Definitions

limelight

limelight

[lahym-lahyt]
limelight: see calcium oxide.

Early form of theatrical lighting. The incandescent calcium light invented by Thomas Drummond in 1816 was first employed in a theatre in 1837 and was widely used by the 1860s. Its soft, brilliant light enabled it to be focused for spotlighting and to create effects such as sunlight and moonlight. The expression “in the limelight” referred to the most desirable acting area on the stage, the front and centre, which was illuminated by limelights. Electric lighting replaced limelight in the late 19th century.

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Limelight is a type of stage lighting once used in theatres and music halls. An intense illumination is created when an oxyhydrogen flame is directed at a cylinder of lime (calcium oxide), which can be raised to 2572°C before melting. The light is produced by a combination of incandescence and candoluminescence. Although it has long since been replaced by electric lighting, the term has nonetheless survived, as someone in the public eye is still said to be "in the limelight".

History

The limelight effect was discovered in the 1820s by Goldsworthy Gurney, based on his work with the "oxy-hydrogen blowpipe", credit for which is normally given to Robert Hare. In 1825, a Scottish engineer, Thomas Drummond (1797–1840), saw a demonstration of the effect by Michael Faraday and realized that the light would be useful for surveying. Drummond built a working version in 1826, and the light is sometimes known as the Drummond Light after him.

Limelight was first used in public in the Covent Garden Theatre in London in 1837 and enjoyed widespread use in theatres around the world in the 1860s and 1870s. Limelights were employed to highlight solo performers in the same manner as modern followspots. To this day, theatre followspots are often referred to as limes . Limelight was replaced by electric arc lighting in the late 19th century.

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References

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