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Struggling with the Past: Women's Theatre in Search of a History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2009


Theatre scholarship is only just beginning to respond to the insights and emphases suggested by feminist criticism. In this introductory article to what we intend to be a strong and continuing thread in NTQ, Susan Bassnett outlines the resulting problems, and explores the historical context and conditions in terms of one central issue – the role of women as performers (and non-performers) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She also examines some of the wider implications for theatre studies, affected as these also are by new historicist approaches to the study of cultural change. Susan Bassnett teaches in the Graduate School of Comparative Literary Theory in the University of Warwick, and has been a regular contributor to New Theatre Quarterly and other journals, notably in the field of Italian theatre. Her most recent books include a feminist study of Elizabeth I, and (in collaboration with John Stokes and Michael Booth) Bernhardt. Terry, Duse: the Actress in Her Time.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1989

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Notes and References

1. Davis, Tracy, ‘Questions for a Feminist Methodology of Theatre History’ in Interpreting the Theatrical Past: New Directions in the Historiography of Performance, ed. Postlethwaite, Thomas and McConachie, Bruce (forthcoming, University of Iowa Press, 1988).Google Scholar

2. Sister Butler, Mary Marguerite, Hrostvitha: the Theatricality of Her Plays (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960).Google Scholar

3. Case, Sue-Ellen, Feminism and Theatre (London: Macmillan, 1988).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4. Quoted in Gurr, Andrew, The Shakespearean Stage, 1574–1642 (Cambridge University Press, 1970).Google Scholar

5. Quoted in Taviani, Fernando and Schino, Mirella, Il segreto della commedia dell'arte, Florence, La Casa Usher, 1982Google Scholar. My translation.

6. Morgan, Fidelis, The Female Wits: Women Playwrights of the Restoration (London: Virago, 1981).Google Scholar

7. See, in particular, Foucault, Michel, Histoire de la Folie (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1961)Google Scholar, and Les Mots et les choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1966).

8. Gilder, Rosamond, Enter the Actress: the First Women in the Theatre (London: Harrap, 1931).Google Scholar

9. See Stokes, John, Booth, Michael, Bassnett, Susan, Bernhardt, Terry, Duse: the Actress in Her Time (Cambridge University Press, 1988)Google Scholar. In my work on Eleonora Duse I have been fascinated by the way in which accounts of what actually took place on a stage vary according to what the perceiver actually wills himself to see. The case of Duse is particularly interesting in this respect.