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Hanlon Brothers

Hanlon Brothers

From Daredevil Acrobatics to Spectacle Pantomime, 1833-1931

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Mark Cosdon


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
200 pages, 6 x 9, 20 illustrations

Theater in the Americas


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About the Book

The Hanlons—a family of six brothers from Manchester, England—were one of the world’s premiere performing troupes in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, yet their legacy has been mostly forgotten. In The Hanlon Brothers: From Daredevil Acrobatics to Spectacle Pantomime, 1833–1931, Mark Cosdon carefully documents the careers of this talented family and enumerates their many contributions to modern popular entertainment.

            As young men, the Hanlons stunned audiences all over the world with their daring acrobatic feats. After a tragic accident severely injured one brother (and indirectly led to his suicide in a manner achievable only by someone with considerable acrobatic talents), they moved into the safer arena of spectacle pantomime, where they became the rage of Parisian popular theatre. They achieved fame with their uproariously funny and technically astonishing production of Le Voyage en Suisse. After settling permanently in the northeastern United States, they developed two more full-length pantomimes, Fantasma and Superba. The three shows toured for more than thirty years, a testament to their popularity and to the Hanlons’ impressive business acumen.

            The book’s illustrations—including sketches of their performances, studio photographs of the Hanlons, and posters for all three of their major pantomimes—are essential to the understanding of their work. The Hanlon Brothers is painstakingly researched yet accessible and engaging.  Cosdon has managed to provide a thorough and engrossing account of the Hanlons’ lives and careers, which will no doubt help to reestablish their legacy in the world of popular entertainment.


Mark Cosdon is associate professor of theatre and performance studies at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  His articles on theatre history and popular performance have appeared in a number of journals, including Theatre History Studies, Journal of American Drama and Theatre,and Asian Theatre Journal. 


“The Hanlons are to physical comedy on stage what Chaplin and Keaton are to the slapstick in the silent movies.  So far their influential contribution has been overlooked by historians.  Mark Cosdon sets this to rights in his scrupulously researched, entertainingly written study.   His skills as trained scholar and circus performer combine to provide insight into the Hanlons’ techniques and their significance. After this, any account of the nineteenth-century American theatre will have to recognize the entrepreneurial talents and the comic legacy of the Hanlon dynasty.”—Laurence Senelick, author of The Chekhov Theatre: A Century of the Plays in Performance

"Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Mark Cosdon's The Hanlon Brothers: From Daredevil Acrobatics to Spectacle Pantomime, 1833-1931 offers new insights into the history of the performance troupe that pioneered many of the safety practices, physical routines, and comic traditions we recognize today everywhere from tightrope acts at the circus to slapstick gags in Marx Brothers' movies."—Heather S. Nathans, author of Early American Theatre from the Revolution to Thomas Jefferson: Into the Hands of the People