Abstract and Keywords
The theatre provided Victorian women with a rare opportunity to experience as actresses the exhilaration of independence and power, but at the same time conspired in reproducing repressive codes of gender in both the theatre and society. Men, at once attracted and made anxious by powerful actresses, reassured themselves with a defensive rhetoric that constructed the actress as an exceptional case having little or nothing in common with ‘real’ women like their own wives and daughters. The executive functions of theatre manager and playwright were culturally gendered as requiring ‘masculine’ qualities of mind: no plays by women of the time have broken into the canon of English drama. Nevertheless the considerable achievements of Victorian women like Elizabeth Robins deserve our attention—women who not only wrote and produced plays, but sought to revolutionize the theatre by tempering its commercialism and motives of self-interest while enhancing and broadening opportunities for women.
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