rent theme in the press" (Morgan 1988).  In addition, in 1730, Charlotte had married Richard Charke, a musician and actor in Cibber's company.  Charke turned out to be a philanderer, and the couple was separated by the time of their daughter's birth in November of 1730.  This is the basic information the typical, informed play-goer likely possessed as he sat down in the Theatre-Royal in Drury Lane to watch Charke debut the role of Lucy on June 22, 1731.

Charke was 23 when she opened a third role, Agnes, in Lillo's The Fatal Curiosity on May 25, 1736 at Fielding's Haymarket Theatre.  In the five years that had past between her debuts of Lucy and Agnes, Charke had played over 40 parts.  An analysis and subsequent comparison of the two roles, Lucy and Agnes, (if we respect the degree of typecasting at the time), show that the audience's perception of Charke changed in the five years between the two originations.  Both Lucy and Agnes are unconventional women, but in differing degrees.  Lucy, as a character, called for an actress who had not completely over-stepped the boundaries of conventionality.  On the other hand, Agnes is a character who could be given to an actress who displayed unforgivable travesties of convention.

The role of Lucy was designed to support and exaggerate the anti-heroine Millwood, an ardent man-hater.  While Lucy was sympathetic to the views of her mistress, she acted as a questioning and moralizing presence in both Millwood's household and the play, and although she questioned Millwood's actions, she was also her accomplice.  Lucy's morality grows throughout the play from a sense of sympathy with the "youth and innocence" of Barnwell, to a complete moral clarity about the wickedness of Millwood's scheme to have Barnwell kill his uncle for money (Lillo 1966).  This clarity is evident in her comment to a fellow servant emphasizing the need for them to confess Milwood's plot.

Lucy's betrayal of Millwood, done without "interest, malice, or revenge," was the beginning of her religious reformation from the wicked life she led with her mistress (Lillo 1966).  However, at Millwood's execution, it is clear that Lucy could still understand her mistress' justifications for manipulating Barnwell; she was intensely moved by Millwood's "anguish and despair" (Lillo 1966).

There are some obvious parallels between Charke and the character Lucy.  Most simply, both Charke and Lucy are young and poor.  This comparison, of course, does not suggest that Charke was cast for this reason only.  She was, after all, an actress and thus played numerous roles that did not reflect her actual age and economic status, but did reflect her versatile acting ability.   However, it was known that Charke had both a selfish, ungenerous father, and a no-good husband.  It is not a stretch for the audience to imagine that Charke might have perceived men as the "other" as do both Millwood and Lucy.  The premise can be established that her audience accepted Charke in the role of Lucy for her familiar family situation.


Like Lucy, Charke seemed to have economic and emotional reasons for wanting to take advantage of a man's world. Yet like the character, she had not really gone to such extremes in her desire for advantage as to blatantly defy conventions.  It is possible that her audience knew something of Charke's early capers because of her famous father.  Adventures, such as her stint as "Dr. Charke," can be rationalized as the silliness of a young girl, in the same way that Lucy's role as Millwood's accomplice is forgiven in the play with the rationalization that it was an act of ignorance (Charke 1930).  Lucy and Charke are smart women who were accepted so long as they were wise enough to comprehend the impropriety of their transgressive actions.   At the time of this play, it seems that Charke's audience perceived her as a woman that had the experience and common sense to play a character like Lucy.  Their acceptance of Charke as Lucy also suggests that they saw her as a woman who, while having transgressed feminine domains as a child, would never stray so far from conventionality that she would be more fit to play a character like Millwood.

Looking back on the role while writing her autobiography, Charke counts her origination of Lucy among her theatrical successes.  Indeed, "the Success that [she] had in that Part raised [her] from Twenty to Thirty Shillings per week" (Charke 1930).   More importantly, the complimentary reception she received from her audience influenced Charke to "make Acting [her] Business as well as [her] Pleasure" (Charke 1930).  Charke's perception of the play as a success is echoed by Trudy Drucker in an introduction to a compilation of Lillo's plays.  This level of success supports the argument that Charke's audience conceived her to be an appropriate actress for the part of Lucy.  This conception rests on the supposition that she was a competent actress, and on the suitability of her off-stage persona for the on-stage character.  In the acknowledgement of audience approval, Charke must have also been wary to this perceived propriety.  As we have witnessed in the text of the Narrative, Charke's relationship with conventionality is complicated and equivocal.  In as much as she seems to be asserting her conventionality in the whole of the Narrative, she is obviously aware that the very unconventionality of her life is the foundation animating her story.

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