Catherine Burroughs

Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780–1800, & Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790–1840, edited by Catherine B. Burroughs

Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780-1800. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 46.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xiv + 272pp. Illus.: 20 halftones.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77116-1 ).
Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840. Edited by Catherine B. Burroughs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.  xv + 344pp.  Illus.: 1 halftone, 4 line diagrams.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-66224-9).

Reviewed by
Melynda Nuss
The University of Texas at Austin

The link between women and the Romantic drama has been unusually fertile in the past several years.  Perhaps because of women's association with theatricality, or perhaps because of the unusal number of women who made their mark as playwrights, actresses, and critics in the Romantic period, the new field of Romantic drama has focused a good deal of attention on women and women's concerns.  Even works which explore the works of the cannonical male playwrights, like Julie Carlson's In the Theatre of Romanticism, devote a good deal of time to the charismatic figure of Sarah Siddons, Joanna Baillie's work has already generated a full length study by Catherine Burroughs, and Elizabeth Inchbald, the actress and playwright who was also England's first major dramatic critic, has begun to make critics aware of the astonishing diversity of roles that women played in the Romantic theatre.  The two books under review here, then, represent something of a second generation of criticism on the role women played in the Romantic drama.  They not only expand the analyses of women in the Romantic drama beyond the small canon of Baillie, Inchbald, and Siddons, but they also represent a questioning of some of the field's initial assumptions--that women operated under severe constraints in the male dominated world of the theater, that women's work is always (or usually) progressive in terms of politics and gender, that women's writing is largely confined to the closet and their public impact limited to the body onstage, and that women were confined by certain domestic ideologies. Together, these two books provide a broader and more nuanced view of the way that women participated in the drama as playwrights, critics and actresses, and the way that the drama enabled women to participate in public life.

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency and Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. xiv + 262pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3352-5).
Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.  xiii + 469pp. 
$55.00  (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-3095-4).

Reviewed by
Catherine Burroughs
Wells College and Cornell University

In an age when anxieties about the political efficacy of institutional theatre are so palpable, it is no surprise that the question of why certain playscripts reside in "the closet" has proved a crucial line of investigation for scholars. Indeed, recent critical preoccupation with how the body and mind of any reader-spectator are implicated in both the acts of playreading and playgoing seems a poignant response to the desire to believe that theatre, broadly defined, can effect positive cultural change.

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. xii + 238pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8122-3393-X).

Reviewed by
Julie A. Carlson
University of California, Santa Barbara

Those of us who attend developments in romantic drama and theater are happy to greet the appearance of Catherine Burrough's Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. It advances this field in important respects by both focusing extensively on Baillie and providing some of the historical and theoretical contexts that help us to appreciate the power of Baillie's work. The lead playwright of her age and considered by some of her peers to be the best playwright since Shakespeare, Baillie pretty much had fallen from view until roughly five years ago, when she became a rising star on conference and publishing circuits in romantic studies. A few scholars—especially Margaret Carhart and Joseph Donohue—had argued long before then for the importance of Baillie's writings, but their comments fell on ears unreceptive to the drama of romantic theater or the women writing in the period. An appreciative audience for both now thrives, thanks to the many scholars whose work Burroughs generously acknowledges. It is some measure of the rapid popularity of both fields that people have been clamouring for a book on Baillie in the last years.

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