Women and Politics in Adaptations of Shakespeare's English Histories: Re-enacting the Nation, 1719 - 1745

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Abstract

Modern scholars have upheld the simplistic contention that during the early eighteenth century actresses were seen merely as objects for the voyeuristic titillation of audiences. This restrictive interpretation of the roles assigned to women, I shall argue, is not supported by all plays from this period. My focus is not on the relationship between actresses and audiences, but, rather, on the representation of women in adaptations of Shakespeare. Contrary to current critical analysis of eighteenth-century adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, I shall contend that these texts depict politically active women who engage with topical issues. These representations of women from English history fulfil an ideological function by engaging in contemporaneous debates concerning British national identity. I will be discussing representations of women in plays produced between 1719 and 1745. During this period, ten adaptations of Shakespeare’s English histories and Roman plays were premiered on the London stage. Of these, two anonymous plays, The History of King Henry the VIII and Anna Bullen (1732) and The History of King John (1736), were performed but not published. The remaining eight plays were all published in the years in which they premiered: John Dennis, The Invader of his Country (1719), adapted from Coriolanus; Charles Molloy, The Half Pay Oficers (1720), adapted from Henry V and Twelfth Night: Lewis Theobald, The Tragedy of King Richard I1 (1720). adapted from Richard II; The Sequel to King Henry the Fourth (1721), adapted from Henry IV Aaron Hill, King Henry the Fifth; or, The Conquest ofFrance by the English (1723), adapted from Henry V; Ambrose Philips, Hurnfrey Duke of Gloucester; a Tragedy (1723), adapted from Henry VI; Theophilus Cibber, The Historical Tragedy of King Henry VI (1724), adapted from Henry V and Colley Cibber, Papal Tyranny in the Reign of King John (1745), adapted from King John.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-77
Number of pages17
JournalJournal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Volume29
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006

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