My project asks fundamental questions about the practices of reading satirical cartoons—less anachronistically, caricatures or graphic satires—in Britain between 1750 and 1830. Recent scholarship has developed a sophisticated vocabulary for analyzing the iconography and cultural centrality of graphic satire in a period often known as ‘the golden age of caricature’. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, this historiography remains heavily committed to an understanding of Georgian-era graphic satire as a democratic and democratizing mass medium. My project counters this populist thesis. Georgian political caricatures are palimpsests of allusions to cultural texts, objects, practices, and traditions—from Shakespeare plays to pantomime, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to the paintings of Benjamin West and Henry Fuseli—allusions that are deployed through the elaborate enmeshing of text and image. In other words, Georgian graphic satire worked hard to embed its political commentary and knowledge within high-cultural discourses (and spaces). Its rhetoric thus invited not a glance but a particular type of educated gaze. My study is driven by two interrelated questions. First, how does the locatedness of political knowledge within graphic satirical culture revise our understanding of the political public that looked at and bought caricatures? By ‘locatedness’ I refer not just to the embedding of political commentary within a caricature, but also to the specific public and private spaces where such images were displayed (the metropolitan print-shop window, the print room in the private house). Secondly, what public did graphic satire invite and imagine for itself—both literally, by depicting its own spectators, and discursively, by employing a highly allusive language that could be read only by those with the requisite cultural capital.
David Taylor is a visiting fellow at CRASSH, Lent 2014.
David Francis Taylor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toronto, where he specializes in British literature and culture of the long eighteenth century. His interests include modes of satire and parody; theatre; oratory; print culture; practices of reading and spectatorship; literature and parliamentary politics; the cultural history of Shakespeare; and visual culture. He is the author of Theatres of Opposition: Empire, Revolution, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (OUP, 2012), and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of the Georgian Theatre, 1737-1832 (OUP, 2014). His current book project – The Rhetoric of Graphic Satire: Politics, Parody, and the Uses of Literature, 1750-1830 – comprises a study of political caricature’s parodies of canonical texts such as Gulliver’s Travels, Paradise Lost, and Shakespeare’s plays.