UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Onstage voices, offstage bodies : Restoration singer-actresses and the actress/whore complex Marsland, Adele


In this thesis, I address the actress/whore complex and its repercussions for the social and cultural reception of female singer-actresses in English Restoration theatre of the 1660s–1680s. The music performed by Restoration singer-actresses has largely gone unnoticed by musicologists, with few exceptions for notable performers such as Anne Bracegirdle or Elizabeth Barry. I argue that the lesser-known singer-actresses and their time on the late seventeenth-century English stage is a valuable area for interdisciplinary research, one that sheds new light on the dynamics of gendered discourse in the Restoration theatre. Chapter One provides an overview of the Restoration theatre, including playwrights, players, and the playhouse itself. Chapter Two explores the profession of the singer-actress and the birth of a celebrity culture that held both opportunity and danger for the women who performed publicly. I place the offstage lives and onstage actions of these women within the history of women’s music-making in early modern England and the changing socio-political culture of a country recovering from Civil War. This study applies theory on bodily performance and the sexualization of the female voice to singer-actresses’ musical moments. I argue that theatre songs functioned as “paratexts,” moments where women could address the spectators and voice their inner thoughts or frustrations with to the patriarchal society within which they operated.

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