Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology

How the suspect sexuality of actors and actresses shaped early modern debates about gender and sexual identity


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Nov 14, 2023
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From the Restoration through the eighteenth century, the sexuality of actors and actresses was written about in ways that stirred the public imagination. Actors were frequently suspected of heterosexual promiscuity or labeled effeminate or even as “sodomites,” and actresses were often viewed as prostitutes or sexually ambivalent victims of their profession. Kristina Straub argues that this depiction of players greatly shaped public debates about what made women feminine and men masculine. Considering a wide range of literature by or about players—pamphlets, newspaper reports, theatrical histories, and biographies as well as the public correspondence between Alexander Pope and the famed actor Colley Cibber—she examines the formation of gender roles and sexual identities during a period crucial to modern thinking on these issues.

Drawing from feminist-materialist and gay and lesbian theories and historiographies, Sexual Suspects analyzes the complex development of spectacle and spectatorship as gendered concepts. She reveals how national, racial, and class differences contributed to the subjection of players as professional spectacles and how images of race, class, and gender combined to create divisions between “normal” and “deviant” sexuality.

Awards and Recognition

  • Finalist for the 1993 Barnard Hewitt Award, American Society for Theatre Research