The two roles that were examined, Lucy and Agnes, represent only a small period in Charke's life.  Owing to her reputation as haughty and odd, and her past conflicts with the Drury Lane Company, Charke found herself promptly out of work after the Licensing Act of 1737.  By the time that Charke sat down to write the Narrative, she had been remarried, re-widowed, played a man in an attempt to trick a heiress out of her money, spent the night in prison, and traveled around England as Mr. Brown with a Mrs. Brown, among other things.  When Charke picked up her pen in 1755, the writing of her autobiography was to both ensure her economic survival and to allow her the off-stage role of playwright.

To say that Charke's role-playing was motivated only by a pleasure and skill in theatricality is overly simplified. Examination of the various off-stage roles played by Charke comes from the single source of Charke's autobiography.  This is not an objective, factual representation of Charke's life, rather it is colored by the personality it seeks to display.  Charke had a number of motivations for writing the Narrative, a considerable number stemming from the negative perception her audience had of her.

As we have seen through analysis of Charke's occupational and dramatic roles, the actress had an assorted past with conventionality.  The dichotomy between Charke's claims of conventionality and the obvious examples of her distinctly untraditional life surfaces by the second page of the Narrative.  In defense of her text she certifies that she has "paid all due Regards to Decency" and has been careful that her work will not be "fulsomely inflaming the Minds of [her] young Readers, or shamefully offending those of riper Years" (Charke 1930).  Another argument offered for the acceptance of her autobiography is that "there is nothing inserted but what may daily happen to every Mortal breathing" (Charke 1930). Yet, in a subsequent paragraph, Charke reiterates her promise "to give some Account of [her] UNACCOUNTABLE LIFE," and asserts that an audience familiar with her history, "if Oddity can plead any Right to Surprise and Astonishment," will award her the "Title to be shewn among the Wonders of Ages past, and those to come" (Charke 1930).  In the space of one passage we begin to understand the complexities that abound in Charke's perception of conventionality. At the same time that she presents her autobiography as evidence of normality and decency, she admits that the material of this normal, decent text is the story of her anomalous life.


Just as theatricality is a common thread running through the varied roles of Charke, the dichotomy concerning conventionality is itself a thread running through this same thematic.  In the case of Charke's off-stage roles, conventional education offered to young women is a barrier to the special worldly education that Charke advocates.  The conventional domestic roles of women are a hindrance to Charke's survival, and indeed, Charke celebrates her ability to succeed (to various degrees) in the unconventional roles she pursues. However, at the same time, there is the constant reminder in Charke's Narrative that her transgressions from the social norm are errors, but not unforgivable crimes.  The dichotomy also arises in the discussion of Charke's dramatic roles.  In the five years between Charke's originations of Lucy and Agnes, the actress was perceived by her audience as increasingly unconventional and thus decreasingly acceptable.  This negative perception is due to Charke's intense determination to survive, a quality that makes her life the unique and "unaccountable" one it is. Nevertheless, she gives way to social pressures in condemning many of the unconventional acts that kept her alive and by asking her audience (this time her reading audience) for their pardon.

This dichotomy is resolved in the Narrative by the use of theatricality. Indeed, by stressing the theatricality inherent in her attitude towards the roles of physician, grocer, waiter, etc., Charke is able to play off the unconventionality of her creating or taking such positions.  When Charke vows to give an account of her life, she does so in order to advance her reception by her readers as one "who has used her utmost Endeavors to entertain 'em" (Charke 1930).  She presents herself, from the beginning of her autobiography as a sort of playwright, seeking to entertain her audience; her text becomes a script, and her stories are now visualized as performances.  The very epigraph of the book is a quotation from John Gay's The What d'ye Call It that claims "This Tragic Story, or this Comic Jest / May make you laugh, or cry­As you like best" (Charke 1930).

On-stage, transgression of traditional female roles was allowed through the dramatic component of the breeches part.  Breeches were not reserved for boyish or asexual characters; rather, many actresses in breeches played leading masculine roles.  The acceptance and even celebration of breeches roles seems paradoxical in a culture that fixed upon its women such rigid domains of movement within the society.  The answer is simple and lies in the implications of theatricality.  The theater is a place where reality might be mimicked, but indeed will never be synonymous with reality itself, for ultimately it is an art.  As an art, the theater, drama, and its actors and actresses are distinguished from

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