From the Stage to Society: The Chiasmic Structure of 18th Century French and American Theater and the Roles of Women

TriCollege Digital Repository

Title: From the Stage to Society: The Chiasmic Structure of 18th Century French and American Theater and the Roles of Women
Author: Sklar, Lindsay
Advisor: Graham, Lisa Jane
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2010
Abstract: Eighteenth-century French and American theater captured the trajectories of female power, reflecting and refracting changing concepts of gender and virtue in the context of emerging democracies. Despite each nation's embrace of democratic values, the theatrical traditions reflect different social constructions of and demands upon women. This study explores the confines and constructions of women's sexual roles both on stage and within society, discussing the French woman's relegation to virtuous submission and the American woman's attempt to harness equality. Through a critical analysis of eighteenth century plays situated in their respective sociopolitical contexts, we see a chiasmic structure in the evolution and disintegration of the Heroine--a simultaneous loss of power for French women and a surge of authority for American women. As France transitioned from Old Regime decadence to a morally preoccupied republic, the status of the heroine shifted to reflect these cultural undercurrents. The strong women emblematic of Old Regime court life no longer graced the stage; instead, the heroines in French plays found themselves relegated to weak, modest maidens, mirroring the gradual displacement of women from the sociopolitical realm. Toward the end of the century, the heroine lost her voice completely, rendered dependent upon the invention of the male bourgeois subject. By contrast, the female protagonists on the American stage experienced an upsurge of power over the century. Although colonial plays reflected patriarchal tradition and female silence, later works captured women's economic and social progress. Increased influence in their homes and neighborhoods inspired mid-century plays centered on female domestic control. Following the American Revolution, female protagonists used revolutionary rhetoric to claim political autonomy. Therefore, although women in both republics suffered similar civil restrictions and legal disenfranchisement, American women gained a momentum that French women surrendered: As republican rhetoric and enlightened thinking corroded Old Regime power, it simultaneously degraded elite women's authority. As the colonies developed an industrialized economy, colonial women assumed greater responsibility and agency within their communities. Despite their seemingly analogous political situations, American women's new position reflected an increase of power while formerly influential French women had lost their authority.
Subject: Sex role -- France -- History -- 18th century
Subject: Sex role -- United States -- History -- 18th century
Subject: Sex role in literature -- History -- 18th century
Subject: Theater -- France -- 18th century -- History and criticism
Subject: Theater -- United States -- 18th century -- History and criticism
Terms of Use:
Permanent URL:

Files in this item

Files Description Size Format
2010SklarL.pdf Thesis 2.997Mb PDF
2010SklarL_release.pdf **Archive Staff Only** 99.18Kb PDF


Sklar, Lindsay. "From the Stage to Society: The Chiasmic Structure of 18th Century French and American Theater and the Roles of Women". 2010. Available electronically from

This item appears in the following Collection(s) Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as


Advanced Search


My Account