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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

History

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Jennifer N. Heuer

Second Advisor

Joyce Avrech Berkman

Third Advisor

David H. Glassberg

Fourth Advisor

Martha Saxton

Subject Categories

Acting | Cultural History | Playwriting | Social History | Theatre History | United States History | Women's History

Abstract

Anglophone theatre provided a solid cultural bridge between Britain and America and served as an influential, informative, and accessible mode of social, political and cultural exchange transported throughout the eighteenth-century transatlantic world. Unlike works focusing on colonial American restrictions on theater, or examining its subsequent role in constructing American nationhood and identity, I explore how theatre served to both cultivate and challenge transatlantic connections. I show that actresses and women playwrights played a distinctive role in this process; they exercised agency in helping shape Anglo identity, influenced the formation of the cult of celebrity, challenged physical gendered spaces and normative social behavior, and entered intellectual landscapes culturally, socially, and politically informed.

Most scholarship examining Anglophone theatre isolates performances and plays by their location, genre, performer/author, or role. However, looking through the lens of the greater transatlantic world makes clear the contributions of Anglophone theatre women and reveals their influence on cultural and diplomatic exchange. By innovatively bringing together stories of actresses and women playwrights, and by examining their experiences and works as microhistories, I show that women both knowingly and inadvertently became instrumental as cultural diplomats who helped solidify connections between Britain and America, palliate the political differences of the period, and engage audiences in national identity conversations.

Theater Women and Cultural Diplomacy creatively adopts a long-durée framework and incorporates diplomatic, cultural, and social history; theatre and performance studies; literary theory; biography; and gender studies to suggest how women provided critical cultural cohesion as well as social and political civic awareness. The interconnectedness of Anglo theatre includes conversations about materiality and immateriality, presence and absence, performance, publication, and circulation; gender and identity, intercolonial challenges and nationhood. While the bulk of my thesis focuses on the later eighteenth century, my analysis begins in 1660 when women first legally participated in British theatre and continues through the end of the eighteenth century when Anglophone theatre women contribute to both a new “American” voice and British identity. As early celebrities, actresses and women playwrights used theatre to challenge social norms and gender normativity, offer ways of reimagining women in a changed world, and effect cultural diplomacy. They would do so with exceptional poise, perseverance, and perceptiveness all in the face of three significant revolutions: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution.

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