‘Playing at Bo-peep with the world’ The Author/Actor in Charlotte Charke’s Narrative
- Dramatic Memory,
- Female Labour,
- Theatrical Autobiography
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Copyright (c) 2023 Sylvia Greenup
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The article re-examines The Narrative of the Life of Mrs Charlotte Charke (1755), the first autobiography by a female actor (albeit one who consistently specialised in male roles) in terms of the strategies it deploys for showing, and hiding, the author’s physical person and authorial persona. As the youngest daughter of Colley Cibber, Charke was a member of London’s most influent theatrical family, and led a life marked by spectacular misfortune and neverending optimism. To claw her way out of the exclusion from acting that was the outcome of the Licencing Act, she undertook an extraordinary sequence of different careers, worked as a strolling player for nine years, and attempted a reconciliation with her father through her autobiography, which, deeply inscribed by the theatre in terms of both content and style, highlights the interaction between spontaneity and premeditation. Feelings seem not only expressed, but shaped through drama; memory becomes the bodily memory of interpreting a role, represented on the outdoor theatre of her many professional endeavours and ultimately in the pages of her book. Charke’s second ‘coming on the Stage’, her appearance, that is, in the guise of author, is marked by both gender and genre indeterminacy. As a ‘cartaceous’ remediation of her innate and unstoppable passion for the theatre it shows a precocious understanding of the newborn ‘cult of celebrity’ and the possibilities for self-promotion offered by the expanding print market. Ultimately, it aims to counter theatrical censorship by educating Charke’s audience/readership to a more critical awareness of the relationship between actor/role, gender/clothes and author/character.