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Theatre, Calvinism, and Civil Society in Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh and Geneva


Over the course of eighteen months in 1756 and 1757, theatre crises, large-scale debates about the morality of the stage, erupted in both Edinburgh and Geneva. Traditionally, these debates have been explained away as examples of Calvinist anti-theatricality. This dissertation argues, however, that this understanding is inaccurate. Beyond the fact that there was no consistent tradition of Calvinist anti-theatricality in the early modern period, taking such a narrow view of the theatre crises undermines their importance. The theatre debates of 1756 and 1757 must be understood in the context of the Enlightenment and changing notions about the relationship between the Calvinist church and civil society. The theatre symbolized the birth of civil society and the end of a particular brand of Calvinism. When the eighteenth-century debates about the stage are understood only as examples of "Calvinist anti-theatricality," though, this importance is lost. This project remedies the current gap in scholarship by demonstrating that these debates were not simply about the theatre; they were about the fate of Calvinism in an increasingly polite, enlightened society.

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