The Multiple Lives of Billy Waters: Dangerous Theatricality and Networked Illustrations in Nineteenth-Century Popular Culture

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    Billy Waters (c. 1780 – 1823), the ‘King of the Beggars’, was a London street-performer and a well-known figure in early-nineteenth-century popular culture, yet despite this he has received no sustained critical or cultural attention. Close attention to depictions of Waters, however, offers the potential for developing a new model of 1820s and 1830s popular culture that shows – in more detail than the critical models currently available – how popular theatre connects with print and visual media. The use and reuse of Waters’ image allows us to see how Regency popular culture had a specific kind of matrix in which characters, scenes, and images were used and reused across media: with Waters as a case study we can track the ways in which representations of theatricality as a mode of urban life spread across popular culture in a series of networked illustrations. This article analyses visual and textual representations of Billy Waters to suggest a new approach to ascertaining the relationship between ideological agency and popular cultural forms. Building on Robert Darnton’s more linear ‘communication circuit’ it proposes the model of the ‘communication network’ to give new insight into the ways in which theatre and its visual culture function across Regency popular forms.

    © 2019, The Author(s), published by Sage. This is an author produced version of a paper published in NINETEENTH-CENTURY THEATRE AND FILM uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link below. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)161-189
    JournalNineteenth Century Theatre and Film
    Issue number2
    Early online date26 Jun 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


    • popular culture, communication circuit, theatricality, visual culture, spectacle, London

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