Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Death disrupts. The social space accorded to rituals of death and memorialization differs from all other spaces. Actresses disturb. Society contests, determines, and enacts the burial of an actress as her final performance. This study explores the actress burial as a site of meaning. Contestations over the fate of the actress body reveal power structures and the motivations of cultural institutions. This study highlights four actresses—Lecouvreur, Oldfield, Bernhardt, and Duse—whose burials cover a wide range of circumstances. Each chapter gives the relevant biographical information for the actress and the social background for the cultural contestation over the actress body. Traditional history often overlooks the contestations of the burial moment in its attempts to find meaning from the recorded life. As a strategy for this study I ask, what if we take death not as the end but as the beginning of a new cultural operation? What if we posit the actress burial as a key time in a process that continues to produce social meaning even as the body that initiated the action disappears from view? Currently, actress burials in the theatrical historical record provide a starting point without a meaningful exposition. Without an evaluation of what occurred after an actress’s death, neither an actress’s effect on a culture or that culture's effect on her can be understood. Actresses not only embody a signifying/surrogacy function, their burial also reflects the culture’s attitude toward women. The intensified reaction to actresses ranges from extreme antitheatrical prejudice to worshipful admiration, strikingly displayed in the fate of the actress body.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Leslie A Wade