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[Detail] Cover of "How to Dance," 1878

Drama as Social Criticism

Thomas Wilson's play, "The Danciad" (1824), is a discussion, in verse, on the "state of ball-room dancing" and offers an opportunity to understand how a drama can be a medium for social criticism (page i). From its dedication "To teachers of merit, (particularly those at whose request "The Danciad" was composed, and who are most capable of deciding how far the author has done justice to the subject)" to its extensive footnotes, Wilson's "The Danciad" offers a critique of the London dance scene in the early nineteenth century (page 3).

In one scene, a character named Jemima announces that she knows some dancers "on and off the stage" and many of the alleged "Dancing Masters" are frauds: "These mean impostors bring to disrepute, / This polite art, and teachers of repute. / Nothing like science do they teach or know, / They are quacks in dancing, which I'll plainly show" (page 6). An accompanying footnote provides insight into Wilson's creation of this character in its description of the casting requirements for the role: "It appeared requisite . . . that this lady should possess confidence, together with experience and abilities . . . [to expose] . . . the deceptive pretensions and impositions of various self-created and self-entitled 'Professors of Dancing,'" (page 5).

  • How does Wilson's depiction of the early-nineteenth-century dance culture characterize that culture?
  • Why do you think that Wilson was critical of "self-entitled 'Professors of Dancing'"?
  • Why do you think that Wilson wrote the "The Danciad?"
  • Do you think that writing in verse helps or hinders his play?
  • How do the footnotes add to your understanding of the play?

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