Safe Sex--The Dislocation of Satire onto Female Characters in Eighteenth-Century Nabob Comedy: a reading of satire in Samuel Foote's The Nabob and Elizabeth Griffith's A Wife in the Right
Casiano, Cassandra (Cassie)
This paper won honorable mention in the 2009 Friends of Fondren Library Research Award competition (graduate research category).
Little is known of eighteenth-century dramatic performance. What remains are early printings of scripts and performance reviews buried in archives. In order to deal with a lack of knowledge of performance style and convention, literature scholars specializing in the eighteenth-century have tended to ignore the period's drama as a live and interactive event and treat only the primary dramatic text in their analyses. I offer authorial testimony and theatre reviews to support a reading which relies upon reception theory coupled with a view of performance as cultural barter, a la theatre anthropology. This study identifies a trend in nabob comedy of the mid-late eighteenth century in which the satire is dislocated onto economically enterprising female characters outside the marriage plot. I first investigate the practicality of this dislocation onto the "safe" and less investigated female character through a reading of a successful and often revived play by Samuel Foote--The Nabob. I attempt to prove the prudence of this dislocation by providing evidence of severe and physical audience reaction to the play. I then observe another dislocation of nabob satire onto women in the little known play, Elizabeth Griffith's A Wife in the Right. In this reading, I focus on women as a natural site for relocating nabob satire. As established internal Other in the patriarchal British society, it is a lateral shift for them to represent the threat of a cultural Other in British society-a threat realized by increased international travel. The physical theatrical space foregrounds this cosmopolitan shift in society. The staged physical representation of the female body as a canvas for wealth shown through jewels mined in the East also figures into the female characters tendency to subsume nabob satire in the highly visual medium of the theatre. In this play, the female nabobina figure must be expelled from the nation in order to mitigate the threat of the internal Other-Other in both gender and culture. Ultimately, I argue that through the dislocation of nabob satire onto women, the dramatists make progressive and influential statements about the increasingly diverse and cross-culturally inflected state of British society. In Griffith's case, I offer her nabobina character as an exercise in proto-feminism as well. All of this serves to elevate the oft dismissed genre of eighteenth-century drama and performance as a simultaneously catalytic and reflective site of change.
satire; eighteenth-century literature; comedy