Faustus Pantomimes and Public Science in the 1720s
In the 1720s, London audiences were captivated by two new forms of public spectacle: the pantomime afterpieces most closely associated with John Rich, and the dazzling courses of experiments conducted by Newtonians such as Francis Hauksbee and John Desaguliers. While the pantomimes were perhaps the first example of mass entertainment, the Newtonian lectures offered a primer in Enlightenment natural philosophy while cultivating support for a variety of projects seeking to apply science for economic gain. This chapter argues that they are intricately interrelated, with the Harlequin Doctor Faustus craze of 1723–24 in fact serving as a complex mediation of the radically new power/knowledge promoted in the Newtonian lectures. In the conjuring of Harlequin Faustus, we can locate an ironic double for the heady (and, for some, suspect) “conjuring” that contemporaries such as Daniel Defoe, in his satiric tract A System of Magick (1726), recognized in the glorification of post-Newtonian natural philosophy and proto-capitalism.
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