In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dion Boucicault

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Archives and Accessible Primary Materials
  • Boucicault in Cultural History
  • The Irish Plays
  • Irish Plays Abroad

Victorian Literature Dion Boucicault
Sarah Meer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0195


Dionysus Lardner Boucicault (known as Dion Boucicault, also sometimes spelt Bourcicault) was a prolific playwright and a successful actor and manager. Active between about 1840 and 1890, he was most prominent and popular in the years 1850–1880. He was born in Dublin, but he spent his heyday shuttling between London and New York; he also toured Australia and New Zealand, and spent seasons in California, Chicago, and New Orleans. As a writer, Boucicault was identified most closely with adaptation from the French, translating the plots of Parisian boulevard melodramas into British or American settings. At the same time, he achieved a string of massive commercial hits, and is credited with importing to London the sensational melodrama that became the theatrical hallmark of the 1860s. Sensation drama combined high production values with violent and exciting plots; while these had once been associated with working-class theatres, Boucicault fused sensation with comedy and sentiment to mesmerize prosperous audiences and even the Queen. His creations underpinned the rise of London’s West End as a pleasure district, and they helped establish long runs and touring productions. Boucicault also contributed to the extension of theatrical copyright and performance rights, through campaigns and litigation. As an academic subject, Boucicault has traditionally interested quite distinct constituencies. He has long held a place in the Irish canon, although it has sometimes been a slightly dubious one; popular in the nineteenth century, he fell out of favor after the founding of the Irish Literary Theatre. Then he was rediscovered in the 1960s, and returned to the fore in the 1990s, as transnational approaches recognized his significance for the Irish diaspora. In American Studies, Boucicault tends to be remembered for plays set in the United States, above all for his ‘race’ play, The Octoroon, which takes place on a Louisiana plantation. Critics have discussed its racial politics, its attitude to slavery, and its representations of photography, law, and the frontier. Outside academia, The Octoroon found a new prominence in 2014 when Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapted and analyzed it in An Octoroon. Victorianists have analyzed Boucicault’s plays in relation to railways, sport, cities, prostitution, and the Indian Rebellion of 1857; theatre and film historians have been drawn to Boucault’s inventive staging, his legal and business innovations, and his contribution to the narrative techniques of the early motion picture.

General Overviews

The compartmentalization of critical work on Boucicault—divided between Irish, American, and Victorian studies—has so far contributed to an undersupply of brief general overviews. Hogan 1969, McCormick 1987, and Keogh 1990 are all thorough, and relatively short, although the two later texts are now hard to get hold of. The introductions to Krause 1964, Thomson 1984, and Parkin 1987 make good starting points; Boltwood 2012 is a good introduction to the Irish plays.

  • Boltwood, Scott. “Dion Boucicault: From Stage Irishman to Staging Nationalism.” In A Companion to Irish Literature. 2 vols. Edited by Julia M. Wright, 460–475. Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444328066.ch28

    This is a good overview of the Irish plays, including The Knight of Arva (1848).

  • Hogan, Robert. Dion Boucicault. New York: Twayne, 1969.

    An important survey of both life and work, in a slim volume.

  • Keogh, Antóin. Dion Boucicault, An Irish Playwright. Dublin, Republic of Ireland: Saor-Ollscoil Press, 1990.

    This limited edition contains useful, if very short, introductory essays on Boucicault’s literary influence, “stage Irishism,” theatrical law, stagecraft, and theatre management.

  • Krause, David. “Introduction.” In The Dolmen Boucicault. Edited by David Krause, 9–47. Dublin, Republic of Ireland: Dolmen Press, 1964.

    This forty-page introduction emphasizes the Irish plays and context.

  • McCormick, John. Dion Boucicault. Cambridge, UK: Chadwyck-Healey, 1987.

    A short volume in a series produced with teachers in mind, this is concise and highly informative, though difficult to find.

  • Parkin, Andrew. “Introduction.” In Selected Plays of Dion Boucicault. Edited by Andrew Parkin, 7–22. Gerrard’s Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1987.

    A helpful introduction.

  • Thomson, Peter. “Introduction.” In Plays by Dion Boucicault. Edited by Peter Thomson, 1–14. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

    A useful introduction.

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