'I Should Go Near to Say He Lies With Her, Yet She's A Maid.' From Virgins To Whores, Actresses and Portraits, 1660 - 1737
Castle-Smith, Heidi Lorraine
Nathans, Heather S.
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During the early part of the eighteenth century, a number of single, wealthy independent actresses emerged who seemed to fascinate the public and who appeared to deliberately use and cultivate that fascination to foster their careers, be they risqué or virtuous. Theatre historians have numerous contemporary accounts and scholarly speculations about the meaning of women's bodies in the public marketplace of the theatre such as Samuel Pepys's diaries, as well as the theatrical prologues and epilogues of the Restoration, which describe the fluid boundaries between on- and off-stage worlds, in the pursuit and conquest of female virtue, with portraits "painting" an ideal picture of the women. This dissertation uses another tool to understand their visual impact on the social marketplace and their own ability to manipulate their images through the study of their representation in portraiture. While live performance is fluid and thus difficult to analyze in any concrete way, portraiture offers a fixed point of reference. Unlike a written text, portraiture also captures the embodied qualities of the performer for the spectator. An exploration of these women's portraits - portraits often presenting the actresses in characters they performed onstage - may provide clues to the created identity these actresses were presenting to the public. By shifting focus from the dramas to portraiture and painting where actresses play 'star' roles I hope to expand the discourse of Restoration theatre beyond the parameters of strictly literary terms, and to help illuminate and understand the visual presence of actresses and women during the Restoration period from 1660-1737.