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In What Ways did 19th Century Theatre Respond to Contemporary Crime: With a Focus on the Dramatization of Real-Life Cases and Criminals

Twyford, Sarah Elizabeth (2020) In What Ways did 19th Century Theatre Respond to Contemporary Crime: With a Focus on the Dramatization of Real-Life Cases and Criminals. Master of Arts by Research (MARes) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85603) (KAR id:85603)


During the nineteenth century there was a surge in violent crime. The creation of the printing press allowed for the criminal investigations to be printed en masse in the newspapers for the public to read. Without access to the police reports, enquiries or trial documentation, the facts presented by the press became the widely accepted truth of these investigations despite many details being fabricated or opinion based. In this thesis I explore the ways in which real life murder was represented in the newspapers and how these were adapted into theatre productions. With reference to the newspaper's coverage of the crimes, this thesis details the many ways in which theatre across the nineteenth century responded to contemporary crime. The first murder explored in this thesis is the Elstree murder where John Thurtell murdered fellow gambler William Weare in 1823. With neither party truly being a victim, I argue how the changing opinions of criminals and victims portrayed in the press directly affects the theatre's portrayal of the murderer and the murdered on the stage. The second case looks at the Polstead murder where Maria Marten was murdered by her lover William Corder in 1827. What is interesting about this case is the belief that her body was discovered a year later through her mother's recurring dream. This fictitious anecdote taken from the newspaper's coverage on the murder becomes a focal element of the theatre's adaptations, leading to more supernatural and paranormal narratives. The final case study discussed in this thesis is that of the Whitechapel murders which are notoriously associated with 'Jack the Ripper'. Despite the twenty first century belief that the Ripper murdered five women, I discuss how the mass hysteria portrayed in the press lead to fourteen female murder victims being associated with the Ripper, causing his name to be associated with female murders for almost a decade across the world. In contrast to the popularity and constant retelling of the murders both in newspapers and documentaries today, the Ripper case severely lacked theatrical representation.

Item Type: Thesis (Master of Arts by Research (MARes))
Thesis advisor: Brooks, Helen
Thesis advisor: Quirk, Sophie
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85603
Uncontrolled keywords: theatre murder nineteenth century melodrama thurtell weare corder marten jack the ripper women victims murderers
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2021 13:10 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 02:50 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Twyford, Sarah Elizabeth.

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