James Sheridan Knowles: ‘Virginius’, 1820

Following a discussion of Joseph Addison’s Cato, 1713, described as perhaps the “most famous and enduring of the Roman republican dramas”, by Jeffrey Richards in The Ancient World on the Victorian and Edwardian Stage, 2009, page 30, the author moves on to James Sheridan Knowles.

Cato was still being revived as late as 1838, but it “was then being overtaken by another drama of republican Rome, Sheridan Knowles’s Virginius. The now completely forgotten Irish dramatist James Sheridan Knowles … was, during the nineteenth century, regarded as second only to Shakespeare as a playwright.”

Richards quotes Knowles’s fellow playwright, Edward Fitzball (1792-1873), who specialised in melodrama, and commented in his own book, Thirty-five Years of a Dramatic Author’s Life, volume one, 1859, page 104: “Dear, excellent, inspired Sheridan Knowles, our modern Shakespere [sic].”

Richards comments, on page 32, that of Knowles’s eighteen plays, “Virginius was the most enduring, holding the stage for the rest of the nineteenth century after it first appeared in 1820. He wrote it in Glasgow where it was performed on alternate nights for four weeks in 1820. … The play is a classic exposition of paternal love and the preservation of female honour but also has a theme of patrician versus plebeian conflict and the abuse of power by the upper classes.”