While eighteenth-century actor and theatre manager Colley Cibber is most frequently discussed within the context of sentimental comedy, this article addresses the comedian’s writing for and about the tragic stage. The neoclassical establishment consistently argued for the propriety of tragedy; however, actor and manager Cibber in his 1740 autobiography makes a case for the ludic qualities of successful tragic performance which, he insists, produces pleasure not tied to moral improvement. Moreover, Cibber embraces, rather than bemoans, the destabilization of social hierarchies that attends confessed generic hybridity. In an analysis of the comic burlesque The Rival Queans, a parody of Nathaniel Lee’s earlier tragedy The Rival Queens, I show how Cibber’s tragic stage was less concerned with categories of masculinity and femininity than in the sheer fluidity of gender. Experimenting with gender and genre in light of the period’s changing notions of sexual difference, the comedian revalues mixed genres and gender confusion as a site of illicit pleasure, providing an affective yet ephemeral other against which tragedy’s formidable narratives about gender and nation took shape.


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pp. 537-563
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