The Containment and Re-Deployment of English India
Through Colonial Spectacles: the Irish Vizier and the Female-Knight in James Cobb's Ramah Droog
Daniel O'Quinn, University of Guelph
As a supplement to her collection The British Theatre, Elizabeth Inchbald's ten volume anthology The Modern Theatre (1811) attempts to establish the broad contours of accepted theatrical practice in the final decades of the eighteenth century. The plays collected in the anthology are now mostly forgotten and very few of Inchbald's selections are the object of study in the current efflorescence of scholarship on Romantic drama. Considering Inchbald's own facility in staging the oriental gaze it is perhaps unsurprising to find James Cobb's highly popular comic opera Ramah Droog; or Wine Does Wonders nestled in the heart of the collection. The opera ran from Novemer 12, 1798 to the spring of 1800 and offers such a panoply of orientalist devices that it is hard to imagine a more excessive experience in the theatre except perhaps Colman's controversial gothic afterpiece Bluebeard which was Ramah Droog's competitor on opening night. Unfortunately, Inchbald doesn't offer any introductory remarks, but a brief survey of the reviews indicates the opera's two primary strengths—first, Mazzinghi and Reeve's score receives general approbation as does the singing of Miss Waters in the part of the usurped Indian princess Zelma, and second, extensive commentary is devoted to the painted scenery and the costumes. I am going to focus on the visual elements of the opera, but I want to emphasize briefly the importance of the musical score (see plate 1). Editions of the music transposed for four hands at the piano were almost immediately available upon production and it is my contention that this sheet music provides crucial information on how the hegemonic effects of public theatrical representation were so rapidly deployed and consolidated in the private lives of middle class Londoners in the late eighteenth century.
In contrast to this contention of the importance of the opera's music, it is important to recognize the almost vestigial quality of the opera's narrative. All the reviews give an obligatory account of the fable, but the Morning Chronicle explicitly indicates the relative insignificance of the opera's narrative when the reviewer notes that on top of the "dazzling display of Eastern splendour," Ramah Droog goes so far as to offer a narrative which is "not essential to the character of an Opera." The short version of the opera's narrative and the list of sets are consistently the same from review to review. These details tend to suggest either that the reviewers were primed with pre-production materials or that the audience was presented with the fable on a handbill. The following compression of the opera's narrative opens the Morning Herald review of November 13, 1798:
Troops are sent from a British Settlement in India against an Usurper, who has destroyed the rightful Rajah or Prince of the country in which the fortress of Ramah Droog is situated. The troops are marched in two detachments by different routes; one detachment is surprised and surrounded by the Indians in a narrow pass, and after a gallant defence, are obliged to surrender. Sidney, their commander, seeing all is lost, entrusts to the care of Sarjeant Liffey his wife Eliza, who has accompanied him in the disguise of an Indian servant. They escape from the battle, and conceal themselves in a neighbouring wood, till want of food obliges them to surrender themselves as prisoners to some tiger-hunters, who carry them to Ramah Droog. Liffey afraid of being known for a soldier, passes for an European Physician, and Eliza, for his servant. Arrived at Ramah Droog, he is immediately employed to prescribe for the Rajah, who is taken suddenly ill. Not knowing what to prescribe, he resolves to let the sick man take his chance, and gives him, as a harmless medicine, the only remains of his provisions, being a potato found in his knapsack. The Rajah immediately recovers, it being discovered that his illness has arisen from being intoxicated with claret found among the stores of the Prisoners. Charmed with the supposed skill of his European Physician, the Rajah appoints him to fill the highest offices of the State—The Princess Alminah, the daughter of the Rajah, conceives a violent passion for Sidney, and offers him his liberty, and to accompany him in his flight. On his rejecting her offer, and Alminah discovering by a blunder of Liffey's, that Eliza is Sidney's wife, she vows his destruction.—Zelma, the daughter of the late Rajah has been saved from the general massacre of her family by the Prince Zemaun, native of a distant part of Hindostan, who guards her in her confinement.—Margaret, the wife of Liffey, who also accompanied the first detachment, dressed as a soldier, is released from her captivity by Zemaun, and sent by him to meet the second British detachment, who are in the neighbourhood. She meets the detachment, and on her return sees Chellingoe, the Chief Prison-keeper, whom she obliges, with a pistol at his breast, to conduct her into the fort. This gives her an opportunity of releasing Eliza and Zemaun, who, with Liffey, make their escape from the fortress carrying the Rajah with them. They join the British detachment, who scale the rock, and surprize the fort by night, and, after some resistance, carry the place. The Captives are released, the Usurper deposed, and Zelma, the rightful Princess, is raised to the Throne, and united with Prince Zemaun.
This summary is intriguing for it simultaneously erases much of the stage business involving Chellingoe's machinations—and hence the opera's more egregious moments of cultural othering—and adds a far more precise account of the military action of the opera than is presented in performance. The former erasure allows room for unrestrained stereotyping of the Indian characters on stage while the latter augmentation forestalls volatile problems in the imperial self-construction of the audience. If the fable is rendered from a handbill then the audience would have the military scenario in hand prior to the performance and therefore any anxieties regarding the fate of the English prisoners would have been assuaged in advance. As we will see this pre-containment of narrative enigma is not only important to the hegemonic effects of the opera, but also to the ideological centrality of the set design.
If the sheet music disseminates the opera's racial and sexual fantasies in a remarkably intimate fashion, then the spectacular set design offers the most illuminating entry point for their specification. As if to confirm the secondary status of the opera's action the Morning Herald's opening night review argues that "the first objects that attract our attention in the representation of this piece, are the Scenery and the Dresses. The ingenuity, beauty, and magnificence of these surpass every thing of a similar description that we have for many years witnessed" . Aside from their aesthetic qualities, the scenery is the occasion for a monetary thrill not unrelated to that of the Orient itself. The sets materialize the potential for surplus value in the colonial enterprise: "the Expence attending their construction and decoration must have been immense...the Piece bids fair to become so attractive, that we have no doubt of the liberality of the Manager meeting proper return from the attention of the Public." The excitement generated here deserves careful consideration, for the sets themselves resolve a series of political anxieties which impinge upon the economic stability of colonial activity in India. I hope the strangeness of that remark is clear: I intend demonstrate not only the remarkably intimate relation between the "views" prepared for the audience and the emergent hegemonic view of British foreign policy, but also the complex resolution of multiple cultural anxieties in the space surrounding the singing voices of this comic opera.
The Morning Herald recognizes the significance of the set painting and dutifully provides a complete catalogue of every set in order of appearance:
The principal scenes are a view of the fortress of Ramah Droog, the British captives on one side, the walls of the palace garden on the other—a distant view of the hill of the fort of Ramah Droog—an apartment in the Rajah's Palace, the women and Zenana dancing and singing—the battlements of the rock—an apartment in the Palace—a splendid procession as follows:—The Rajah ...on an Elephant, returning from hunting the Tiger hunt, preceded by his Harcarrahs, or Military Messengers, and his State Palanquin. The Vizier on another Elephant—the Princess in a gaurie, drawn by Buffaloes. The Rajah is attended by his Fakeer or Soothsayer--his Officers of State, and by an Ambassador from Tippoo Sultan in a Palanquin; also by Nairs or Soldiers, from the South of India—Poligars, or Inhabitants of the hilly districts, with their hunting dogs—other Indians carrying a dead tiger, and young tigers in a cage, a number of sepoys—musicians on camels on foot-Dancing Girls, &c—the other principal scenes are, a private apartment belonging to the Vizir—a wood near the Pattah, or town, at the foot of the rock—Zelma's prison—and outside the fort: the whole forming an exhibition of the utmost grandeur, occasionally diversified with scenes delightfully picturesque....
That the play opens in a prison is extremely important for it gestures towards the haunting scene of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Kate Teltscher has argued that "the narrative of this trauma, symptomatic of the wider insecurities of eighteenth-century British involvement in India, was refashioned into one of the founding myths of empire" (30). Significantly, Ramah Droog establishes this space but focuses its attention on a different and perhaps more troubling moment in the British cultural imagination. The first scene rehearses equally volatile moments of guilt by attributing embarrassing images of English colonial greed revealed during the Hastings trial to the principal Indian character Chellingoe. Chellingoe's extortion of every last article of value from the English prisoners is reminiscent of Burke and Sheridan's representations of the extortion of the Begums of Oudh by the minions of Warren Hastings. Both gestures combine to maintain the fearsome realm of Islamic punishment and to attribute English excesses to the servants of the Rajah.
Close attention to the list of sets reveals that the opera shuttles the audience in and out of this phantasmatic space in spite of the fact that almost all of the on-stage action and dialogue happens within the walls of the fortress. The moments when the opera provides either distance from the fortress, or a respite from the narrative problematic of imprisonment are therefore extremely important. Of these I will focus on two—the extraordinary procession with its mechanical elephant and the long range view of the fortress which accompanies the second scene.
The Morning Herald's description of the procession is an exact transcription of the stage directions of the published version of the play, and it raises questions which cut to the quick of this opera's relation to colonial politics (176). One is immediately struck by the unusual level of specificity in the procession. Cobb and his reviewers specify the ethnicity of each member of the procession with annotated Anglicizations of the ostensibly Indian words and names. Comparison with the previous high-water mark for Indian excess on the London stage, the frequently performed A Choice of Harlequin, or The Indian Chief (1782) reveals an important historical transition. Messinck's A Choice of Harlequin contains the likely precursor to Cobb's tiger hunt procession but the pantomime's "Order of Procession" amounts to little more than a list of figures and props:
4 Hircarrers with painted sticks
2 Nishanburdars with flags
2 Ticktaws with flags
2 Nishanburdars with flags
8 Pykes [etc.]
While the list specifies various ranks, no attempt is made to interpret the Indian words with the notable exception of "Ramjanneees or dancing girls." The emphasis therefore is on the sheer number of eroticized bodies traipsing across the stage. The fact that Harlequin, Virtue and Pleasure are incorporated into the list suggests that the entire panoply is understood to be similarly fanciful. Less than twenty years later, the desire for oriental spectacle has been complicated by quasi-anthropological concerns that resonate with the emergent tactics through which the British state displaced the East India Company as the overseer of British interests in the Indian sub-continent.
But one detail above all others raises fundamental political and dramaturgical questions. How precisely does the audience recognize the actor on the palanquin to be "an ambassador of Tippoo Sultan"? This detail is crucial for it connects the military action of the opera to the complex demonization of Tipu and the shift in British attitudes toward colonization in the sub-continent following Cornwallis's victory at Seringapatum. I would suggest that like the narrativization of the opera's military action, the identity of the ambassador is provided for the audience on a handbill. It is also possible that the Ambassador's relation to Tipu is physically marked by his costume for by this time the audience would be well aware of the metaphorical construction of Tipu as the Tiger of Mysore. The English public were overwhelmed by an extraordinary flood of cultural materials in the early 1790's during the Third Mysore War. In addition to the quickly published books and almost contemporary newspaper reports of Cornwallis's victory over Tipu Sultan and the accompanying profusion of celebratory verse, the English public was inundated with visual images not only of the "hill forts" or "drugs" which were the focus of British military pressure, but also of the transference of Tipu's two sons to Cornwallis as hostages. This latter event was the subject of everything from paintings and prints to illustrated tea trays and large scale illuminated transparencies (see plate 2). The range of media is noteworthy, for one could argue that both the visual images and the textual portraits of Tipu's hostage sons inhabit not only the public spaces of metropolitan life, but also the intimate realms of the domestic sphere.
The ubiquity of this image is largely a result of sentimental interpretations of the diplomatic transaction. The Gentleman's Magazine's account of the event is symptomatic:
Lord Cornwallis received [Tipu's sons] in his tent; which was gauarded by a battalion of Sepoys, and they were then formally delivered to his Lordship Gullam Ally Beg, the Sultan's Vackeel, as hostages for the due performance of the treaty....At length Gullum Ally, approaching Lord Cornwallis, much agitated, thus emphatically addressed his Lordship: "These children," pointing to the young princes, whom he then presented, "were this morning the sons of the Sultan, my master: their situation is changed, and they must now look up to your Lordship as their father." The tender and affectionate manner in which his Lordship received them, seemed to confirm the truth of the expression. The attendants of the young princes appeared astonished, and their countenances were highly expressive of the satisfaction they felt in the benevolence of his Lordship. (72: 760)
As Kate Teltscher argues, the representation of Cornwallis's acceptance of Tipu's sons as a scene of parental care is staged to contrast with the popular accounts of Tipu's alleged mistreatment of British captives. The wide circulation of this image achieved the two-fold effect of putting the atrocities revealed during the Warren Hastings trial into abeyance and of re-enforcing Whig fantasies of colonial rule as a form of affectionate paternalism. As P.J. Marshall argues, "the effusions provoked by the Third Mysore War suggest that the British were coming to see themselves not only as a great military power in India, but as people of justice and moderation. Victory was a triumph for British humanity as well as for British arms" (71-72).
This re-figuring of colonial conquest as familial care is tied to emergent sexual norms that have important ramifications for Ramah Droog which I will address at the close of this paper. However, the more violent desires which ground these fantasies of benevolent British governance are encoded into Cobb's procession for it features a dead tiger and two young tigers in a cage. Even cursory knowledge of the iconography surrounding Tipu reveals that Ramah Droog's procession acts as an allegory for acts of domination already achieved and yet to come. Widely known to the English reading public as the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu is here figured a year before his death as a dead tiger and his already hostage sons as captive tiger cubs. In this light, the opera's performance and specifically the procession draws the audience into a very particular historical juncture—one which not only analeptically stages Tipu's political and military defeat, but also proleptically instantiates the desire for his actual death. What is so remarkable about this opera is that this instantiation of the desire for the death of colonial resistance is geographically transferrable. The temporal problematic established in the theatricalized space of India is transferred to a more proximate space in order to deal with a similar historical juncture in Britain's imperial subjugation of Ireland.
The opera's less-than-subtle revisions of the history of British intervention in India open the way for the self-congratulatory combination of humanitarianism and military strength that dominates the third act of Ramah Droog. Of particular importance is the widespread public acceptance of Cornwallis's exemplary moderation, for he is a lurking presence in this play as much for his Indian career as for his role in putting down the Irish rebellion of 1798. Perhaps the most complex aspect of Cobb's opera is the way in which it invokes Britain's ostensibly parental relation to India as a model for hegemonic accounts of the Irish rebellion. Ramah Droog opened one day after the death of Wolfe Tone, and its audience members would have been suffused with accounts of violent uprising in Wexford. In short, the national fantasy of just moderation which allowed the English to justify colonial policy in spite of the revelation of abuses of power by the East India Company is deployed by Cobb to consolidate ideological support for government policy in Ireland.
Within the political plot of the opera, English, Irish and Indian prisoners enable other British troops to overthrow the usurper Mahah Rajah Surooj Seing and restore the rightful princess Zelma and her lover Zemaun to the throne. The Finale, which is sung by Zemaun and a chorus of British soldiers, should give ample sense of the opera's nationalist gestures:
Joy shall swell the choral strain,
Loyalty and truth to prove;
Gratitude in Freedom's fane
Shall hail the monarch of a people's love.
Sacred to Freedom's glorious cause,
Britain the sword of justice draws;
A lesson to the admiring world:
Oppression from his seat is hurl'd. (191)
This song's involution of loyalty and gratitude is the culmination of a series of speeches extolling not only the virtues of British law and governance, but also the the benevolence of British military intervention in Indian politics. Chief amongst these comes when Barney Liffey—the opera's principal Irish character—is threatened with death by the Princess Alminah:
Lif.: What the devil! Condemned without a trial?....In my country the monarch and the meanest subject are bound and protected by the same laws...It seems very odd that we should find the value of the blessings of home, by looking for them abroad, where they are not to be found. But it is very true; and well may they say in our little kingdoms, that a man should travel to know the worth of his country and its constitution. (179)
Liffey's expression of the worth of his country and its constitution rehearses an earlier speech in which he teaches the Rajah that "An Irishman is an Englishman with another name....and we are like two arms, when one needs defence, the other naturally comes to his assistance" (172). The naturalness of this co-embodiment is perhaps the play's most violent re-writing of contemporary colonial conflict. However, to gain a full sense of Ramah Droog's manipulation of Anglo-Irish affairs requires further spatial analysis.
The assault on the Rajah's fort which brings the opera to its conclusion is similar not only to Clive's victory at Tritchinopoly which ended French presence in the region, but also to a series of sieges conducted by Cornwallis against Tipu's drug fortresses in the region of Barramah'l—hence the title "Ramah Droog." Cobb fuses these historical moments in the following speech in which Zelma's servant Agra describes a military action which is reminiscent of Clive's use of a diversionary attack at Arcot to conceal the surreptitious ascent of the drug:
Agra: Fear not. The noise comes from the distant part of the fort, where the British soldiers make a false attack—All is silent here—See, madam, our gallant friends on this side have nearly reached the summit of the rock undiscovered. (190)
Agra's description here ties the resolution of the opera's conflict to similar moments of violent conflict resolution in the history of British colonization. These two campaigns more than any other military actions in the subcontinent aroused intense interest among the British reading and viewing public. As Mildred Archer argues,
The South Indian word "droog" for a great fortified hill early became absorbed into the English language. As Captain Bellew, looking back in 1843 wrote, "Long before the period of my departure arrived—I may say almost from infancy—I had been innoculated by my mother, my great uncles, and sundry parchment-faced gentlemen who frequented our house, with a sort of Indomania...What respect did the sonorous names Bangalore and Cuddalore, and Nundy Droog and Severn Droog and Hookahburdars and Soontaburdars, and a host of others, excite in our young minds." (Archer, note of Plate 105)
It was precisely this public interest that incited illustrators like Thomas and William Daniell to follow British forces into the region. The two artists painted a series of drug fortresses and a number of famous views of the fort at the rock of Tritchinopoly that were subsequently engraved and in circulation less than three months before the opening of Ramah Droog.
The Morning Chronicle's opening night review emphasizes the role of Daniell in the design of the opera's scenography:
We are prevented by want of room from going...into a more regular animadventure on work upon which infinite expence of decoration has been bestowed, and that with perfect taste; for the scenes...we understand have been prepared under the skilful direction of Mr. Daniels, who, as an artist that enriched the world with exquisite specimens of the picturesque scenery of India. In point of spectacle, therefore, it is superb, and the procession will please upon repetition.
The reviewer of the Chronicle, perhaps inadvertantly, recognizes that the elephant-laden procession at the end of the Second Act seems to exist separate from the primary field of action. The pageant unfolds a sign of India that is incommensurable with the play's prison-bound scenography. In a gesture that marks the play as another phantasmatic engagement with the events of the Black Hole of Calcutta, Cobb's opera is set almost entirely with the prison space of the Rajah's palace Ramah Droog. The primary action therefore is between British prisoners and their stereotypically presented Indian guards. If the pageant is excised, then a rather different spectacle captures the audience's attention—that of the drug itself.
John Inigo Richards's sketch for the staging of the opera's scene in which the audience is given a spectacular view of the drug fortress is explicitly derived from Daniell's engravings and is reminiscent of Tritchinopoly. The set change, therefore, shifts the audience from the phantasmatic space of colonial catastrophe to a famous scene of British victory in India. However, this visual resolution of one form of colonial anxiety is complicated by the appearance of a second phantasmatic assemblage whose operation is primarily sexual and which speaks directly to scenes of colonial violence much closer—both spatially and temporally—to the opera's audience.
The Daniells frequently painted groups of Indian subjects or each other in the foreground to give the viewing public a sense of scale. But the figures in the foreground do more than help to clarify the physical size of the object viewed, they also insert a English subject within the visual field thereby mediating between that which is recognizable and that which is entirely other. Richards's sketch replicates this gesture, but the two figures in the foreground de-stabilize this mediation because they are anything but normative English subjects. The first is Barney Liffey whose "Irish pleasantries" according to the Morning Herald "frequently enliven the scene, and convulse the audience with laughter." The second is Eliza, Captain Sidney's wife, who enters "in male attire." These examples of ethnic difference and gender transgression standing between the audience and the distant fort is telling, for normative English men rarely appear on stage. With the exception of Captain Sidney, the British are represented by an Irishman and two women in breeches parts. Sidney and Liffey's wives, Elizabeth and Margaret, have joined their husbands as soldiers in the colonial project. These cross-dressed characters pose an important problem for Dror Wahrman's recent argument regarding the shift from gender play to gender panic on the London stage throughout the 1790's. Wahrman argues that the female knight effectively disappears from the stage in the last ten years of the eighteenth century. That she gratuitously re-emerges first in front of the drug and later inside the fortress walls indicates precisely where emergent forms of sexual and colonial governance intersect on the London stage. I believe that the intersection is crucial for the separation of national and ethnic categories in colonial space. That this problem in the history of sexuality should be so deeply entwined with colonial politics indicates precisely where Wahrman's analysis of the shift from gender play to gender panic remains undeveloped.
Ramah Droog presents two kinds of women—the heavily eroticized Princess Alminah who is in love with Captain Sidney, and the British female-knights. In terms of the erotics of stage presentation, Cobb is mobilizing two forms of exoticism: one based on interracial heterosexual desire and one which plays on tropes of sapphic desire. As the play unfolds, the threat of miscegenation on the one hand, and of gender insubordination on the other are obviated when Elizabeth interrupts Alminah's pursuit of Sidney by revealing her femininity. At one level it is not surprising to see both forms of non-normative sexuality simultaneously ejected, but Elizabeth harmonizes her sex and her gender at precisely the moment in the final act when the British soldiers take over Ramah Droog. As the British regain colonial dominance, English cross-dressing is cast off in favour of normative gender relations. What this suggests is that the play rectifies related "perversions" in the sexual and the political world.
This conjunction of sexual and colonial regulation gains some depth when we look closely at the representation of the Irish in Ramah Droog. The relationship between Liffey and his English "master" Captain Sidney allegorizes an Act of Union which would have warmed the hearts of English audience members. However, Liffey is also placed in a subordinate relation to the Indian Rajah. In a complex plan to help liberate the British prisoners Liffey impersonates a European doctor and cures the ailing Rajah with a potato. The potato becomes a crucial prop in the play not only because it figures for Liffey's Irishness, but also because it occasions an intriguing cultural exchange between the Irish character and the Indian Rajah. To compensate Liffey for curing his hangover, the Rajah makes Liffey a Vizir and grants him a Zenana of his own. The gesture draws Liffey into broadly held cultural assumptions that the sexual excess implied by access to the seraglio devolves into compromised masculinity. For the remainder of the play Liffey wears a ceremonial "Khelaut" and he is included in the tiger hunting party described above. Nestled, therefore, in the elaborate spectacle of oriental splendour we find an Irish Vizier dressed in what a London audience members would have considered effeminate clothing. The feminization of Liffey is a significant departure from the hyper-masculinization of male Irish characters earlier in the century, but it is consistent not only with the ideological dis-armament of the Irish and Indian rebels in the English press, but also with the representation of Barney's wife Margaret as a pistol-toting duellist who terrifies her Indian captors.
One could argue that Liffey's inclusion in the procession has the potential to unsettle the play's overt endorsement of union between Ireland and England. But the threat posed by this collocation of two fractious colonial spaces is contained in advance by the opera's pastiche of British military victory in the subcontinent both at the level of set design and narrative. Significantly, it is not only Elizabeth who re-assumes her normative gender identity as the threat posed by the Rajah is erased. When the British storm Ramah Droog, Liffey casts off his Indian garb, re-assumes his soldierly masculinity and resumes his subservient relation to his English "master." The consolidation of gender roles in the emergent heterosexuality of the late eighteenth century is matched by a parallel consolidation of ethnic difference within the emergent political entity of Great Britain. And that difference is regulated by the subtle deployment of non-normative sexualities that ultimately connect Ireland and India as "unhealthy" sites in the colonial imaginary.
Margaret's masculinization, unlike Eliza's, remains intact at the close of Ramah Droog. What this means is that the relation between Barney and Margaret diverges from the normative heterosexuality exemplified by Eliza and Captain Sidney. Margaret and Barney's closing duet allows us to recognize the political importance of this sexual distinction. As the British troops scale the drug, the opera's principal Irish characters narrate in song the extraordinary restraint of British victory in a fashion that is reminiscent of what the Gentleman's Magazine called "the humane yet spirited conduct of the Marquis Cornwallis" not only in Mysore, but also in Ireland:
Mar.: High on the rock methinks our troops we form,
Still high above the enemy appears.
Lif.: Now pressing on—the fort prepared to storm,
Ever in front the gallant grenadiers.
Mar.: Though bullets rattle round,
No shot from our merry men is heard.
Lif.: With bayonets fix'd advancing,
Their volley waits the word:
Steady our charge—it follows quick our fire;
Now we pursue, their broken ranks retire.
Conquest is ours, the sons of freedom cry!
Mar.: Triumph shall mark the tabor's sprightly sound;
Lif.: See, on their walls the British colours fly,
Mar.: While with the dance we beat the conquered ground.
Lif.: Then drink a toast and sing—
By my soul, we'll all merry merry be;
Mar.: Heres our Country and our King,
With three times three!
Both: All the delights from victory that spring,
Friendship, and love, and wine, and mirth shall bring. (189)
For two Irish characters to be cheering "our Country and our King" and identifying with British "sons of freedom" on the London stage in early November of 1798—less than six months after the bloody extermination of the United Irishmen—is not only wishful thinking, but also an indication of the importance and the longevity of the image of "moderate Cornwallis" to English fantasies of "humanitarian" imperial domination. These fantasies rely on figures of benevolent paternal governance in the family that are consolidated by the attribution of non-normative masculinities to colonized others. In this light, the opera's subtle de-stabilization of Irish masculinity through the continuing presence of the Irish female knight helps pave the way for subsequent imperial policy. Significantly, the Indian characters who benefit from the British displacement of the "despotic" Rajah embody a similarly non-normative heterosexuality. Zemaun, is the heroic Indian figure in the opera, but he is always understood to be subordinate to Princess Zelma. This similarity between Indian and Irish heterosexuality is I believe crucial to the opera's image of coloniality, for the continuing presence of masculinized colonial women and subordinate colonial men is the defining distinction between colonized ethnicities and imperial English identity following the ejection of more threatening colonial others such as Tipu Sultan and Wolfe Tone. In this light, the buoyant celebration of normative middle class sexuality in this comic opera is intimately tied to the careful concealment—from metropolitan subjects—of violent dominance without hegemony in the colonial realm.
1 For discussions of Inchbald's orientalisms see Bolton, Choudhury, O'Quinn.
2 The coincidence of Bluebeard and Ramah Droog on the same evening provides a particularly condensed entry point for a discussion of the supercession of "legitimate" theatre by various forms of spectacular entertainment. The following is John Genest's appraisal of Cobb's opera:
the comic scenes are farcical—the serious scenes are dull to the last degree—yet this piece was acted 35 times—Cumberland, in his Passive Husband, makes Starling say—I write professedly rank nonsense—Runic. Why do you so?—Starling Because I write to live, and 'tis the readiest money at the market. (7:430)Genest's invocation of Cumberland resonates with the latter's assessment of the London stage at the turn of the century:
I have stood firm for the corps into which I enrolled myself, and never disgraced my colours by abandoning the cause of legitimate comedy, to whose service I am sworn, and in whose defence I have kept the field for nearly half a century, till at last I have survived all true national taste, and lived to see buffoonery, spectacle and puerility so effectually triumph, that now to be repulsed from the stage is to be recommended to the closet, and to be applauded by the theatre is little else than a passport to the puppet-show. (Memoirs, quoted in Sutcliffe)For a useful discussion of the volatile critical climate for spectacles such as Bluebeard and Ramah Droog see Sutcliffe.
3 Previous accounts of oriental spectacle have remarked upon this aspect of theatrical production. As Mita Choudhury argues, scenes like this "guarantee for the play a comfortable niche in a theatrical marketplace which was conducive for Oriental gazing and, in most cases, lucrative for those who staged the Oriental gaze" (483).
4 The procession of Abomelique in Act I of Colman's Bluebeard is another—and perhaps more apt—comparison.
5 See Marshall.
6 This account was first published in the Madras Courier and reprinted in Gentleman's Magazine. For a thorough account of the discursive construction of this event and its significance for popular acceptance of British policy in India, see P.J. Marshall, "'Cornwallis Triumphant': War in India and the British Public in the Late Eighteenth Century" and Kate Teltscher's thorough reading of the representation of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan in her India Inscribed.
7 For an account of the publication of the Daniell engravings see Archer 234.
8 Barney is also elevated to the rank of chief physician, the commander of the armies, grand judge in both civil and criminal courts, chief of elephants, purveyor of buffaloes, and principle hunter of tigers (171).
9 For an account of the paucity of knowledge in the metropole of the Indian sub-continent and of the East India Company's activities see H.V. Bowen. For an account of British rule that is signalled by the phrase "dominance without hegemony" see Guha.
Archer, Mildred. Early Views of India: The Picturesque Journeys of Thomas and William Daniell 1786-1794. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.
Bolton, Betsy. "Farce, Romance, Empire: Elizabeth Inchbald and Colonial Discourse." The Eighteenth Century. 30.1 (1998): 3-24.
Bowen, H.V. "British India, 1765-1813: The Metropolitan Context." The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume II: The Eighteenth Century. Ed. P.J. Marshall. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Choudury, Mita. "Gazing at His Seraglio: Late Eighteenth-Century Women Playwrights as Orientalists." Theatre Journal 47 (1995): 481-502.
Cobb, James. Ramah Droog, or Wine Does Wonders in The Modern Theatre; a collection of Successful Modern Plays, as acted at the Theatres Royal, London. Ed. Elizabeth Inchbald. London: 1811, 7: 139-191.
Gentleman's Magazine. 84-716 (July 1798).
Guha, Ranajit. Dominance Without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.
Marshall, P.J. "'Cornwallis Triumphant': War in India and the British Public in the late Eighteenth Century." War, Strategy and International Politics. Ed. Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes and Robert O'Neill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992. 57-74.
(Messinck). The Choice of Harlequin; or the Indian Chief. London: 1782.
Morning Chronicle. 13 Nov. 1798.
Morning Herald. 13 Nov. 1798.
O'Quinn, Daniel. "Inchbald's Indies: Domestic and Dramatic Re-Orientations." European Romantic Review. 9.2 (Spring 1998): 217-230.
Sutcliffe, Barry. "Introduction." Plays by George Colman the Younger and Thomas Morton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. 1-57.
Wahrman, Dror. "Percy's Prologue: From Gender Play to Gender Panic in Eighteenth-Century England." Past and Present. 159 (May 1998): 113-160.
Teltscher, Kate. India Inscribed: European and British Writings on India 1600-1800. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1995.