Clapping to a criminal : the Jack Sheppard craze of the 1720s

Source document: Theory and Practice in English Studies. 2021, vol. 10, iss. 1, pp. 63-77
  • ISSN
Jack Sheppard, a real historical figure executed in 1724 London, became the focus of many biographical publications and theatrical pieces immediately after his demise. This article examines the earliest literary works featuring Sheppard and the way the character of a criminal entered London's stages. By analyzing the digression from the facts of Sheppard's life, the tendencies of the popular theatrical genres of the 1720s emerge. Based on two works of art, Thurmond's Harlequin Sheppard (1724) and Walker's Quaker's Opera (1728), one can trace the development of the theatre devices as well as the marketing strategies dramatic authors used to lure the audience into theatres. Both examined pieces were not particularly successful but Thurmond's pantomime significantly inspired John Gay to write Beggar's Opera, basing the character of Macheath on Sheppard. Walker then combined the two phenomena – taking the strategies of new ballad operas, he repurposed the story of Jack Sheppard and adapted it into Quaker's Opera.
  • This article was supported by the Czech Science Foundation project GA19–07494S, "English Theatre Culture 1660–1737"
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