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Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in Nineteenth-Century Britain$
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Melissa Dickson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474443647

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474443647.001.0001

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The Magical Metropolis

The Magical Metropolis

(p.108) Chapter 3 The Magical Metropolis
Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Melissa Dickson

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter turns to the science of stagecraft, and to the endless recreations and adaptations of the wonders, magic, and treasures of the Arabian Nights that took place within the shows culture of nineteenth-century Britain. These authorless, ownerless tales presented ideal theatrical opportunities to display the rich landscapes, domestic interiors and dazzling treasures of the East within the public spaces of Britain. In so doing, they facilitated a kind of ‘virtual’ tourism, whereby audiences might participate in the adventurer’s narrative of discovery, infiltration, exploration, and safe return, without ever leaving England. At the same time, however, such performances fostered a self-reflective, inward movement, as an imaginative destination of childhood became a physical space that might be stepped into, examined and explored. Performances of the Arabian Nights had a disturbing capacity to evoke and to disrupt childhood memories, as they were reliant upon a substantial amount of labour and technical expertise in order to realise fully the workings of magic and the apparently spontaneous eruption of the supernatural on stage. As a vehicle for exploring the material and technological limits of nineteenth-century stagecraft, the wonder and enchantment of the Arabian Nights thus became inextricably intertwined with the wonder of machinery and technical ingenuity, as new techniques were developed for representing fantasy and manufacturing magic.

Keywords:   Belzoni, Spectacle, Theatre, Remediation, Egyptian Hall, Memory, Stagecraft

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