‘Whole Shew and Spectacle’: French Prisoner-of-War Theatre in England During the Napoleonic Era
During the Napoleonic wars there were tens of thousands of French prisoners of war (POWs) in Britain. Whether out on parole or held in prisons or on prison hulks, theatre was a common feature of their experiences. This article compares and contrasts the on-board theatricals that POWs performed on the hulks, in the purpose-built theatre at Portchester Castle and those put on by officers held on parole in towns across the country. In so doing, it explores the extent to which theatre was perceived by the prisoners as a particularly French response to difficult circumstances and as a conduit for reinforcing their national identity as well as creating a temporary sense of community with ‘the enemy’, that is to say British guards and civilians watching performances.