Acquiescence and resistance in the comic operas of John O’Keeffe for the London stage

  • Ciara Conway

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Irish playwright John O’Keeffe (1737–1833) wrote some of the most popular musical works for the London stage, which consisted of spoken dialogue and songs interwoven throughout. While modern scholarship explores issues of identity, subversion, satire, and colonialism in O’Keeffe’s musical works, it tends to overlook music and song. This is the basis for this dissertation’s main thesis that scholarly evaluations of O’Keeffe’s musical works should not overlook the interpretive role that music and song contribute to the drama. The first argument to support this thesis is that the analysis of music and song in O’Keeffe’s musical works provides a critical lens through which subversive and empowering subtexts can be viewed. Eighteenth-century English theatre censorship means that musical accompaniments, which were not submitted to the Examiner of Plays, are open to interpretation. The second argument is that O’Keeffe is known to have played an active role in the compilation of borrowed musical material for his London works. Music had a special significance for O’Keeffe, as is evident in his constant referral to music, Irish and otherwise, throughout his memoirs. The third argument to support this thesis is that O’Keeffe’s career on the Dublin stages in the 1770s, which included his exposure to Irish song as serious entertainment and as political propaganda, meant that Irish song in his London works provided an opportunity for O’Keeffe to empower Irish identity and distance himself from complete British solidarity. This dissertation explores how O’Keeffe’s application of music and song in his seemingly uncontroversial works not only empowers Irish identity but exposes a hybrid colonial identity that combines O’Keeffe’s fluctuating sense of acquiescence and resistance to British solidarity.

Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorSarah McCleave (Supervisor) & Kurt Taroff (Supervisor)


  • John O'Keeffe
  • William Shield
  • musicology
  • theatre studies
  • Dublin
  • London
  • eighteenth-century
  • identity
  • colonialism
  • subversion
  • interdisciplinary
  • Irish history
  • Irish song

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