The articles in this general issue of Theatre Journal come from different places, times, and methodologies but they also share common ground. All address the staging of types and stereotypes, shaped by gender and/or national identification, at moments of historical crisis.
Gregory Castle’s essay offers a comprehensive account of Anglo-Irish Revivalist fascination with the “primitive” culture of the Gaelic west and the re-presentation of this fascination, in all its contradictory appeal, in the Revival’s most notorious play, The Playboy of the Western World, and its protagonist, who is at once the successor and the destroyer of the Stage Irishman. Castle’s analysis of the ambiguous relationship between the ethnographic encounter and the theatre that responded to it encompasses not only the Irish Revival and the crisis of British imperialism but also the recent resurgence of postcolonial thinking in and of Ireland. Juxtaposing this trend with the ethnographic imaginings of colonial Ireland, Castle not only extends but also critically revises the insights of Seamus Deane and Declan Kiberd, alongside those of Victor Turner and Talal Asad. Elizabeth Cullingford’s essay also draws on Irish postcolonialism in her readings of the Stage Englishmen in Dion Boucicault’s Irish plays. Examining a range of texts from the famous Colleen Bawn to the less-well-known The Shaughraun, she shows how the Stage English-man’s negotiation of opposing loyalties, duty to the British Empire, and love of an individual Irishwoman—or man, mediated the social and political conflicts in the house and beyond.
Although they deal with performance practices up to four hundred years apart, Deborah Kaplan and Jane Tylus share an interest in moments of transition and transformation in the social and theatrical representation of national and gender identities. Kaplan documents the revival of Restoration comedy, exemplified here by The Way of the World, in the United States. She traces the multiple and not always compatible associations of Restoration period style with national culture, whether British or American, from the pioneering production of 1924 to the experimental stagings of the present day, which foreground current concerns with sexual roles. Tylus investigates the impact of the theatrical emergence of women in early modern Italy, especially in the arguably feminized space of commedia, on the mores governing their social visibility. Demonstrating that the window provided a privileged and relatively secure site from which women might legitimately reveal themselves, she argues that women used this vantage point to exert authority over social as well as theatrical space, and thus earn the right to participate, however obliquely, in social drama.
By examining the mutual imbrication of theatrical and social drama and thus, by implication, the sociology and ethnography of performance, “Women in the Windows” returns us to the opening argument of “Staging Ethnography.” These essays and their companions in this issue open up the terrain of a diachronic or historical performance ethnography and so extend and transform the generally synchronic boundaries of the theory.
The reading list for this issue extends the geographical and historical range of the articles here, while returning to the questions raised by the representation of national and gender types and by the aesthetics and politics of revival, from the origins of commedia through the permutations of the Restoration to present-day Ireland:
Randolph Parker, “Gaming in the Gap: Language and Liminality in Playboy of the Western World,” 37 (1985): 65–85.
James Fisher, “Harliquinade: Commedia dell’Arte on the Early Twentieth-Century British Stage,” 41 (1989): 30–44.
Kathleen McGill, “Women and Performance: The Development of Improvisation by Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell’Arte,” 43 (1991): 59–69.
Michael L. Quinn, “The Comedy of Reference: The Semiotics of Commedia Figures in Eighteenth-Century Venice,” 43 (1991): 70–92. [End Page iv]
Maria R. DiCenzo, “Charabanc Theatre Company: Placing Women Center-Stage in Northern Ireland,” 45 (1993): 175–84.
Mita Choudhury, “Sheridan, Garrick, and a Colonial Gesture: The School for Scandal on the Calcutta Stage,” 46 (1994): 303–21.
Paula R. Backscheider, “Stretching the Form: Catharine Trotter Cockburn and Other Failures,” 47 (1995): 443–58.