Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine, dramatist, with a special study of Mahomet (1890) and its contexts
thesisposted on 06.11.2015, 15:50 by Kristan Ann Tetens
Sir (Thomas Henry) Hall Caine (1853–1931), one of the most popular authors of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, is all but forgotten now, his once widely read novels dismissed by modern critics and readers for their turgid prose, implausible plots, and didactic tone. Yet he was a literary celebrity during his lifetime: over a career spanning four decades, Caine wrote fifteen novels that grappled with the explosive subjects of adultery, divorce, domestic violence, illegitimacy, infanticide, religious bigotry, and women’s rights. Each sold hundreds of thousands of copies, ran to multiple editions, and was translated into dozens of languages. Caine was also one of the most commercially successful dramatists of his generation. He wrote theatrical adaptations of seven of his novels as well as plays on original subjects that were perfectly pitched to the popular taste of his day. Part I is the first comprehensive survey of Caine’s writing for the stage and his collaborations with leading actors and managers, including Wilson Barrett, Viola Allen, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Louis Napoleon Parker, Mrs Patrick Campbell, George Alexander, and Arthur Collins. It challenges the undeserved obscurity into which Caine’s plays have fallen, correcting and extending the cursory treatment they have received to date. Caine emerges as a major dramatist whose work complicates long-accepted distinctions between ‘romance’ and ‘realism’ as generic categories. Part II is the first detailed study of Caine’s Mahomet, a four-act historical drama based on the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, written in 1890 for the actor-manager Henry Irving. The rumour this play would be produced in London prompted protests from Muslim leaders in Britain, caused unrest that threatened British rule in parts of India, and strained the nation’s relationship with the Ottoman Empire. Although the play treats Muhammad sympathetically and Islam with respect, it was immediately banned by the Lord Chamberlain in his capacity as licenser of stage plays. This part of the thesis situates Mahomet within its political and religious contexts at a specific moment in British imperial history.