Boucicault, Dion

(redirected from Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot)

Boucicault, Dion

(bo͞o`sĭkō), 1822?–1890, Anglo-Irish dramatist and actor. At 19 he had success with his play London Assurance at Covent Garden, London. In 1853 he went to the United States with his wife, Agnes Robertson, an actress who was the adopted daughter of Charles Kean. Boucicault became known for his work there as well as in London. A prolific writer who successfully employed theatrical tricks, he wrote or adapted over 300 farces, comedies, and melodramas, in which he often acted. The most notable of these were Grimaldi (1855), The Sidewalks of New York (1857), The Octoroon (1859), The Colleen Bawn (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), Rip Van Winkle (1865, with Joseph Jefferson), The O'Dowd (1873), and The Shaughraun (1874). The growth of the road company that performs one play owes much to Boucicault's influence.

Bibliography

See his Art of Acting (1916); study by R. G. Hogan (1969).

Boucicault, Dion (1820–1890)

(pop culture)

Dion Boucicault was perhaps the most commercially successful playwright of the Victorian Era; his plays on the vampire theme were an important landmark in the spread of the vampire in the popular consciousness in mid-nineteenth-century England. Born Dionysus Larder Boursiquot in Dublin, he left school at an early age to join an English drama company with whom he acted under the stage name Lee Moreton. He also began to write his own plays and gradually gave up acting for playwriting. In 1844 he began a four-year period in France studying the French stage and absorbing popular plots. He was in Paris in December 1851 to see his second version of The Vampire and after his return to England he quickly composed a vampire play for the popular actor Charles Keane (1811–68). Boucicault also had the use of the new Princess Theatre which had a full set of innovative technical resources.

Keane refused the part (as he was already engaged in another production) and Boucicault assumed the role himself. Keane’s young ward Agnes Robertson did accept the female lead, and during the process of rehearsing Boucicault fell in love. In the next few years he would write plays not only for Keane but for Robertson. The Vampire earned Boucicault good reviews for his acting, but Robertson’s review fell far short of expectations, and the play was not a commercial success. The Vampire, A Phantasm in Three Dramas, which opened in June 1852 at the Princess, was set in Wales. Its three acts followed a set of characters through their descendants, each act set one hundred years after the previous one. The heroine learns of her danger through a dream sequence in which the portraits of her ancestors come to life to warn her. The vampire is seen as seeking the love and blood of a virgin which, if found, will give him new life for another century.

In 1853, Boucicault and Robertson moved to the United States where they would stay until the outbreak of war. While here he rewrote The Vampire and came out with a new play, The Phantom, a much simplified and more realistic drama. He did not, for example, keep the scene in which the portraits came to life. The Phantom opened in Philadelphia in 1856 and in New York the following year. It became a standard part of his repertoire and he continued to develop it. Along the way, he even moved the setting from Wales to Scotland (à la Charles Nordier) and his own vampire character, Alan Raby, became Sir Alan Ruthven. The new play opened in London in 1861 and appears to have been much more successful than his first.

Boucicault himself seems to have had an understanding that in plays like The Phantom he was playing to a popular audience, not producing great drama or art. In reference to this, he is noted as having observed, “I can spin out these rough-and-tumble dramas as a hen lays eggs. It is a degrading occupation, but more money has been made out of Guano than out of poetry.” Boucicault moved back to America in 1870 and stayed there until his death in 1890.

Sources:

Fawkes, Richard. Dion Boucicault; A Biography. London: Quartet, 1979. 292 pp.
Stuart, Roxana. Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th Century. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994. 377 pp.
Walsh, Townsend. The Career of Dion Boucicault. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967. 224 pp.

The Bram Stoker Club see: The Bram Stoker Society

Boucicault, Dion (b. Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot)

(1820–90) playwright, actor, theater manager; born in Dublin, Ireland. A versatile theatrical personality, he wrote or adapted some 130 plays, including London Assurance (1841) and The Poor of New York (1857), becoming one of the most popular playwrights of his era. Most of his plays are now forgotten, but The Octoroon (1860) is notable for its condemnation of slavery. He came to America in 1853, where, along with George Henry Boker and others, he worked to pass the first American Copyright Law of 1856. He was based in London from 1862–72, then returned to the U.S.A.