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Spectres and Spectators: The Poly-Technologies of the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Performance and Technology book series (PSPT)

Abstract

Most recent studies of theatrical intermediality have discussed the way in which digital technologies have influenced performance as they refocus, enhance, and/or disrupt pre-digital, conventional theatre practices. As the current volume demonstrates, however, there are also numerous examples of analogue technologies that have influenced and shaped performance practice throughout history. These technologies opened pathways of exploration, as they provided theatre artists with opportunities for the creation of new spatial relationships among performers and new theatrical conventions. They also offered opportunities for artists to develop new techniques of visual storytelling. One example of such an analogue technology is that of the Victorian ghost illusion commonly known as ‘Pepper’s Ghost’. Although the illusion was originally invented by Henry Dircks, who named it the ‘Dircksian Phantasmagoria’, it quickly became and remains known as Pepper’s Ghost due to its association with John Henry Pepper, director of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London where the illusion first premiered.1 Pepper’s Ghost uses a large pane of plate glass and carefully controlled illumination to allow audience members to view the reflections of hidden performers alongside performers who are seen directly on stage.

Keywords

  • Plate Glass
  • Polytechnic Institution
  • Digital Technology
  • Audience Member
  • True History

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137319678_11
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Notes

  1. Poster reproduced in Brenda Weeden, The Education of the Eye: History of the Royal Polytechnic Institution 1838–1881 (Cambridge: Granta, 2008), 74.

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  2. Bernard Lightman, ‘Lecturing in the Spatial Economy of Science’, Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences, ed. Aileen Fyfe and Bernard Lightman (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 102.

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  3. Jim Steinmeyer, Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), 35.

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  4. Mervyn Heard, ‘Pepper’s Ghost: An Introduction’, The True History of Pepper’s Ghost: A Reprint of the 1890 editon of A True History of The Ghost and All About Metempsychosis by John Henry Pepper ( London: The Projection Box, 1996), v.

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  5. See Jeremy Brooker, ‘The Polytechnic Ghost: Pepper’s Ghost, Metempsychosis and the Magic Lantern at the Royal Polytechnic Institution’, Early Popular Visual Culture 5.2 (2007), 189–206.

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  6. George Speaight, ‘Professor Pepper’s Ghost’, Theatre Notebook 43.1 (1989), 16–24.

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  7. Geoffrey Lamb, Victorian Magic (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976), 44.

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  8. Helen Groth, ‘Reading Victorian Illusions: Dickens’s Haunted Man and Dr. Pepper’s “Ghost”’, Victorian Studies (Autumn 2007), 43–4.

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  9. Owen Davies, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 159.

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  10. Simon During, Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), endnote 305.

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  11. Henry Dircks, The Ghost (London: E. and F. N. Spon, 1863), 5.

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  12. A protracted battle between Pepper and Dircks ensued over the attribution of the invention. Even though Pepper included Dircks’s name on the patent, Dircks became upset over his name being omitted from much of the subsequent publicity. For more detailed — and conflicting — accounts of the patent dispute, see Henry Dircks, The Ghost (London: E. and F. N. Spon, 1863).

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  13. Professor [John Henry] Pepper, The True History of The Ghost; and All About Metempsychosis (London: Cassell, 1890).

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  14. Paul M. S. Monk, Physical Chemistry: Understanding our Chemical World (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2004), 476.

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  15. Lars Elleström, Media Borders, Multimodality and Intermediality (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 149–50.

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  16. Lynda Nead, The Haunted Gallery: Painting, Photography, Film, c. 1900 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 50.

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  17. Russell Fewster, ‘Instance: “The Lost Babylon” (Adelaide Fringe Festival 2006)’, Mapping Intermediality in Performance, ed. Sarah Bay-Cheng, Chiel Kattenbelt, Andy Lavender, and Robin Nelson (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011), 64.

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  18. Freda Chapple and Chiel Kattenbelt, ‘Key Issues in Intermediality in Theatre and Performance’, Intermediality in Theatre and Performance, ed. Freda Chapple and Chiel Kattenbelt (New York: Rodopi, 2006)), 11.

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© 2013 Beth A. Kattelman

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Kattelman, B.A. (2013). Spectres and Spectators: The Poly-Technologies of the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion. In: Reilly, K. (eds) Theatre, Performance and Analogue Technology. Palgrave Studies in Performance and Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137319678_11

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