This is how Mary Robinson (1758–1800) described her first appearance on stage. She was known as ‘Perdita’ Robinson after her role in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale which brought her to the notice of the Prince of Wales. Her affair with the Prince increased public interest in her as a beautiful young actress and, as her memoirs show, she was acutely sensitive to the gaze of an audience both on and off the stage.1 At this time the crowded and noisy London theatres vied with public executions as the most popular forms of public entertainment. For dramatic writers interested in psychological character development, however, these conditions were less than ideal. Writing in the persona of an unsuccessful author, Charles Lamb (1775–1834) complained ‘that the public, or mob, in all ages, have been a set of blind, deaf, obstinate, senseless, illiterate savages … no man of genius in his senses would be ambitious of pleasing such a capricious, ungrateful rabble’ (Lamb 1903, I, 91). Writers of the day complained that the public taste for glamour and sensation — fed by scandals such as the relationship between Perdita and the Prince — debased the drama.
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