Performing Female: American Theatre and Culture, 1840-1940

School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies

College of Arts and Law


Code 23820

Level of study Third/Final year

Credit value 20

Semester 2

Pre-requisite modules ‘You must have completed at least two years of appropriate study in this discipline.’

Module description

In the last generation, there has been a more nuanced scholarly approach to the ¿struggle¿ for equal rights. Instead of the conventional trajectory of suffrage campaigns from the Seneca Falls convention to the Fourteenth and Nineteenth Amendments and ERA, feminists have either redefined the political to include agitation for reform causes or explored changing representations of womanhood. br>This module examines responses to women as performers, with the emphasis less on European influences¿productions of Ibsen or Sarah Bernhardt¿s vaudeville sketches¿than on original American contributions and on the reactions of American audiences or spectators. Much of the attention is on popular paratheatrical entertainments in the circus or amusement parks or vaudeville, as well as ¿legitimate¿ drama.

  • Taste Publics: Audience Decorum and Decency
  • ¿True Womanhood¿ and Transgression
  • Genteel Melodrama: Anna Cora Mowatt¿s Fashion (1845)
  • Cross-dressing and Burlesque: Lydia Thompson¿s British Blondes
  • Circus Skills: Acrobats and Wild West¿s Annie Oakley
  • Vaudeville Headliners: Ethnicity and Stardom
  • Girls Having Fun: The Female Crowd at Coney Island and the Nickelodeon
  • Dark Divas: African Americans and the Segregated Circuit
  • Ziegfeld¿s Girls and Gold Diggers: The Follies and The Frolics, and Movies

Teaching and learning methods