Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-gvh9x Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-19T01:08:02.010Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

4 - Sick unto Death

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2022

Get access

Summary

Her soul was on her lips, as she whispered again,

“Bury me in the garden, mother— bury me in the”

— and a slight quiver came over her limbs— one

feeble struggle and all was still.

The Early Dead

Over Her Dead Body

Actresses had fewer opportunities to display virtuosity in their demise. They generally served as victims at the mercy of their male partners. A major obstacle to women vying with men in flamboyant stage deaths was social attitudes to female modesty. The ancient taboo on women appearing in public conspired with the equally hoary fear of women out of control to prescribe severe limits on their portrayals of madness, unruliness, and dying. There was something more than indecorous, almost indecent about the physical exertions required by a memorable display of death throes.

Animadverting on Eliza O’Neill's ear-curdling shrieks, eye-rolling, and guttural death-rattles, William Hazlitt offered the Regency-era consensus:

This was carrying reality too far. The sufferings of the body are no longer proper for dramatic exhibition when they become objects of painful attention in themselves, and are not merely indicative of what passes in the mind— comments and interpreters of the moral scene within.

This might be applicable to a performer of either sex who challenges notions of the ideality of art. However, Hazlitt goes on, what's worse is the contradiction between O’Neill's “form and delicate complexion, and the violent conflict into which she was thrown.” He compares her with a little flower contending with a storm. By “pushing truth and nature to an excess,” she was marring her delicate beauty. The following age might add that she was offending modesty. When Clara Rousby in her signature role as Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, the critics concurred that it was a disgusting sight, despite her manager contending “she is burnt only a little.” The need for a dramatic actress to be ladylike confined her to conventional attitudes and actions.

Neoclassic drama offered few if any opportunities; the more grisly Jacobean dramas were seldom revived. Shakespeare was therefore the welcome exception. Some Juliets hoped to outdo or at least match the flamboyant finales of their Romeos.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Final Curtain
The Art of Dying on Stage
, pp. 97 - 122
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×