Stages of captivity : Napoleonic prisoners of war & their theatricals, 1808-1814
University of Warwick, 2017
In 2011, the Performance and Theatre Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London acquired an archive of materials relating to the French prisoners of war held at Portchester Castle from 1810 to 1814. This archive consisted of scripts, playbills, and abstracts from the prisoners’ Théâtre des Variétés built and operated in the basement of the castle’s keep. These materials have provided new and unique insights into the experiences of Napoleonic prisoners of war and have served as a catalyst for this first major critical study of Napoleonic prisoners-of-war theatricals. The majority of the theatre’s sociétaires were captured in the French defeat at the Battle of Bailen in July 1808. This study will be charting the journey of these French prisoners through their captivity in Spain, the Baeleric Islands, and Britain. While this particular group of prisoners has been the subject of previous historic surveys, their theatrical endeavours have been sidelined or relegated to footnotes or dismissed as a way to pass the time. In this study I will draw the prisoners’ theatricals to the centre of critical discussion examining their repertoire in greater detail underlining the vital role that theatre served in the prisoners’ emotional and psychological survival in captivity.