Again, although Charke's obvious motivation to take this role is a monetary one, she approaches the position of waiter as a dramatic challenge.  Initially, her guise as "a young Gentleman of decay'd Fortune" is successful, for neither her benefactor's husband nor Mrs. Dorr suspects her identity.  Indeed she "was the first Waiter that was ever permitted to sit a Table with her" because "she thought [Charke's] Behaviour gave her Claim to that Respect" (Charke 1930).  She even goes on to win over the foreign guests of the inn with her various language proficiencies.  Thus, there is another example to show that Charke was once again successful in her off-stage pursuits, and played her role to its epitome.

The motivations of amusement, charity, and economic durability have presented themselves through Charke's retelling of her various adventures.  However, one aspect binds all three roles together, that of the dramatic.  Charke approaches each occupation as a role for her to play. Charke's skill is that of acting.  She is brought up in a theatrical family, and as a very young woman she is introduced to the stage.

The role of physician, as we have seen, is Charke's attempt to escape solitude.  As a young girl there are not many options to abate boredom, and so Charke is pressed to create her own.  Her procurement of male roles is not surprising since she has a contempt for ordinary domestic duties. Charke offers a justification for the roles she takes on, both in childhood and later on.  She describes a process of education different from, and more valuable than, that gained by the exercising of housewifely duties.  She asserts it is "certain that [Learning's] greatest advantages are to be infinitely improved by launching into the World, and becoming acquainted with the different Places and Objects we go thro' and meet in travelling.  The Observation to be made, by that Means, refine the Understanding and improve the Judgment, as something is to be gathered from the various Dispositions of people in the highest and lowest Stations of life" (Charke 1930). Charke uses her acting skills to achieve this extraordinary education.   By emulating the prototype physician, Charke is able to amass new experiences although physically she is confined by conventionality.  She is able to out-step the bounds of a traditional and limited childhood by acting the roles she is unable to validly pursue.

Fidelis Morgan, referring to the role of gardener that the young Charke took on, asserts that "her chief purpose in telling these stories is to enhance the theatricality of the world she created, alone, in her childhood" (Morgan 1988). Morgan goes on to show that in the role of gardener, Charke "never leaves us in any doubt that she is role-playing" (Morgan 1988).  These assertions imply that Charke's motive was an advancement of her

 

reputation as an actress, rather than the motivation arrived in this argument of Charke using her acting ability to achieve what is otherwise kept from her, whether it be a worldly education or the reputation of decency that is denied her (a point that will be made authoritatively below).

As an adult, her acting skills allow her to continue her special education and perhaps more importantly, survive both economically and emotionally.  Morgan points out that for Charke to take a job as chambermaid would be "an inescapable admission of failure (if only to herself); if she dressed as a man and took the job as a valet de chambre it was a triumph of her art" (Morgan 1988).  As we have seen, Charke places a great value on her ability to act a character to its fullest depths.  She values artistry so much so that she praises the artistry of the thief even when it is to her own disadvantage.  It seems only natural that when Charke could no longer pursue her art upon the stage, she would find a way not only to continue exercising her skills, but also, to use them to earn a living.  Approaching the world from a dramatic perspective allows Charke to survive economically and emotionally as well as to further heighten her knowledge of the world through new experiences.

Dramatic Roles

Indeed, by stressing the theatricality inherent in her attitude towards the roles of physician, grocer, and waiter, Charke is able to play off the unconventionality of her creating and taking such positions.  In writing the Narrative, Charke is well aware that the common attitude towards her was of one of disdain and shock.  In her prologue, Charke recognizes that she could not be matched "in Oddity of Fame," and compares herself with the wild entertainer George Alexander Stevens, whom she calls the "Knight-Errant of the Moon" (Charke 1930).  Charke writes that she and Stevens, "are, without exception, two of the greatest curiosities that ever were the incentive to the most profound astonishment" (Charke 1930).  It is clear that Charke knows she is perceived as untraditional, and perhaps rather dangerous in her unconventionality.  This knowledge can be accessed by examining the implications of two roles that Charke debuted at different times in her life.

When, in June of 1731, Charlotte Charke created the role of Lucy in George Lillo's The London Merchant, she was 18 and had been acting at the Theatre-Royal in Drury Lane for little over a year.  Besides knowledge of Charke as an actress, her audience was aware that she was the daughter of Poet Laureate Colly Cibber.  Cibber was notorious for his "parsimonious attitudes towards his wife and children," a fact that "was a recur

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Priya Shah - The World is a Stage: Theatricality, Conventionality... [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]