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Reading: Sad Realities: The Romantic Tragedies of Charles Harpur


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Sad Realities: The Romantic Tragedies of Charles Harpur


Michael Falk

University of Kent, GB
About Michael
Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Studies, School of English
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Charles Harpur (1813–68) is recognised in his native Australia as a pioneering Romantic poet, but his achievements are little recognised elsewhere. This essay considers his contribution to the development of Romantic tragedy. He wrote two tragedies, The Bushrangers (1853, orig. 1835), a gothic bandit drama in the tradition of Schiller’s Die Räuber (1781), and King Saul (c. 1838), an incomplete Biblical drama apparently inspired by Byron’s Cain: A Mystery (1821). Like many European playwrights of the period, Harpur was deeply influenced by the new kinds of melodrama that were sweeping the stage, but also sought to distinguish his literary productions from more popular fare. His alienation from the popular theatre was exacerbated by his colonial context, where strict censorship, rising snobbery and plentiful cultural imports from Britain stifled the early efforts of nationalist, convict-born writers like himself. These contexts help to explain three distinctive aspects of Harpur’s Romantic tragedies: they were direct in an age when drama was often evasive, radical even in an age of revolution, and mystical in an age of increasing religious scepticism. Whatever his theatrical merits, Harpur was a bold playwright who worked through controversial political and aesthetic problems in a remarkably explicit way.
How to Cite: Falk, M., 2020. Sad Realities: The Romantic Tragedies of Charles Harpur. Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, (23), pp.200–217. DOI:
Published on 30 Aug 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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