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  • Comment
  • John Rouse

This is a general issue of TJ, and its articles cover a wide historical and methodological range. Nonetheless, they speak to each other within several possible groupings. The issue begins with W. B. Worthen’s examination of the subject of history in recent Chicano/a dramaboth in terms of the US-Mexico border history these plays revise and in terms of the historical formation of Chicano/a identity that these representations illuminate and in which they intervene. But the other articles are also concerned with the subject of history in both the senses suggested by Worthen’s title: all devote discussion to aspects of the construction of identity categories in different historical periods, and these discussions also reveal a concern with the ways in which this subject can be constructed, or reconstructed, in the discourse of the historian. In this sense, Worthen’s specic focus on the recent history of Chicano/a theatre and on the representations of Chicano/a history within this theatre also serves as a kind of general, self-reexive illumination of methodological issues with which the other articles also are concerned.

These remaining articles also can be grouped in two other ways. In the rst place, all four include consideration of gender categories in their examinations of theatrical or cultural performance within specic historical periods. In the second, not only can the arguments of these articles be compared, the articles also can be read sequentially to suggest a kind of narrative. Casey Charles discusses three ways in which Twelfth Night “functions as a dramatic critique of the ideal norm of imperative homosexuality” by seizing on representational possibilities available within the cultural eld of early modern Englandone in which the categories of homo- and bisexuality were neither xed nor unequivocally associated with identity. In the course of his discussion, Charles speculates on the degree of anxiety induced by the cross-dressing and gender ambiguity in stage productions like Twelfth Night. Bryan Reynolds takes this element of the discussion one step further; where Charles focuses on the potential of stage plays to sustain gender ambiguity and hence disrupt the stabilization of identity categories, Reynolds focuses on the disruptive potential of the theatre itselfon what he calls its “transversal power.” And he examines the effects of this power by examining the very antitheatrical discourse that purportedly contests itby revealing the degree to which the antitheatricalist insistence on the God-ordained stability of social identity reveals the anxiously unacknowledged understanding that this stability is an articial, and fragile, construct.

Such constructed categories seem considerably more stable a hundred years later, as Downing A. Thomas’s discussion of late-seventeenth-century French tragèdie en musique suggests. Certainly, his discussion of Armide reveals the opera’s effectiveness not only in sustaining a dominant discourse in which desire and loss are left “to the woman as her lot,” but also in constructing a theatrical experience through which the (male) spectator is allowed to indulge in feminizing passion as aesthetic experience within the protected connes of the theatre. It is then, I hope, not too great a step to suggest that we may see in Armide’s gendered opposition of self-mastery and dispossession an example of the kind of category solidication that will have succeeded, two hundred years later, to the point whereas W. D. King’s discussion of late-nineteenth-century spiritualism and mesmerism revealsthe irrational can surface only as a threat to the mastery of instrumental reason, as the return of the repressed on the “dark” stage. Moreover, as King demonstrates, this opposition, too, has retained its gender construction; the return of the repressed is performed, literally, on the female body. Thomas’s consideration of theatrical spectatorship as a potentially feminizing activity also nds an echo in King’s discussion of Fanny Kemble’s uneasy apprehension of the stage as itself a dark space and of the kinship between the actor and the medium. And nally, it may be possible to suggest a step from King’s discussion forward round to Worthen’s by comparing the usefulness of relatively rigid identity categories for the functioning of industrial capitalism to the opportunities for more permeable categorization afforded by...

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pp. ii-iii
Launched on MUSE
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