The Objects

6th Apr 1815

Source: The John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library, with permission.

A Tyrant at Covent Garden

Contributed by: Susan Valladares

Theatre-going remained a popular activity during the Napoleonic Wars. On any given night, audiences were presented with a variety of entertainments, as illustrated by this playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, which advertises William Dimond’s comic opera, 'Brother & Sister'; James Kenney’s farce, 'Love, Law, & Physick'; and Isaac Pocock’s melodrama, 'Zembuca; or, The Net-Maker and his Wife'.

'Zembuca' had premiered the previous week (27 March) and would be performed a total of twenty-eight times that season. While contemporary reviewers took issue with its improbable plot line and inconsistent characterisation, the melodrama’s spectacular effects were unanimously praised. The 'Morning Post' claimed that 'Zembuca' captured ‘the voluptuous splendor of the East’, producing effects ‘little less than magical’.

The plot revolves around the overthrow of unlawful tyrant Zembuca, and concludes with a magnificent storming and destruction of the fortress. The script included a number of moralistic passages: in Act 1, Zembuca’s confidant Korac declares that ‘Zembuca’s tyranny increases daily; the pride of power; urged by the fear of losing it, drives him to acts of desperate oppression’; the hero, Mirza, piously proclaims that it is ‘every honest man’s business, however humble his station, to set his face against tyranny and oppression’.

Such statements on the exercise of power and on resistance to tyranny would have resonated with audiences during Napoleon’s 100 Days campaign.