Actress on the Restoration Stage
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Actress on the Restoration Stage
In 1660, British Empire underwent an important stage in its history; restoration took place spearheaded by Charles II. Charles not only excelled in the palace but also did well on matters concerning stage and drama. During the restoration period, English theater had a brand new face all this courtesy of Charles II. Charles is not only remembered for granting exclusive rights (royal patents) to major companies such Duke's and Kings company but the role he played in giving women a chance to be on stage.
The restoration stage brought a big change in the English theatre by introducing women on stage as actors. Female actors on stage became a new face of the restoration stage and it was easy to recognize them. Having women on stage generated both positive and negative reactions from people and this came mainly from men who formed majority of the audience in the theatre. Following the introduction of women on stage the audience realized that it missed a lot in the gender-biased entertainment that characterized the English theater. The introduction of actress on stage made the audience to realize that a gender-balanced stage is more entertaining than a biased one. The introduction also led the audience to focus on the role of women in the society and the family set up. From the introduction, the audience understood the nature of women and appropriate male female relations more than they did before.
To the empire, the restoration period was of great importance and to the society; the restoration drama was of great importance. The restoration drama begins with an attempt to repair a broken society and from the previous stage; it is obvious that English society requires major intervention. Literature is the mirror of the society and for this reason; any work of literature such as drama and plays is a representation of the society. If women do not have a place on stage then the same will be true in the society and this is what happened to the English society before the staging of the restoration drama. The family is the basic structure of the society and in these structure women plays an important role of enhancing cohesiveness. If women had no role to play in the family structure then there will be incomplete societies. This essay will therefore look at what it meant to have women on stage and the role of women in the society focusing on the restoration drama.
Drama is art and therefore its success depends on the audience judgment. If the judgment is for the work of art or the drama then this means success for both the drama and the actors. Before the introduction of the restoration stage in the English, there were other drama and plays that the audiences knew. In order for any work of art to be successful in such competitive field, introducing a different taste is important. In any work of literature, passing the message to the audience is the most important thing however the effectiveness of this message depends on its presentation. Before the restoration drama, the English theatre was a male dominated theatre and people seemed to be used to that. With a male dominated stage, the audience only expects biasness in any presentation. This biasness results from the fact that as human being the issue of selfishness still rules a big part of our decision. To add on to that members of a certain gender handle some issues better. For this reasons the English stage needed a change and the restoration period brought the change. Following the introduction of this stage, the audience experienced new plays and drama that satisfied their entertainment need. From this stage with a new face, the audience experienced presentations with full gender representation. A stage with full gender representation not only entertained the audience but it also contributed to the passing of the messages on the themes of the presentation to the audience.
With women on stage, there is discovery of the role of women in the society, women have a role to play in the society and giving them a chance remains as the best option. The restoration drama is therefore a revolution drama, which revolutionizes the role played by women in the theatre and this role spreads from acting to being playwrights as well as spectators. Giving women social responsibility empowers them and this makes them to realize their rights. The issue of feminism then becomes a concern and this can be the reason why women were discouraged from performing on stage.
The beginning of the eighteenth century marked a new era in gender history. Although gender rivalry existed before this period, appearances of women on the restoration stage awakened this idea on their mind. Before the restoration drama, gender variations and their consequences had a place in the society. The society believed that women and men are different biologically, intellectually and socially. With women on stage, this became an issue of the past and the society realized that women could do whatever men can do. Women realizing their role in the society follows the issue of equality and this may be the causes of the past gender imbalances. After declaring equality in a society feminism follows and this is what happened to the English society in the seventeenth century.
In the seventeenth century, people discovered a lot about humanity however, most of these discoveries had no value to humanity. Among these discovery is racism and this became a major issue in England. Although according to the racial division there are several races, the black and white races are the most dominant and they remain as rivals. Before the sixteenth century the European society was a well-integrated society, for example Charles mother was from France and his grandmother had a Danish ancestry he also married a Portuguese though he was Irish. This demonstrates a well-integrated society that had no race and ethnic boundaries. However, before the restoration the England society had become a conservative society in terms of who to welcome and who to cast out particularly the 'black' had no place in the English society. Blackness was associated with impurity, sex and the devil, while whiteness meant purity, prosperity and holiness. Women on stage brought many differences in the society, the changes not only touched on the issues of gender imbalances but also sensitive issues in the society such as racism. In 1605, there was launch of the first play that reflected on the issue of racial discrimination. In this play, there was observation of a difference and in the first time in the English theatre, a woman had written and performed the play. Ann from Denmark was the person behind the successful play The Blackness. The success of this play was not without the support of Charles II who was against the propagation of gender and racial discrimination in England. In addition to his dark complexion Charles II campaigned against this discrimination and this earned him several nicknames such as "the Black Boy" (Falkus 13). For success in his campaign, Charles did what people could not defy and that was associating blackness with royalty. This association became a wining strategy and it had several applications in restoration of literature. Dominating of restoration stage by women characters also had a positive effect in passing the racism message to the audience. Women actors created the necessary sensitivity in this issue unlike in the previous male dominated stages. Women in the restoration drama play the roles of society unification and creating the awareness of social integration. The theme of an ethnicity-disintegrated society was not only dominated the European African relations but it also existed between European countries.
The 1705 conquering of Spain had a place in the English theatre through plays such as All's Lost by Lust and the False Friend, where the issue of a disintegrated society comes out in these plays. The staging of these types of play was before the restoration period but they did not attract much attention from the people. Women-actors later revised these plays and the main message in them received the needed attention from the audience. In particular, women played a sympathetic role in the plays to demonstrate people should not celebrate the fall of their neighbor. This was a positive and a bold step considering that is was from women the plays also marked a first and a significant step of entry into politics by women. In the eighteenth century, women in Britain and America got into the political field alongside their male counterparts.
Before the restoration plays came on stage, British society was a stereotype society. Kabbani (19) contend this by stating that the seventeenth-century texts tend to be associated with stereotypes of cruelty and Lasciviousness. The England society of the seventeenth century was a society that looked forward to attaining civilization status but these stereotypes were enemies of civilization. The restoration stage helps to create a difference between the performances that existed before and the new performances had women as part of the actors. The restoration stage was very much after creating these differences that at some point the performances became extreme. With the introduction of restoration drama, sexual display became a common appearance in most plays and this changed the drama climate. Scenes of rape became common on the theatre and this was very different from Shakespeare's era. The plays also displayed several cases of attempted rape to emphasize on the place of the women on the society and on the issue of gender discrimination. These issues however did not begin in the seventeenth century but they are deeply rooted in the societies. Through drama, emphasis of an issue is possible to create awareness to the society. Before the introduction of women on stage, performing such sensitive plays could not be possible. With women on stage, the issue gets the required attention and the audience can get a clear picture of the seriousness of this issue.
The scenes in the play presented rape as a violent and an inhuman act and they had little or no resemblance with rape cases prosecuted at that time. The main audiences of the play were men and therefore the messages in these plays had a positive effect. For a rape victim to file a case then they had to proof extremely in court that there was a rape and this featured as a vice in the plays. The reasons that contributed to rape also came out in these plays and lust was the most outstanding one. The restoration plays point out that the men should change their attitude toward women.
Changing of attitude toward the gender differences should be in both men and women. Women should begin to look at themselves as heroes and not as inferior individuals who entirely depend on men. Female chastity proves the hero's virtue in women but this virtue can be lost through lack of participation (Merchant 22). If women look at themselves as heroines and not as losers then they will overcome most of the problems affecting them and the problem of rape is incorporated here (Brownmiller 53). The Excellent Woman became popular on stage during the restoration period and it mainly focused on the issue of rape. In this play, Clarissa analyzes the appropriate punishment for this criminal act and she concludes that death is not the appropriate punishment. The play Virginia was in 1754 and similar to other plays staged in the restoration stage it emphasized on the place of women in the society, especially on the issue of rape. The main character in this play was a slave woman who is threatened with rape by her master. This threats show the level of powerlessness of women in the pre-restoration period. "Rape leads to loss of wealth", which is common metaphor in the plays and it shows the negative effect of rape to women and the society.
"Reading the mask" is the best description of the restoration stage, in all the plays staged there is importance to unmask and identify a hidden society problem. In the plays, people are hypocrites according to the observation from the male dominated audience. In the early restoration period, there was male spectatorship. However, these male characters do not come out in the open and they do not take the moral teaching from these plays. Samuel Pepys's diary gives us an account of male spectatorship behavior. The diary goes on to claim that the female body became a visual object in most of the plays and these disturbed men. Sexual subjectivity and objectification in the restoration stage stands out as unresolved or unsettled issue. The restoration stage therefore acts as a way of restoring and resolving the gender differences. For people to achieve their development goal then the issue of reconciliation and restructuring their relations is essential and this is what stands out in restoration plays.
Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men and Rape. New York. Simon and Schuster, 1975. Print.
Falkus, Christopher.The Life and Times of Charles II. London: Weindenfeld and Nicolson, 1972. Print.
Kabbani, Rana. Europe's Myths of Orient. London: Pandora, 1998. Print
Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980. Print.