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"Overexposed and Underappreciated: The Fortunes and Failures of Dion Boucicault"

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2013


Theatre, Boucicault, Victorian


Dion Boucicault was one of the most prolific and popular playwrights of the 19th century, and his stage innovations changed the face of modern theatre. Many of his plays were among the most profitable in the Victorian Age; however, he is virtually an afterthought in theatre studies today. This relative obscurity in modern scholarship has been attributed to Boucicault’s failure to abandon melodrama for the burgeoning realistic movement, which irrevocably shattered his popularity. This paper will argue that the key factor contributing to Boucicault’s fall from grace was overexposure: on stage, in the press, and in the public sphere. Had Boucicault not written or adapted more than 200 plays in his lifetime, and instead focused on producing quality work like London Assurance, The Colleen Bawn, Arrah-na-Pogue, The Octoroon and The Shaughraun, his reputation might be stronger in the literary canon today. As it was, Boucicault pirated dozens of plays from mainly French sources, made enemies wherever he went, engaged in wars of words in the press, and lived a life of decadence—all factors which likely contributed to his decline in the public eye. This paper will examine Boucicault’s overexposure as a playwright, director, stage manager and enemy of the press; and, using hitherto unpublished materials from The University of South Florida’s “Dion Boucicault Theatre Collection”, it will trace Boucicault’s unsuccessful efforts to regain his place at the forefront of 19th-century theatre in the last decade of his life.

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