorized editions

preceded the official version. On 17 June 1799, The Oracle published a disclaimer, informing the public that the correct edition, as now performing at Drury Lane, would appear in about ten days.

31. See The London Stage, pt. 5, vol. 3, 2098. Sheridan’s correspondence from the 1790s repeatedly

refers to pressing debts and arrears in paying Siddons; see The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 2 vols., ed. Cecil Price (Oxford, 1966), esp. 2:56, 84. An undated letter to John Grubb urges him to settle with Sid- dons. Her frustration in attempting to collect her salary is a constant refrain in her letters from the 1790s.

32. On the vogue for Kotzebue in England, see L. F. Thompson, Kotzebue: A Survey of His Progress

in France and England (Paris, 1928), 55–108. See also The Beauties of Kotzebue (London, 1800), which published excerpts of Kotzebue’s plays organized thematically. Excerpts from Spaniards in Peru appeared under the rubric of heroism (pp. 179–83).

33. In October 1798 the Anti-Jacobin Review denounced Kotzebue for rendering the upper

classes “objects of indignation or contempt” and for diffusing the new philosophism. In 1799 the Duchess of Württemberg wrote to George III from Stuttgart, warning him of the moral dangers of Kotzebue’s plays. Cited in Fintan O’Toole, A Traitor’s Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (London, 1997), 342.


The fact that Sheridan dedicated Pizarro to his wife further attests its personal significance

to him.


O’Toole, Traitor’s Kiss, 341, 343–45.

36.The Hastings Trial, the longest and most famous in British legal history, began in 1788. In 1787 Hastings, former governor-general of India, was impeached for misconduct and corruption. Sheridan’s eloquent speech on the Begums of Oudh turned the tide of public opinion against Hastings. In 1795 Hastings was acquitted on all charges by the House of Lords.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


fervor, brought to a boil by the threat of a French invasion. Sheridan’s political oppor- tunism and hypocrisy in invoking loyalist sentiments were not lost on savvy contem- porary observers, such as Kemble’s biographer James Boaden, who sardonically observed:

There was a political point, of no mean importance, obvious in this play; we had Mr. Sheridan (formerly furious in the cause of France, invoking destruction upon the heads of the british cabinet, and coveting for himself the ‘blow of vengeance,’ ) now speaking with the heart and voice of his country, his perfect abhorrence of the conduct and the principles of revolution; and urging by every oratorical charm his countrymen to resist and disdain the arms and arts of France. 37

As caricaturists and politically astute critics recognized, Pizarro was a multi- layered melodramatic spectacle that, despite its apparent loyalist rhetoric, actually celebrated the principles of the opposition. Pizarro, Sheridan’s last major theatrical enterprise and the most Machiavellian, was an audacious political and commercial risk in which his dramatic and parliamentary careers coalesced for the last time. The only play written after his election to the House of Commons, Pizarro—with its tragic-historical scenario and its suggestive political subtext—stands apart from his earlier comic masterpieces. Indeed, it could be argued that the particular value Sheri- dan placed on Pizarro was due to its patriotic oratory and seamless adaptation of con- temporary politics to the British stage. 38 By skillfully manipulating the combined power of visual spectacle and patriotic rhetoric and by blatantly appealing to nation- alist sentiment and the emotions, Sheridan succeeded brilliantly at capturing the public imagination and triumphing (albeit temporarily) over financial and political adversity. 39

It was only fitting that Sheridan—a brilliant wit—who isolated and ridiculed his comic characters, much as a skillful caricaturist would, was in turn lampooned in the satires produced in response to Pizarro. 40 Sheridan, whose dueling theatrical and political personas and public notoriety made him an irresistible target, was one of the most frequently caricatured figures of the late eighteenth century. 41 Admired for his wit and

37. James Boaden, Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble, 2 vols. (1825; reprint ed., 1969), 2:241.

38. R. Crompton Rhodes, in Harlequin Sheridan: The Man and the Legends (Oxford, 1933), makes

this point (p. ix). As Sheridan always insisted, he was a man of the theater in spite of himself.

39. See O’Toole, Traitor’s Kiss, 344–45; Loftis, Sheridan and the Drama, 124. Mrs. Larpent (cited

n. 11, above) noted the hyperbolic language and forced situations, describing it as ” more sound than sense.” 40. In Sheridan and the Drama, Loftis compares Sheridan to a caricaturist (p. ix).

41. See Nicholas K. Robinson, Edmund Burke: A Life in Caricature (New Haven, Conn., and Lon-

don, 1996), 194. In the “Appendix of Persons Most Caricatured, 1778–97,” Sheridan comes in seventh, behind Fox, Pitt, George III, North, the Prince of Wales, and Burke.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

inspired oratory in the House of Commons, Sheridan became a mainstay of caricatur- ists from the late 1780s on. In caricatures published in the 1790s, the personal and the political increasingly overlapped, and visual conventions for representing Sheridan solidified. Caricaturists frequently played on his name, depicting him as a drunkard with his trademark bottle of Sherry, or with the blotched skin and bulbous red nose of the habitual drinker. His theatrical associations and financial sleight of hand engen- dered caricatures of him as the trickster Harlequin, servant of various masters, or occasionally as Punch. Another recurring theme was his impecuniousness. The number of caricatures peaked as politics heated up, notably in 1788 around the Hast- ings Trial, and in the late 1790s when the opposition’s political fortunes hit bottom in the wake of the Treason Trials and the invasion threat. In the Pizarro caricatures, Sheridan’s opportunism, drunkenness, stage connections, and impecuniousness were melded together in a particularly potent graphic cocktail. Of the twenty-two caricatures from 1799 linked to Sheridan, fully half allude to Pizarro, which for a time monopolized the public’s attention to the exclusion of foreign affairs. 42 James Gillray, the most brilliantly inventive satirist of the age, took the lead in pillorying Pizarro’s commercial success and Sheridan’s greed. Pizarro Contemplating over the Product of His New Peruvian Mine (figure 1), published 4 June 1799 by Hannah Humphrey, established the template for the prints that followed. 43 Although Sheridan himself did not appear in the play, in the caricatures he assumes the title role of the avaricious, morally bankrupt conquistador. 44 Sheridan/Pizarro is depicted against an exotic backdrop of mountains and a palm tree, greedily gloating over his profits.

Dressed as Pizarro in a striped Spanish doublet with a ruffed collar, Sheridan is carica- tured as an anti-hero—a fat buffoon with the blotched face of a drunkard. Significantly, he is surrounded and abetted by the puffery of the press, which he had himself satirized in The Critic (1779). Indeed, Pizarro was so widely advertised before the opening that the house was completely sold out before the play was finished or the music com- posed. 45 In the print the wreathed twisted columns are adorned with putti blowing the trumpets of fame and holding up placards inscribed Morning Chronicle, Morning Her- ald, Courier, Times, and so on. The caption, which parodies the play’s soaring rhetoric, reads: “Honor? Reputation? A mere Bubble!—will the praises of posterity charm my

O, Gold! Gold! For thee, I would sell my native Spain, as freely

bones in the Grave?

as I would plunder Peru.” Gillray’s depiction of Sheridan as a greedy conquistador at- tacks his avarice, hypocrisy, and political opportunism and alludes to his manipulation of the press as well as his notorious indebtedness. This savaging of Sheridan may have

42. See George, British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, 7:xxxiv. Bracketing the

Pizarro prints are damaging allusions to the Maidstone Trial (BM 9343), The Funeral of the Remains of the Opposition (BM 9411), and Political Hoaxing (BM 9416).

43. BM 9396. It is the earliest dated print and clearly served as the model for BM 9397. Since not all

the prints are dated, the order of publication cannot always be determined. Gillray proved especially adept at deploying disparaging theatrical references to discredit Sheridan.

44. In the 1799 production William Barrymore played the role of Pizarro.

45. Michael Kelly, cited in Price, ed., Dramatic Works, 2:626. Kelly, who composed the music, as

noted above, recounts the frustrations of collaborating with Sheridan.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


caricature, cultural politics, and the stage 615 figure 1. James Gillray, Pizarro Contemplating over the Product

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

been fueled in part by the secret government pension Gillray began receiving in 1797 in return for switching his political allegiance and attacking the Whig opposition. 46 Pizarro Returning from the Gold Mines of Peru (figure 2), which also satirizes Sheridan’s greed, deals more explicitly with his radical politics, foregrounding his du- plicity and opportunism. Published in June 1799 by William Holland, the unsigned print spells out the broader political implications of Sheridan’s profiteering and the play itself. 47 Holland, a radical publisher of prints and broadsheets with a literary bent, wrote the dialogue and may have conceived the print. 48 Sheridan/Pizarro, dressed as a Spanish don with a Napoleonic plumed hat, strides forward, weighed down by an im- mense sack of gold. Close on his heels, Fox, who has slashed the sack, captures the cas- cading guineas in his bonnet-rouge, which is adorned with a revolutionary cockade. Clearly visible in the background are Drury Lane and a hoarding with bills posted, alluding to the theatre’s close association with Whig opposition politics as well as Sheridan’s commercialism. The text slyly echoes the patriotic appeal of Rolla’s speech, which, in effect, masked the Whig subtext of the play. Sheridan/Pizarro, who had en- thusiastically embraced the French Revolution and maintained ties with the most radical reformist societies, disingenuously observes, “I must hurry home or I shall be waylaid by the Jacobin Banditti!” The print recalls Gillray’s earlier satirical print, The Political Banditti Assailing the Savior of India (1788), in which Fox and Burke violently assail Hastings and his money bags, which was published by Holland and listed in his 1788 catalogue. 49 As the caricaturists lampooning Pizarro clearly understood, the real protagonist was Sheridan himself—playwright, theater manager, Harlequin, and political proteus 50 —whose spectacular stagecraft and recycled histrionic rhetoric from the Hastings Trial mesmerized and duped the spectators attending Pizarro, including the king. In June 1799 three prints featuring the command performance of Pizarro, at- tended by George III and the royal family, appeared in rapid succession. 51 The royal visit generated intense excitement, and Drury Lane was packed. 52 Sheridan, naturally,

46. See Richard Godfrey, James Gillray: The Art of Caricature (London, 2001), 19. Gillray received

a pension of two hundred pounds and became a ministerial propagandist. In the late 1790s he con- tributed to the violently partisan government-subsidized Anti-Jacobin Magazine. See also Diana

Donald, The Age of Caricature: Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1996), 166, 175–77.

47. BM 9397. The print is not precisely dated. Holland, the leading publisher of anti-royal prints in

the 1790s, and the radical bookseller James Ridgway (who later published Pizarro) were arrested in December 1792 for selling Thomas Paine’s pamphlets. See Donald, Age of Caricature, 3–4, 146–49.

48. Holland generally composed the texts for his caricatures, which have a distinctive looped

script. See David Alexander, Richard Newton and English Caricature in the 1790s (University of Man- chester, Whitworth Art Gallery, 1998), 16–17.

49. BM 6955. See Simon Turner, “William Holland’s Satirical Print Catalogues, 1788–1794,” Print

Quarterly 16, no. 2 (1999): 134.

50. Cobbett was especially scathing on Sheridan’s demagoguery and hypocrisy in The Political

Proteus; see n. 24 above.

51. See BM 9398, 9399, and 9402.

52. See Donohue, Dramatic Character, 136–37.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


caricature, cultural politics, and the stage 617 figure 2. Pizarro Returning from the Gold Mines of

made the most of the occasion, turning it into a patriotic manifestation and a personal vindication. However, Sheridan’s dramatic embrace of loyalist principles met with considerable skepticism, as the caricatures indicate. Although the Times reported that His Majesty was “peculiarly gratified” with Rolla’s rapturously applauded loyalist address, George III privately complained to Lord Harcourt that Pizarro was “a poor composition.” 53 The most striking of the three satires is Pizzaro, a New Play, or the Drury-Lane Masquerade (figure 3), published 11 June 1799 and attributed to Ansell. 54 A grotesquely fat, swaggering Sheridan, dressed as Pizarro, strides forward, ostenta- tiously lighting the royal party, arrayed in formal court dress, to their box. Although all three proprietors of Drury Lane greeted the royal party and escorted them to their box, in the caricatures only Sheridan/Pizarro is pictured. When the royal family entered, there was an ovation that lasted almost ten minutes. Directly behind Sheridan, the

53. See the Times, 6 June 1799, cited in Donohue, Dramatic Character, 138; O’Toole, Traitor’s Kiss,

348, who cites Farington.

54. BM 9402. Published by SW Fores, the print appeared in London und Paris 4 (1799) with an

explanatory text (BM 9402A). All three satires represent Sheridan lighting the way to the royal box and underscore his duplicity and political opportunism.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

stage is partially visible, with Fox and his followers in the pit, cheering madly and wav- ing their hats in the air. In the bubble above his head, Sheridan calls out for “God Save the King,” which was in fact played twice before the play began. 55 The print depicts a gullible George III, totally taken in by Sheridan’s performance. The king, calling the au- thor a “charming man,” adds that he “never saw him in such a good light before.” One of the princesses exclaims, “Bless me I never saw that General at Court,” further con- flating Sheridan and Pizarro. Significantly, the stage is labeled “Anti-Jacobin House” rather than the usual “Veluti in Speculum.” The royal visit, re-staged in the print as a theatrical tableau, is cynically exposed as a masquerade in which the royal family are duped and manipulated by Sheridan. Visible in the foreground is a stone inscribed “Maidstone Loyalty,” anchoring a paper that reads, “[Tomorr]ow evening performed a new play called the Loyal Author to which will be added a Peep behind the Curtain Vivan[t] Rex et Regina,” further underscoring the political and theatrical parallels and unmasking Sheridan’s duplicity. The Drury-Lane Masquerade incisively deconstructs and satirizes Sheridan’s cynical campaign to recoup his political reputation by re- fashioning himself as a loyalist and a devoted servant to the crown. Two other closely related prints also refer to the Jacobins and highlight the gulli- bility of the king, who staunchly defends Sheridan’s loyalty. In The Return from Pizarro (figure 4), dated 5 June 1799 and attributed to Isaac Cruikshank, Sheridan, portrayed in elegant court dress and a powdered wig, holds up two candelabra while stiffly goose- stepping before the king and queen and Lord Salisbury, the chamberlain. 56 Although the date underscores the print’s “documentary” dimension, it may have been produced in anticipation of the royal visit or dated after the fact. The king insists to the queen that Sheridan is “very loyal no Jacobin—not believe it.” Fox, gazing down on the scene, ex- claims enviously, “I wish I was a manager!” The title, The Return from Pizarro, is a clever double entendre alluding to both Sheridan’s financial profits from Pizarro and his return to favor based on his loyalist coup de théâtre. By contrast, in Returning from Pizarro!! (published June 1799 by Holland), Sheridan’s slovenly appearance and every- day attire sharply differentiate him from the elegantly dressed royal party, making him appear an obsequious lackey. 57 George III, seen from the back in silhouette, volubly attests to Sheridan’s loyalty while Fox, visible at the far right wielding a constable’s staff, clears the path, shouting, “Stand away there, don’t stop the passage you pack of Jacobin rascals!!” As all three caricatures underscore, refashioning the Spanish conquest of the New World into a contemporary political allegory and transforming Drury Lane into a loyalist anti-Jacobin stronghold was a brilliant as well as parlous demonstration of Sheridan’s protean powers and superior stagecraft.

55. The text reads: “Stand by there, move that Stone out of the Way, hollo Music there play God

Save the King, d’ye hear take care, Sire, mind that step, louder the music, make room for the best of Kings and wisest of Sovereigns! Encore.” The Duke of York’s band accompanied the Drury Lane singers in “God Save the King,” and “Rule Britannia” was sung between Pizarro and the farce.

56. BM 9399. Sheridan, who is not as viciously caricatured, appears more respectable in court dress.

57. BM 9398. The unsigned print cannot be precisely dated.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

The most spectacular instance of the conflation of the play conflation with con- temporary politics and the re-envisaging of political conflict as stage spectacle is Rolla’s Address to the Peruvian Army (figure 5), a broadsheet issued 12 July 1799 by Holland. 58 Pitt, in the guise of Rolla, appropriates Rolla’s overheated oratory from act 2, scene 2. He addresses a group of loyalist chieftains, including Lord Dundas, dressed in tartan and a feathered headdress. The print burlesques one of the play’s climactic scenes, set in the Temple of the Sun. In contrast to the previous satires, Rolla’s lengthy speech, containing the play’s most famous line, “We serve a Monarch whom we love—a God whom we adore,” is reprinted verbatim rather than parodied, thus directly linking Sheridan’s play with contemporary politics and apotheosizing Pitt as patriotic de- fender of Britain and exemplary hero. Across the sea, the Spaniards, equated with the French Republicans in Sheridan’s text, are transmogrified into Foxite Whigs, holding up their bonnets-rouges, under the tricolor banner of “Libertas.” Recognizable among the motley band are Fox, Derby, Bedford, and Erskine. Despite Rolla’s rousing speech and the veneer of loyalist rhetoric, the play’s Whiggish implications were clear to Pitt’s propagandists. Indeed, Pitt, who pronounced Kemble to be “the noblest actor that he had even seen,” smiled at Rolla’s speech, recognizing some of the figures he had ad- mired at the Hastings Trial. 59 In the broadsheet, Pizarro is appropriated and re-staged with a markedly different political agenda, which is, arguably, more propagandistic than satirical. Moreover, the literal inclusion of the text seems like a transparent at- tempt to subjugate the play’s unruly narrative and slippery political content to ensure that the moral fable is properly interpreted. A revitalized Pitt, apotheosized as the heroic Rolla, electrifies the triumphant army of loyalists while the Lilliputian figures of the opposition, metonymically evoking the much-feared French invaders, are reduced to inconsequential specks on the horizon. The print conjures a fictionalized patriotic spectacle in which contemporary political events are (re)presented in terms of Sheri- dan’s play and individual politicians double as theatrical characters, thus thoroughly conflating Westminster and Drury Lane. Sheridan’s political agenda was clearly spelled out in his depiction of Pizarro and the Spaniards in Peru, which referenced his political career and his own oratory, no- tably his histrionic depiction of Lord Hastings and the English in India during the Hastings Trial. Indeed, Sheridan shamelessly recycled his famous analogy of the vul- ture and the lamb in Rolla’s address to the Peruvian army. 60 Moreover, Sheridan’s life- long championship of liberty and human rights was embedded in the very fabric of the play, which can be interpreted as a moral fable about political oppression and colonial exploitation, as it evidently was by some of the Pittites. 61 Because Pizarro proved such an effective vehicle for galvanizing public sentiment, it is not surprising that the broad- sheet sought to appropriate and nullify the play’s impact by inverting the political alle-

58. BM 9407.

59. Cited in Boaden, Memoirs of Kemble, 2:242; on the Hastings Trial, see n. 36, above.

60. See O’Toole, Traitor’s Kiss, 346–47.

61. Loftis argues this had special relevance to the debates about the slave trade.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


caricature, cultural politics, and the stage 621 figure 5. Rolla’s Address to the Peruvian Army (1799;

gory and casting Pitt as Rolla. The visual and verbal debate over the imaging of Pizarro, especially the inventive restaging of Rolla’s Address to the Peruvian Army, reflects the highly charged political climate of the late 1790s. Yet it also underscores how morally and politically ambivalent Sheridan’s play was, making it a perfect vehicle for carica- ture, in which the ambiguities and ideological tensions were played out visually. In The Rival Managers (figure 6), published June 1799 by Holland, Pitt and Sheridan confront each other, mano-a-mano, as rival theatrical managers, highlight- ing the public and nationalistic dimension of the stage and its analogies with the politi- cal arena. 62 In the print Pitt refutes that analogy, maintaining that Sheridan must not pretend to compare his company to Pitt’s productions, which reduce Drury Lane’s best tragedies and comedies to farce. The playbill posted behind Pitt advertises the favorite comedy, “Tax upon Tax,” or the way to grow rich, to be followed by “a grand spectacle called Peace in Perspective,” alluding to Pitt’s oppressive tax policies and failed peace negotiations. Sheridan counters that his “is the best conducted theatre of the two,” adding, immodestly, “as to loyalty where you have touch’d with a pencil, I have made use of a trowel.” The bogus playbill on the wall behind Sheridan advertises “The Gold Mines of Peru, or a new way to pay old debts,” with “the character of Pizarro by the

62. Not in BM; see the British Cartoon Collection, Library of Congress 3.221. The print is unsigned.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

manager,” referencing the caricatures of Sheridan/Pizarro discussed earlier. In The Rival Managers, the political dimension of the theater and the affinities between par- liamentary politics and the stage are clearly articulated and debated by the pro- tagonists. Rather than denouncing the immorality or frivolity of the stage, the print tacitly acknowledges its heightened cultural and ideological significance in the politi- cal maelstrom of the 1790s. Although Pitt and Sheridan appear evenly matched, judg- ing from the body language, it is Pitt who struggles to defend his political turf against the onslaught of Sheridan and Pizarro. In Doctor Pizarro Administering to His Patients (figure 7), published 8 July 1799 by Holland, medical themes are introduced into the already volatile political mix. 63 Sheridan appears in the guise of the shifty Dr. Pizarro, administering the essence of loyalty to an immensely fat, ailing Fox, who observes, “The ingredients are amazingly strong, Doctor!” Norfolk, standing behind Sheridan, demands another box of Pizarro pills. At the far right, furtively peering in the window, is George III, who exclaims, “Wonderful great man this Dr. Pizarro—Kills or cures I’m told—these gentlemen were patients of mine once but could not cure them, so refractory!” The king’s remarks about refractory patients that cannot be cured evoke his own repeated bouts of mad- ness. At far left, behind an imposing chest of drawers with the royal arms that contains patent remedies such as Essence of Loyalty, Court Sticking Plaister, Pizarro Pills, and Anti-Jacobin Drops, Derby, Burdett, and Erskine wait their turn to be “cured.” This print not only exposes Sheridan’s opportunism, but also trenchantly portrays the shift- ing alliances and fault lines dividing the Whigs in the unstable political landscape of the 1790s. On 1 October 1799 an especially virulent, politically motivated caricature at- tacking Sheridan’s hypocrisy and greed appeared in the Anti-Jacobin Review. Although published anonymously, Pizzarro (figure 8) is attributed to Gillray. 64 This vitriolic satire portrays a disheveled, grotesquely obese Sheridan, dressed as Pizarro. Grasping two money bags under his left arm, he bestrides Kemble’s large, irradiated head, which reads as an oversized penis. In his right hand Sheridan holds up a document that reads:

“This season true my Principles I’ve sold, To fool the world & pocket George’s gold / Prolific mine! Anglo-Peruvian food / Provok’d my taste—and Candidate I stood,— / While Kemble my support with loyal face / Declares the peoples choice with stage- trick Grace.” The caption below reads: “In Pizzarro’s plans observe the Statesman’s wis- dom guides the poor man’s Heart, Taken from Sheridan’s Pizzarro and adapted to the

63. BM 9406. Though the print is unsigned, the style is reminiscent of Newton, who died in

December 1798. The figure of George III in profile, peering in the window, recalls Newton’s notorious Treason!!! (1798). On Newton’s career and collaboration with Holland, see Alexander, Richard Newton. See also Turner, “William Holland’s Satirical Print Catalogues,” 127–38.

64. BM 9417. Joseph Grego attributes it to Gillray. The last of the Sheridan/Pizarro caricatures, it

was published in the Anti-Jacobin Review, 4:318, facing “A Critique on the Tragedy of Pizarro,” which attacked the play on literary grounds.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

English taste.” 65 This is the most belligerent and explicit attack on Sheridan’s duplicity and self-serving exploitation of loyalist rhetoric in Pizarro. In this caricature, the political implications of the play and the theater’s role in shaping public opinion are highlighted by the inclusion of Kemble, whose heroic per- formance as Rolla did so much to ensure Pizarro’s success. In one of the play’s climactic scenes, Rolla risks his life and dies rescuing Alonzo’s infant son (act 5, scene 2). That moment was immortalized in Lawrence’s theatrical painting, Kemble as Rolla (1800; formerly Kansas City Art Institute), which Boaden rapturously described:

The noble portrait of Mr. Kemble bearing off the child, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, expresses most accurately the vigour and picturesque beauty of his action. The Herculean effort of his strength—his passing the bridge— his preservation of the infant, though himself mortally wounded, excited a sensation of alarm and agony beyond anything perhaps that the stage has exhibited. But, in truth, from his entrance to his death, the character was sustained with a power of elocution, a firmness of deportment, and an intensity of expression, that he alone could combine together. 66

Although the head is recognizably that of Kemble, he has been bulked up and given the muscular physique of a pugilist, further underscoring Rolla’s superhuman heroism. 67 Moreover, as Shearer West has shown, in the painting Rolla becomes a sort of inverted Satanic hero, embodying aristocracy, patriotism, and heroic resistance and represent- ing the forces of justice and order—a complex recapitulation of Lawrence’s paradoxical political views. 68 By contrast, in Gillray’s biting caricature Kemble/Rolla is debased and implicated or subsumed in Sheridan’s stage trickery and hypocritical machina- tions, thus undermining the patriotic sentiments and heroism he so vividly embodied on the stage. Sheridan’s loyalist posturing was unconvincing to many. Trying on a Turn’d Coat (figure 9), published 1 August 1799 by Holland, takes aim at Sheridan’s apparent defec- tion at a moment of crisis for the opposition and references the accusations of treason that hung over his head in the 1790s. 69 This unsigned caricature, like Rolla’s Address, il- lustrates how Pizarro had come to encapsulate the unstable political environment of the late 1790s, in which the ideological struggle hardened—political propaganda pro- liferated and vilification of the opposition reached new heights. 70 During these years

65. The caption modifies Almagro’s lines from act 1, “In Pizarro’s plans, the statesman’s wisdom

guides the warrior’s valour.” The next line echoes the title page of the 1799 edition of the play, which reads, “Taken from the German Drama of Kotzebue and Adapted to the English Stage by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.” 66 Boaden, Memoirs of Kemble, 2:240.

67. Farington, diary entry, dated 11 February 1800, cited in West, “Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Half-History’

Portraits,” 235, n. 48.

68. See West, “Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Half-History’ Portraits,” 239.

69. See BM 9409.

70. See Donald, Age of Caricature, 142–83.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

the Whigs themselves were engaged in internecine warfare, and caricaturists and pam- phleteers were alternately silenced and subsidized by the government. Moreover, the question of treason and betrayal of loyalties for a higher cause, which took on particu- lar saliency in the context of the Treason Trials of 1794, is foregrounded in Pizarro. 71 In Trying on a Turn’d Coat, Sheridan, wearing court dress, and Pitt are represented in a tailor’s shop. Pitt adjusts the sleeve of Sheridan’s changeable coat, which can be turned from blue to scarlet at will. Like their dramatic counterparts, whose conflicting per- sonal and political loyalties were enacted on the stage, the protagonists in the print are shown to be equally adept at changing the color of their coats and their political al- liances. As Norfolk and Fox look on with alarm, Pitt declares Sheridan fit to go to court. A clever verse parody published in 1799 echoes or ventriloquizes a number of the themes exposed in the caricatures of the same year. In More Kotzebue! The Origin of My Own Pizarro (1799), 72 Samuel Argent Bardsley mockingly alludes to Sheridan’s dire financial straits, his delight at the acquittal of Hastings (whom he had sought to convict), his frugality and abstemious look, and his propensity for plagiarism. Salva- tion arrives through the Kotzebue cure, a drug the king also takes, echoing the medical themes introduced in Doctor Pizarro (see figure 7, above). Indeed, the language paral- lels the print’s caption, suggesting a possible connection. More Kotzebue concludes with the triumph of Pizarro, which conjoined loyalty and liberty, and pleased the king. The actor representing the author speaks the epilogue: “thanks! Grateful thanks, to all within my view—In thought I’m now—‘A Spaniard in Peru.’ ” Boasting of his un- bounded riches, the author/Sheridan hypocritically begs the audience to take pity on Harris and his company and to go to Covent Garden occasionally. 73

Having examined the individual caricatures and their multivalent imagery, I would like to consider the Pizarro series as a whole and what conclusions (if any) can be drawn about the production, marketing, and broader cultural significance of satirical prints in the late 1790s. All the leading print publishers—Hannah Humphrey, Samuel William Fores, and William Holland—sought to cash in on Pizarro’s popularity, but Holland was the dominant player. Although Gillray brilliantly kicked off the series with Pizarro Contemplating over the Product of His New Peruvian Mine, it was Holland who pursued the campaign and most creatively mined the personal and political sub- texts of Pizarro. In the summer of 1799 he published five hard-hitting, politically con- tentious satires in rapid succession, ranging from Rolla’s Address to the Peruvian Army to Trying on a Turn’d Coat. Print publishing was typically a collaborative enterprise.

71. See John Barrell, Imagining the King’s Death: Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide, 1793–96

(Oxford, 2000).

72. See More Kotzebue! The Origin of My Own Pizarro, A Farce (London, 1799), with a dedication

signed “Bam-ley Satiricon,” attributed to Samuel Argent Bardsley. This clever verse satire displays an insider’s knowledge of theatrical politics and Sheridan’s personal foibles and previous plays.

73. Bardsley, More Kotzebue, 29–31.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


Holland apparently supplied the captions and sometimes had a hand in designing the prints he published. In the 1790s he worked closely with Richard Newton, Frederick George Byron, and George Murgatroyd Woodward. 74 To avoid libel charges and legal complications, many satirical prints, including the Pizarro plates, were not signed. Al- though the print runs cannot be determined, the fact that Holland produced so many related prints in a short period suggests that they were highly marketable. By the 1790s Holland was established at 55 Oxford Street in the fashionable West End where he held caricature exhibitions charging one-shilling admission. Newton recorded the interior of Holland’s caricature shop in a lively watercolor sketch (1794; British Museum). Although Holland did not abandon politics altogether after his re- lease from Newgate, he became more cautious, primarily producing social satires with broad market appeal. 75 Newton’s libelous Treason!!! (1798), depicting John Bull farting in the face of George of III as a horrified Pitt cries “Treason,” was published under Newton’s name rather than Holland’s. In the booming but highly competitive print market of the 1790s, Holland catered to a diverse clientele, selling his prints individu- ally at a wide range of prices and in volumes consisting of one hundred prints, in- tended for collectors. Although the hand-colored impressions that collectors favored were not cheap, the potential audience was far larger. Satirical prints were publicly displayed in shop windows and sometimes published in periodicals, as two of the Pizarro satires were. Despite Holland’s radical leanings, his 1794 catalogue identified the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, an avid collector of caricatures, as customers. 76 The cari- catures Pizarro inspired, like Sheridan’s amphibious play, cut across standard political and party divisions. Although Sheridan was the primary target, Fox, Pitt, and mem- bers of the royal family were also viciously lampooned. Moreover, in the caricatures it is virtually impossible to differentiate Holland’s radical political stance from Fores’s or Gillray’s more conservative Tory views, since Sheridan is caricatured throughout. The Pizarro satires also illustrate how artists fed upon and referred back to one another as well as to earlier prints, confirming that by the 1790s caricature had devel- oped its own distinctive visual syntax and graphic traditions. In the wake of the French Revolution and the political repression of the 1790s, caricature had become a powerful political weapon, especially in the hands of Gillray. Rolla’s image remained a potent and contested patriotic symbol in the early 1800s as the print entitled The British Rolla, pub- lished 27 June 1803, demonstrates. Lord Moira, dressed as Rolla, pompously declaims to the House of Lords, asserting his patriotism and ardent zeal to serve his Majesty. 77

74. These artists figure prominently in Holland’s 1794 catalogue. He also sold older stock and

collections of prints by artists such as Hogarth. See Turner, “William Holland’s Satirical Print Catalogues,” 129–30.

75. Ibid., 131. Holland had been imprisoned in 1792 for selling Paine’s pamphlets.

76. See Turner, “William Holland’s Satirical Print Catalogues,” 130–34. George IV’s extensive

collection of caricatures is in the Library of Congress.

77. BM 10020. Lord Moira was ridiculed for his pompous self-complacency in the Anti-Jacobin.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

In assessing Pizarro’s extraordinary public reception in the politically charged climate of the late 1790s, its melodramatic framework should not be overlooked. I would like to suggest that one key reason Pizarro proved to be such an effective dramatic vehicle was that it showcased the polarities of good and evil and was packed with emotionally po- tent scenes, such as Rolla’s daring rescue of Alonzo’s infant. Indeed, the play admirably embodies the aesthetics of astonishment, irreducible Manichaeanism, hyperbolic rhetoric, and the use of striking tableaux that Peter Brooks has identified as the hall- marks of the melodramatic imagination. 78 The melodramatic dimension also helps explain the play’s extraordinary and lasting popularity, which transcended the histori- cal fable and defects of Sheridan’s text. Not coincidentally, caricature, like melodrama, was a popular but frequently denigrated art form, a hybrid phenomenon that could not easily be suppressed or controlled and that threatened existing aesthetic and political hierarchies. In the xenophobic post-revolutionary atmosphere of the 1790s, Kotzebue’s wildly popular German dramas were denounced by conservative critics, who took exception to their immorality and their politically subversive content. 79 It was Sheridan’s particular ge- nius to grasp both the commercial potential and the patriotic appeal of Kotzebue’s Pizarro, which made it the perfect vehicle for repackaging contemporary political events as theatrical spectacle and for refurbishing his own tarnished personal reputa- tion. As John Britton observed, “Mr. Sheridan has perhaps done more for the minister and government by the loyal sentiments in this play than all the pamphlets, news- papers, and anti-Jacobins, during the present war.” 80 In contrast to the caricatures of Sheridan discussed so far, the theatrical por- traits of Kemble as Rolla and Siddons as Elvira (1799; figures 10, 11, on pp. 630–31), de- signed and published by Robert Dighton, are more celebratory than satirical. 81 Interestingly, they also corroborate Siddons’s penetrating discussion of the stylization of acting—what she termed “the quality of abstraction,” which she and Kemble ex- celled at and which Kotzebue’s dramas and the enlarged space of Drury Lane de- manded. 82 That quality was particularly effective in an operatic spectacle such as Pizarro, which depended so heavily on grandiose scenic effects and heightened emo- tion writ large. In the Dighton prints, obviously designed as pendants, the actors are depicted in heroic profile view, gesturing dramatically, effectively freezing and ab- stracting the narrative action. Siddons’s majestic, emotionally moving portrayal of Elvira, as Kemble famously observed, “made a heroine of a soldier’s trull.” 83 Astound- ing even Sheridan, Siddons raised Elvira to sublime tragic heights. In act 3, scene 3, the

78. See Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination (New Haven, Conn., 1976).

79. West, “Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Half-History’ Portraits,” 235–37 n. 52. As West notes, Kotzebue was

arrested on suspicion of Jacobinism when he visited St. Petersburg in 1800.

80. Britton, Sheridan and Kotzebue, 142.

81. BM 9436, 9437. It is not clear why the print of Siddons was not issued until December 1799.

82. See Loftis, Sheridan and the Drama, ix.

83. Boaden, Memoirs of Kemble, 2:239.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


regal Siddons/Elvira points commandingly and extols Pizarro to greatness. Kemble, in quasi-classical dress with a heavy gold belt and chains and an exotic feathered head- dress, gestures upward, reciting the famous lines from act 2, scene 2, “We serve a King whom we love—a God whom we adore.” Interestingly, in the caption, Dighton has sub- stituted “King” for “Monarch,” which appeared in the printed edition, underscoring the loyalist message. 84 Dighton’s heroic theatrical prints elude easy classification. Neither conventional theatrical portraits nor satires, they slip uneasily between aesthetic and generic cate- gories. Like Lawrence’s half-history painting of Kemble, discussed above, or the 1804 print depicting a command performance of Pizarro at Covent Garden, they served to publicize and commemorate the play. The monumental figures of Siddons and Kem- ble, silhouetted against a blank ground, are reified and aestheticized, their gestures frozen and timeless. I would like to suggest that Dighton’s dramatically staged por- traits, like Sheridan’s ambitious operatic spectacle, are high-blown artistic-theatrical hybrids that reach for the sublime through the popular vernacular. Ultimately, the caricatures Pizarro inspired and the contested accounts that ap- peared in the press attest to the complex dialogic response it engendered across a broad sociopolitical spectrum. One of the century’s most extraordinary cultural and theatri- cal phenomena, Pizarro testifies to the stage’s power to galvanize artists and public sen- timent in a time of political crisis and to Sheridan’s uncanny ability to astonish, dazzle, and discombobulate his contemporaries. More than half a century later, Charles Kean revived Pizarro. Seeking to exemplify the “customs, ceremonies, and religion of Peru at the time of the Spanish invasion,” he incorporated authentic historical detail and up- dated the settings, repackaging Sheridan’s patriotic pantomime for the Victorian stage as educational entertainment. 85

university of alabama at birmingham


Pizarro, Sheridan’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Die Spanier in Peru, opened at Drury Lane on 24 May 1799 and took London by storm. Focusing on Sheridan’s phenomenally popular play as a case study in late- eighteenth-century cultural politics, Heather McPherson considers how theatrical and political identi- ties and warring ideologies were dramatically re-envisioned and conflated both on the stage and in caricatures. Beginning in early June, a dozen satirical prints appeared in rapid succession, in which con- temporary politics were fused with melodramatic spectacle, and real political figures reappeared in the guise of theatrical characters. The series of caricatures Pizarro inspired and the contested accounts that appeared in the press attest to the complex dialogic response it engendered across a broad sociopolitical spectrum. Keywords: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Pizarro, August von Kotzebue, Drury Lane Theatre, James Gillray

84. West, “Thomas Lawrence’s ‘Half-History’ Portraits,” 237. 85. See Charles Kean, Shakespeare and Sheridan Plays Arranged by Charles Kean (London, n.d.), v–ix. Pizarro was revived at the Princess Theatre in 1856 with Kean as Rolla and his wife as Elvira. Kean supplemented the dramatic text with detailed historical notes.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


heather mcpherson

630 heather mcpherson figure 10. Robert Dighton, John Philip Kemble as Rolla (1799; Dighton). Hand-colored etching,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

caricature, cultural politics, and the stage


caricature, cultural politics, and the stage 631 figure 11. Robert Dighton, Sarah Siddons as Elvira (1799;

This content downloaded from on Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions