This essay investigates how the first production of Arthur Murphy’s The Orphan of China relates English concern for French influences to a distinctive consciousness of national identity. Reflecting the colonial rivalry between England and France, Murphy’s play emphasizes the chinese heroine’s defense of individual rights in order to criticize the chinese (and implicitly French) patriotic passion for absolutist monarchy. Whereas the female body of an actress wearing chinoiserie costuming (which connoted imperial trade) might undermine the credibility of the heroine’s political objectives, the first performance may have averted ambiguity by employing several theatrical devices, including: the epilogue’s identification of the actress with lady patrons; the actress’s reported skill in conveying character through majestic elocution and gestures; the prologue’s censure of Chinese patriotism; and the epilogue’s rejection of Chinese customs. Murphy’s departure from Voltaire’s pseudo-confucian ideas about women is probably part of a larger intellectual trend that raised questions about changing attitudes toward female autonomy. in presenting the cross-cultural role of Mandane/Mrs. Yates as the other race and the other gender, Murphy constantly returns to the english self and reflects on English national identity.


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pp. 383-407
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