Mimic Toil: Eighteenth-Century Preconditions for the Modern Historical Reenactment

Part of the Reenactment History book series (REH)


Like other genres that have arrived on the historical scene relatively recently, the historical reenactment is a more complex cultural form than its status would lead us to suppose. Indeed, the category ‘historical reenactment’ covers a variety of subgenres including: (1) the organized recreational imitation of a historical event by hobbyists; (2) the reproduction of a historical genre (e.g., the medieval tournament) or situation (e.g., a nineteenth-century mining town), often in the interests of tourism; and (3) the repetition of a historical event for the media, usually television. None of these subgenres in their present form existed in the eighteenth century, which is somewhat puzzling since so many of their constitutive elements already existed. It is almost as if, looking backward, the period is straining toward the reenactment as we know it. What exactly, we might ask, is preventing its emergence?


Eighteenth Century Modern Polish Groin Injury Public Memory Navy Ship 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See L. Colley (February 1984) ‘The Apotheosis of George III: Loyalty, Royalty and the British Nation 1760–1820’, Past and Present, 102, pp. 94–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    See M. Phillips (2000) Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740–1820 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), p. 202ff.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    T. Warton (1754) Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser, (London: R. J. Dodsley), p. 217.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For general material on some aspects of this, see D. Lowenthal (1985) The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 125–84.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For an excellent account of relations between the Walpolean opposition and the retrieval of renaissance and medieval culture, see C. Gerrard (1994) The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725–1742 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    B. Davis (1989) Thomas Percy: A Scholar-Cleric in the Age of Johnson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), pp. 92–3.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Hurd was among the most acute critics of James Macpherson’s claims, just because of the attention he paid to imitation. See S. Brewer (1995) The Early Letters of Bishop Richard Hurd, 1739–1762 (Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer), p. 385.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See S. Bellenger (2005) Girodet: 1767–1824 (Paris: Gallimard), p. 234ff.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    For a discussion of the Scottish enlightenment account of chivalry, which mainly postdates Hurd and is not notably more sophisticated, see J. G. A. Pocock (1988) Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 198.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    In Hurd’s Dialogue on the Age of Elizabeth (in which he pits Arbuthnot’s nostalgia for chivalry against Addison’s Whiggish insistence on modern polish and liberty), the Elizabeth aristocratic tournament becomes an expression of gentlemanly virtue untarnished by the vicissitudes of modern luxury. Warburton’s contributions to the historiography of romance are to be found, most easily, in a note to Love’s Labour Lost in his edition of Shakespeare. See A. W. Evans (1932) Warburton and the Warburtonians: A Study in Some Eighteenth-Century Controversies (London: Oxford University Press), p. 120ff.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    R. Hurd (1788) Moral and Political Dialogues; with Letters on Chivalry and Romance, vol. 1 (London: T. Badell), p. xxiii.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    For a sustained discussion of Francophobia, see L. Colley (1992) Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    For Warburton and Sterne, see M. New (1982) ‘Sterne, Warburton, and the Burden of Exuberant Wit’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15, pp. 245–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. A. H. Cash (1986) Laurence Sterne: The Later Years (London: Routledge), p. 69.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    See J. Hoppit (2000) A Land of Liberty? England 1689–1727 (Oxford: Clarendon Press), pp. 101–6.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    See M. Girouard (1981) The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    R. Altick (1978) The Shows of London (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press), p. 52.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    See S. Conway (2000) The British Isles and the War of American Independence (Oxford: Oxford University Press)Google Scholar
  19. G. Russell (1995) The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society, 1793–1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 26.
    See S. Conway (2004) ‘“Like the Irish”? Volunteer Corps and Volunteering’ in J. Flavell and S. Conway (eds) Britain and America Go to War: The Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America 1754–1815 (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press), pp. 143–72.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    For a detailed description of the camps and everyday life inside them, see J. R. Western (1965) The English Militia in the Eighteenth Century: The Story of a Political Issue, 1660–1802 (London: Routledge & Paul Kegan), p. 387 ff.Google Scholar
  22. 29.
    For descriptions of the elite private theatricals of the day, and illustrations of costume, see S. Rosenfeld (1978) Temples of Thespis: Some Private Theatres and Theatricals in England and Wales, 1700–1820 (London: Society for Theatre Research).Google Scholar
  23. 30.
    For the Fuseli pageant, see M. Myrone (2004) ‘Gothic Romance and the Quixotic Hero: A Pageant for Henry Fuseli in 1783’, available at For Madame de Genlis’s rose festival, see S. C. Maza (1993) Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France (Berkeley: University of California Press), p. 73.Google Scholar
  24. 31.
    For a discussion of the context of the painting and the controversy, see H. von Erffa and A. Staley (1986) The Paintings of Benjamin West (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), pp. 59–85.Google Scholar
  25. 32.
    J. Trumbull (1841) Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters of John Trumbull from 1756 to 1841 (New York: Wiley and Putnam), pp. 166–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Simon During 2010

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations