By Melynda Nuss (auth.)
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Extra resources for Distance, Theatre, and the Public Voice, 1750–1850
But the play itself shows Dibdin somewhat insecure about the power of a spectacular theatre, cut off from the audience and the world outside. The princess in the frame story is imprisoned in a world of candlelight, unable to see the daylight before she reaches the age of 18. Her massy, windowless palace—a figure, perhaps, for the grandiose new theatre—is also her prison. Within the palace, the princess leads a grand life, indulged by her father and beloved by her lover, surrounded by waiting women, dancing troupes, and amusements.
But perhaps the most telling show is at the end of the harlequinade, where Harlequin and Columbine rent a raree-show. Interestingly, they do not watch the show; they only use it to misdirect their pursuers. It is Clown who is fascinated and stays to watch it, and eventually tries to steal it. For his trouble, Harlequin encloses Clown in the box, trapping him within the show. The clown is carried off by the real raree-show man and hurdygurdy woman, roaring, and eventually gets into a fight where the hurdygurdy woman smashes her instrument over his head.
The pantomime’s play with the gigantic and miniature is also a play with nature and art. As Susan Stewart observes in On Longing, both the gigantic and the miniature are ways of extending bodily scale into the world of abstraction. The miniature reveals a closed, secret, interior life, a world distant in space or time, a place where time stops, a world of perfect order, proportion, and balance. The gigantic, its perfect opposite, makes closure impossible. It can only be experienced in broad stretches of time—history, travel—or in the transcendent.