“Restoration Women: Reassessment Of Identity And Status Through Theatre”

1944 words - 8 pages

“The dramas laws the dramas patrons give” illustrates the relationship between theatre and the people of the Restoration period (Elwin 5). As theatre of this era sheds light on the newly changing social normal and self-identification the reaction of the audience sheds insight back onto theatre itself. The concept of sex and sexuality is confronted and analyzed as women take the stage for the first time. The rapidly changing constructs of women are illustrated on stage and is widely received by rowdy and enthusiastic audiences. Theatre is used not only to regulate gender and sexuality but puts it on display for society to understand how the views on women’s private and public lives are changing and how sexuality is being used to ignite professional opportunities and garner interest in the theatre. Three major parts of the restoration period will be examined in order to reveal the importance of theatre for women and their right to their sexuality. The social construct of theatre going itself including the social workings of women in the audience, the duality of an actresses and stage’s role in representing societal views on sex and Aphra Behn’s emergence as a successful female playwright and her use of character Angellica Bianca will be analyzed to illustrate how theatre was an essential part of the emergence of women’s sensuality in society.
The love for theatre that King Charles brought back with him from his exile brought reflexivity to who was in the audience. Charles funded many stage productions and the presence of royalty brought a certain amount of prestige to the playwrights and actors and actresses performing at the time. To attend the theatre was a venue for social mingling and self-exploration and expression for women of the time. “The women of the court, depraved and licentious as the men” would mingle with “the courtesans with whom these women of quality moved and conversed as on equal terms” (Lowenthal 8). Socializing between classes at the theatre became very popular. Women of higher class would feel comfortable exploring their sensuality and intellect with women of lower and higher classes. As the women on stage were sharing their private lives openly with the audience along with their professional stage career the women of the audience felt open to living vicariously through the theatre and even exploring sensual and intellectual sides of themselves.
The shifting thoughts about identity were prevalent at the time of restoration theatre and the emergence of women in theatre. Author Cynthia Lowenthal says “to construct them [thoughts] reflexively rather than simply recognizing them” became commonplace and “social conflicts were no longer seen as just the epic clash of antagonistic social blocs but as a distributed deconstruction and reconstruction of social identities.” (3). The audience’s social conduct both reflected what was happening on stage but was also in fact, a variable in the decisions of future scripts and theatre...

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