The Author's Farce: Satiric Agency, Authority, and the Performance of Eighteenth-Century Satire on Film and the Stage
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This dissertation investigates how dramatic performance affects satire, its forms of authorisation, adaptation, and interpretation. Focusing on Restoration and eighteenth-century dramatic satires and film adaptations of eighteenth-century satires, I reassess literary criticism that claims the incommensurability of satire and performance based on a particular understanding of satiric authority as unidirectional and didactic, and therefore incompatible with the multi-dimensional nature of film and theatrical authority. In Chapter One, I establish how satire inquires into the nature of authority itself, exposing its “truths,” disciplinary modalities, and mediations, rather than correcting social behaviour. By putting authorised discourses into conflict, satire renders the contingencies of authority and destabilises its own authority through reflexivity and indirection, which counteract clear communication. Satire then invites multiple readings, even disagreements, instead of imposing consensus or compulsory meaning. In its diffusion and fracturing of perspectives, satire becomes amenable to the multiple agents and conditions of theatre and film performances. The task of satiric film and theatre becomes to “tear the seams” of performance and to apply the same reflexivity that satire applies to other authorities to performance's seamless authorisation in order to pursue its broader inquiry into power and discipline. In Chapter Two, I focus on the Collier Controversy, a pamphlet war in the late seventeenth century, which debated representations of vice in the theatre. I use the controversy to demonstrate what dramatic satire is not: uniform in intention, exposition, and interpretation. In Chapter Three, I examine Henry Fielding’s dramatic satires from 1730s to further debunk the idea of controlled and controlling relations between satirist and audience. I revise criticism of Fielding’s plays as “anti-theatrical” by demonstrating how his self-reflexive performances produce satiric theatre rather than negate theatrical performance. Chapter Four reviews adaptations of Gulliver’s Travels and here I emphasise the need to combine satiric self-reflexivity in film authorship with critical content in satiric films. In the final chapter, I demonstrate how the mockumentary form used in Michael Winterbottom’s 2005 film adaptation of Tristram Shandy successfully produces satiric effect by questioning the premise of its own authority alongside modes of authority and authorship satirised in Sterne’s book.