"real" humans and "real" human
events. The stage is a safe place where experiments in human dynamics
can be played out with the security that they will not transform
into realistic events.
By presenting her life as a series of performances, Charke as playwright is
consciously taking advantage of the acceptability of the breeches role. In
each narrative episode, Charke emphasizes the theatricality of her actions
and motivations. Often, as we have seen, these actions are atypical and
encroach upon the domain of exclusively masculine pursuits. If they are presented
to the reading audience as performances, however, Charke becomes an exceptional
actress rather than a threatening social transgressor. At least, this
is how Charke wishes her story to be interpreted. It is clear that she
wishes to redeem herself within the eyes of readers, but more importantly,
within those of her father. For Charke to approach the writing of her autobiography
as a playwright and create it into a script is especially shrewd. The
readers are transformed into an audience willing to accept a female playing
male "parts" within the context of theatricality, and Charke exploits
Cibber's passion for theater by enveloping her apology in a medium towards
which he will be more receptive.
Unfortunately, Charke's clever tactic failed in its attempt to placate Cibber. When
he died in 1757, he left his youngest daughter an insulting five pounds. In
fact, it is rather doubtful that Cibber even read Charke's autobiography. As
for the reception by her reading audience, the Narrative sold well and
reached two editions by the end of the year (Morgan 1988). It could be
concluded that in her role as playwright she was modestly successful. The
growth of modern scholarly interest in the Narrative establishes a certain
degree of success. Posthumous achievement aside, however, Charke was able to
secure neither the economic security she needed nor the societal pardon she
sought. Arguably, the reason that she failed in this endeavor is similar
to the cause of her failure in the role of grocer. She did not play the
part correctly; the gap that persisted between Charke the author and Charke
the playwright allowed her readers to see the manner in which she sought to
reconcile her unconventionality. Or perhaps, she failed because the essential
aspect of actress-character cohesion was missing. Her readers might have been
so accustomed to the perception of Charke as irrevocably transgressive that
they could not conflate their understanding of Charke with the portrayal in
the Narrative of her as "penitent prodigal daughter" (DeRitter
Charke, Charlotte. A Narrative of the
Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke. 2nd ed. Ed. Leonard R.N. Ashley. Gainesville: Scholars'
Facsimiles and Reprints, 1969.
Charke, Charlotte. Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke, daughter of Colly
Cibber. New York: Richard R. Smith, 1930.
DeRitter, Jones. "Not the Person She Conceived Me: the public identities
of Charlotte Charke." Genders 19 (1994): 3-17.
Lillo, George. Fatal Curiosity. Ed. William H. McBurney. Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1966.
Lillo, George. The Plays of George Lillo. Ed. Trudy Drucker. Vol. 1. New York:
Garland Publishing, Inc., 1979.
Lillo, George. The Plays of George Lillo. Ed. Trudy Drucker. Vol. 2. New York:
Garland Publishing, Inc., 1979.
Mackie, Erin. "Desperate Measures: the narratives of the life of
Mrs. Charlotte Charke." English Literary History 58 (1991): 841-865.
Morgan, Fidelis, with Charlotte Charke. The Well-Known Troublemaker: a life of
Charlotte Charke. London: Faber, 1988.
Straub, Kristina. Sexual Suspects: eighteenth-century players and sexual ideolgy. Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Wilson, John Harold. All the King's Ladies: actresses of the Restoration. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1958.