The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Hardback)
  • The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Hardback)
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The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Hardback)

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Hardback 280 Pages / Published: 06/10/2016
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The first book-length study of the relationship between science and theater during the long eighteenth century in Britain, The Theater of Experiment explores the crucial role of spectacle in the establishment of modern science by analyzing how eighteenth-century science was "staged" in a double sense. On the one hand, this study analyzes science in performance: the way that science and scientists were made a public spectacle in comedies, farces, and pantomimes for purposes that could range from the satiric to the pedagogic to the hagiographic. But this book also considers the way in which these plays laid bare science as performance: that is, the way that eighteenth-century science was itself a kind of performing art, subject to regimes of stagecraft that traversed the laboratory, the lecture hall, the anatomy theater, and the public stage. Not only did the representation of natural philosophy in eighteenth-century plays like Thomas Shadwell's Virtuoso, Aphra Behn's The Emperor of the Moon, Susanna Centlivre's The Basset Table, and John Rich's Necromancer, or Harelequin Doctor Faustus, influence contemporary debates over the role that experimental science was to play public life, the theater shaped the very form that science itself was to take. By disciplining, and ultimately helping to legitimate, experimental philosophy, the eighteenth-century stage helped to naturalize an epistemology based on self-evident, decontextualized facts that might speak for themselves. In this, the stage and the lab jointly fostered an Enlightenment culture of spectacle that transformed the conditions necessary for the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge. Precisely because Enlightenment public science initiatives, taking their cue from the public stages, came to embrace the stagecraft and spectacle that Restoration natural philosophy sought to repress from the scene of experimental knowledge production, eighteenth-century science organized itself around not the sober, masculine "modest witness" of experiment but the sentimental, feminized, eager observer of scientific performance.

Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
ISBN: 9780190269715
Number of pages: 280
Weight: 544 g
Dimensions: 242 x 162 x 19 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
Coppola approaches the satires and theatre of Restoration and Hanoverian England to reveal the complexity of comprehension of early modern science. He suggests that these performances reveal a significant epistemological change following upon the increasing number of "spectacular demonstrations of matters of fact" (20) throughout the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This is an intriguing notion, as it also converges with numerous lampoons of collectors, experimenters and the social contrivances of would-be scientific gentlemen. * Larry Stewart, Metascience *
The Theater of Experiment is such a valuable addition not solely for the scholarship of eighteenth-century natural philosophy but for the cultural history of the age at large. With his protean focus on visuality, Coppola is able to unearth a number of questions that, tying together scientific and literary production under the aegis of epistemology, are central for the study of the eighteenth-century culture. * Alessio Mattana (University of Leeds), The British Society for Literature and Science *
This remarkable book puts theater and science in conversation with one another in utterly new ways. Whether Coppola reads The Rehearsal from the perspective of a Restoration scientist, or looks at Isaac Newton as a harlequin, he fills this book with astonishing insights and arresting comparisons. I have not enjoyed a book so much in quite a while. * George E. Haggerty, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 *
Drawing on work from theater studies and history of science, Al Coppola moves beyond generalizing or analogical connections between science and performance to show the rich imbrications between a culture of natural philosophy and a view of theatrical performance that saw it as acting to reform its audience's political opinions and moral outlook through mocking laughter. ... It will certainly interest historians of science who want to ground their understandings of public scientific performance in the specificities of eighteenth-century theatrical cultures, as well as those with interests in the long-run history of literature and science. * Matthew Paskins, Isis Journal *
... the Al Coppola monograph, with its intelligent way of intertwining public interventions of philosophy natural with the theatrical appearances of characters and situations clearly outputs from the field of science, constitutes a very outstanding contribution to the contextual and political knowledge of the theater of the Restoration, yes, but also some of its extensions throughout the eighteenth century." -Jesus Perez-Magallon, Bulletin of the Comediantes
The Theater of Experiment is a valuable and timely book that breaks new ground in examining the complex relations between science and theatrical practice. Building on the work of scholars in both science studies and theatre history, Al Coppola argues persuasively that the performative aspects of Restoration and eighteenth-century science-from theatrical satire in the 1670s and 80s to staged demonstrations of fundamental scientific principles in the 1750s and 60s-are crucial to understanding the culture of the period. * Robert Markley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign *
Many have referred to Restoration and eighteenth-century English science as a spectacle, but Al Coppola's sophisticated and widely-ranging account is the first to explore in depth the interconnections between experimental science and popular theater. In sparkling prose, The Theater of Experiment reveals the profound cultural impacts of the new science as expressed by playwrights and experienced by audiences. * Anita Guerrini, Oregon State University *
Coppola's The Theater of Experiment reshapes performance studies and science studies by bringing the two fields together. Coppola freshly traces-in drama and pantomime-sales pitches for the new science and send-ups of the Royal Society and other science practitioners. It becomes a standard work about the dissemination of the new science to a wide public. * John Bender, Stanford University *
In his lucidly written and compellingly argued The Theater of Experiment, Al Coppola demonstrates what others have hypothesized but no one until now has subjected to thorough-going empirical tests at key points across the long eighteenth century: science and the theater staged reciprocating spectacles, together producing a general public for new visual experiences. Theater isn't always viewed as so intellectually central, nor is Natural Philosophy typically this much fun. * Joseph Roach, Yale University *

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