The French Spy

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The French Spy is a military drama in three acts by John Thomas Haines (1799?-1843)[1].

Also found as The French Spy, or The Siege of Constantina ; The Arab of the Desert, or The French Spy or The French Spy, or The Wild Arab of the Desert

The original text

Based on the French takeover of Algiers in 1830[2], the topical play tells of an orphan named Mathilda, who dressed herself as "Hamet", (an Arab boy) in order to follow her beloved French colonel during the campaign. The role of "Hamet" was specifically created especially for the French born actress Madame Céleste (1815?-1882)[3], whose skill for embodying characters of non-European origin who "crossed the boundaries of both gender and ethnicity" would become legendary.

The play premiered as The French Spy during Easter of 1831 and would become the actress's first great success and would see numerous performances over the course of the 19th century.

The title of the work had a variety of subtitles in various combinations over the period, often without an author being listed. For example, Allardyce Nicoll (1930) lists both The Arab of the Desert, or The French Spy, (which he refers to as a melodrama and gives the performance date of 2/1/1831) and The French Spy (now referred to as a "spectacle" and performed at the Queen's Theatre on 4/4/1831). However, according to The Tatler of Wednesday, 27 April, 1831[4], the work was in fact by a "Mr Haines" and billed as a "Grand Melo-dramatic Military Spectacle").

Samuel French published an edition of the text, now called The French Spy, or The Siege of Constantina ("A military drama, in three acts. Partly from the French" - French's standard drama. Acting edition: vol. 20, no. 153) in 1861, giving the author's name as John Thomas Haines. Daphne Brooks (2006) also refers to a work called The French Spy, which she ascribes to a "J.T. Haynes". The play referred to in most of these cases seems to have been a transformation play in part, with the leading lady playing three male roles as part of the action.

F.C.L. Bosman (1980: p. 203), discussing a South African performance of a work entitled The French Spy, or The Wild Arab of the Desert (a "great historical military drama"), ascribes the work to an author called "Aubert" (and in fact notes that the role of Mathilda had orginally been written for the "famous French actress Céleste"). The "Aubert" in this case is perhaps reference to the unnamed author of the original French source mentioned in the Samuel French edition. Possibly a tale or play by the dramatist, poet and journalist Jean-Louis Aubert (1731–1814[5], also known as the Abbé Aubert).

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

1866: Performed as The French Spy, or The Wild Arab of the Desert, a "great historical military drama" (said to be by "Aubert"), in Cape Town by the Le Roy and Duret Company on 9 and 11 April, with Madame Duret portraying three characters, as well as six in the accompanying play, The Actress Of All Work, or My Country Cousin (Oxberry).

1867: Performed as The French Spy the Theatre Royal in Cape Town by the "Le Roy's Original Company" on 8 April, with Betsy Baker (Morton)

1867: Performed as The French Spy the Theatre Royal in Cape Town by the "Le Roy's Original Company" on 10 April, with Ireland as It Is (Amherst?)

Sources

http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n83065102/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Thomas_Haines

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_C%C3%A9leste

Facsimile version of the 1861 version of The French Spy, or The Siege of Constantina, Google E-book[6]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abb%C3%A9_Aubert

Facsimile version of The Tatler of Wednesday, 27 April, 1831, in Tatler: A Daily Paper of Literature, Fine Arts, Music, and the Stage, Volume 2. Published by J. Onwhyn: p.480 [7]

Facsimile version of the "Handslist of plays produced between 1800 and 1850" from Allardyce Nicoll. A History of Early Nineteenth Century Drama (Vol II 1800-1850): Internet Archive[8]

Facsimile version of the "Handslist of plays produced between 1800 and 1850" from Allardyce Nicoll. A History of Early Nineteenth Century Drama (Vol II 1800-1850): Internet Archive[9]

Daphne Brooks. 2006. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910. Duke University Press: pp. 183-194[10]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 203-9, 221-2, 294.

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