OF MUSES AND MONSTROSITIES: ENGLISH TRAVESTIE PERFORMANCES OF THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY
Kim Lee, Esther
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This dissertation serves as an introduction to the performance genre of travestie. Unlike the popular breeches form in which an actress plays a female character who crossdresses as a man for a short duration of time but returns to her skirts by the end of a play, travestie performance is defined as an actress performing a male character on a public stage in male disguise for the entirety of a production. In this dissertation, I showcase how travestie questions the complex eighteenth-century English conceptions of normative gender roles, gender identity, and gender representation through performances of public undress that may have been the precursor to the modern burlesque genre. Through examining the case studies of Miss Margaret “Peg” Woffington, Mrs. Charlotte Charke née Cibber, and Mrs. Dorothy “Dora” Jordan, this dissertation analyzes the travestie genre through its connections to comedy, mythmaking, iconography, and the modern burlesque movement. I have chosen to utilize the spelling of travestie over the Italian and contemporary English spellings (travesti and travesty, respectfully) in accordance with the accepted spellings of the term within the eighteenth-century London theatrical landscape. I assert within this dissertation that the actresses who performed travestie purposefully chose this genre through their own theatrical awareness and business savvy. Emphasizing transhistorical perspectives and historiographical intervention, this dissertation reassesses and reinterprets contemporary views of these travestie actresses, using autobiography, biography, and narrative techniques to allow the long-gone voices of these actresses to speak for themselves. Muses for various artists and poets, the successful travestie actress lived within the liminal space between the fluidity of gender. Within their travestie performances, these actresses housed within their own bodies monstrous contradictions of gender that are explored in this dissertation through the interdisciplinary lenses of theatre historiography and gender studies.