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Crossing the Stages:
The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater

John Huston
Professional actor and student of Victorian drama

Jupiter By Jove: Victorian Classical Burlesque

Victorian audiences liked their comedy broad — or at least when it was parodying a tragic or sentimental original. Unlike many audiences today the average Victorian audience had a thorough familiarity with the "classics" — i.e., Shakespeare and Greek and Roman mythology. This background allowed them to laugh at broad parodies of the gods and heroes in theatrical Classical Burlesques.

London dramatists James Robinson Planche, Henry James Byron and William S. Gilbert all wrote Classical Burlesques, all long on pun and short on skirt. Loaded with puns and slight of story, Classical Burlesque is now a little-known sidelight in the history of Greek and Roman theatre.

This paper will examine the work of Gilbert and his contemporaries in Classical Burlesque. Where possible illustrations of staging, costuming and examples of dialogue and music will be provided.

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