Category Archives: Essays

Anna Cora Mowatt essay by John Cline

As stated in the text (The Lady Actress), actors and actresses were viewed as low and common person (2). Notable scholars commented freely on how the American public did not seem to accept theatrical expectations as proper. Actors and actresses alike were thought to be of low moral character, free-spirited and drunkards. Another scholar, Clara Morris, retorted that actors were not taken seriously because they were “buffoons” (p. 3). Because of this negative stereotype, actors were seen as having no social standing. To add to this chagrin, actors and actresses were also openly ridiculed in religious setting by figures such as Reverand Robert Hatfield, who declared the theater the “haunt of sinners” (p. 4).

This “vagabond lifestyle,” to obviate, did not make theater a socially accepted career or for women. During this time period, women were stigmatized as having their place in the home, which was considered the “womanly sphere” of house and home (p. 2). The text almost suggests that women were not supposed to have a social life outside of the home, thus suggesting this to be the main reason why theater attendance would be considered taboo. Also of note is that those who attended the theater were not considered “decent” people. A lady actress during this time was considered unfeminine.

This time period was characterized by the ending of the Victorian era, which had celebrated women’s work as good household management. Domesticity was shown to be the only appropriate working task for women. To have women take a place on the stage, or in any career for that fashion, seemed almost intolerable as it presented a trespassing into men’s economic territory.

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Anna Cora Mowatt essay by Tim Matyjewicz

Poetry was considered “proper” for Victorian ladies because of the societal limitations placed on women during the Victorian period. Emotions were considered to be the opposite of logic and rationality. For men, the expectation was to be completely logical and rational in their lives in order to facilitate the ordinary fixed workings of the world. More than this, men were considered to be “hardwired” as purely logical and mechanically thinking according to the Victorian mindset. Women, on the other hand, were presumed to be emotional and excitable. Just as men were viewed as being “hardwired” as rigidly mechanical in their thinking, so too were women viewed as being emotional and, as a result, somewhat frivolous and certainly less valuable and significant.

It was presumed in the Victorian period that poetry was best suited for women because of the assumption that they were equipped with the emotional capability to deliver it. After all, poetry is frequently considered to be designed to invoke emotion – as well as being notably deficient in any physically significant performative aspect. Combine this concept with the intolerance and prejudice that actresses (and actors) were viewed with and it becomes extremely difficult for a woman to venture outside of her societally “designated space”.

In the case of Anna Cora Mowatt, it is a testament to her performative ability that Edgar Allen Poe had criticized (or at least remained largely unimpressed with) her poetry. As a noteworthy and supportive critic of Mowatt, I believe that Poe only remained unaffected by Mowatt’s poetry because he knew her to be capable of so much more. He wasn’t saying that she was incapable of producing poetry as much as he was saying that he was uninterested in it because he knew how vast her talent was, and poetry simply did not accommodate such tremendous talent. In a sense, this was an affirmation of her true ability to write, read, perform, and maintain her status as a “lady” in the intolerable eyes of a Victorian society in which she lived.

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Anna Cora Mowatt essay by Damla Ricks

Women were criticized and looked down on for following a career in acting. Mowatt, Kemble and Cushman tried many different performance styles and found what worked best for them. All three women connected acting, reading and performing to entertain and educate their audience.

Mowatt who did not have any serious acting experience before she became a professional reader, started out by writing, directing and acting with her siblings. She went against the societies norms by making public appearances. Women were not to take on major rolls in the society just yet. People were curious but also judgmental towards her braveness. I found her passion towards reading very powerful.

Kemble who started her career by acting with her father, later on discovered the power of reading Shakespeare. She valued dramatism and had harsh words for theater because of its lack of reality. This reminded me of Stanislavsky’s performance methods. The importance of human nature should be as real as possible. “Men does not live by bread alone” (Thompson) is a great saying that still answers why performers who do not make enough money still do what they do for our society today. Her sense of feminism and passion for performance is incredible because the powerful women in the past opened doors to equality.

Cushman’s sense of acting was criticized by many people. Her acting as Romeo and Lady Macbeth brought many questions to minds. Because she brought power and strength as a woman to stage, she was referred to as too violent. Her physical characteristics and emotional strength is judged because it carries masculine characteristics. She later on made a career out of her readings which the audience enjoyed the most.

The society was not ready for women to take such strong rolls in acting. These three women seem as they are stand up performers of today. Their power and dedication to performance was seen as awkward and not welcomed by many people. Through performance, they pushed the limits to equality and showed the society that women are just as capable of reading and performing as men.

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Anna Cora Mowatt essay by Heather Scofield

A Fine-Tuned Persona = Success

During the Victorian Age women were viewed as porcelain dolls; fragile and delicate creatures who were incapable of engaging in intellectual discussion. Anna Cora Mowatt; however, was unique in that she used her rhetorical skills to subliminally convince her audience that she (a woman) was deserving of her own autobiography as both an intellect and a virtuous Victorian woman. In the following essay I will delve into the reasons why first person narratives by Victorian female authors were considered inappropriate, how Mowatt overcame these prejudices, and the strategies that she utilized in order to develop an accepted persona.

When an individual writes an autobiography, him or her tends to write in first person. Using the word “I” conveys the idea that the individual has knowledge of importance; consequently, Victorian women had difficulties persuading others to take them seriously. What superior knowledge could a woman possess? The only information that women were expected to understand/employ was knowledge of domestic matters (i.e. morality, virtue, being a good wife). Anna Cora Mowatt, who was a “spin doctor” of her time, used rhetorical strategies that aided in her effectiveness as a writer, actress, and public reader. I believe the successful impact of these strategies, signifies the importance of rhetorical studies in our education system.

First, Mowatt overcame the difficulties of writing as a woman in the Victorian Ages by giving solid, believable, and acceptable reasons for writing. More specifically, she developed a persona that was direct, sincere, and humble. When a woman is living in patriarchal times, she has to learn to be creative when attempting to convince her audience. Mowatt found a medium between self-denial and self-expression so that she could get her point across in a sympathetic (but not egotistical) manner. For example, Mowatt asked the readers at the end of her autobiography whether she had bad grammar and whether she was too egotistical. Perhaps leaving the reader with a feeling of humbleness, convinced her audience that she was deserving of this opportunity, as she preserved her feminine persona.

Likewise, Mowatt did not associate herself with the feminist movement taking place at the time to avoid discredit. In my opinion, her dismissal of the women’s movement played the biggest role in her success. Because Victorians were prude and patriarchal, women had to assume a subordinate role to be taken seriously, particularly because men were their only chance to be heard. Associating herself with the new group of feminists would have killed her career. Nevertheless, Mowatt did not abandon all that she stood for, she merely maintained a feminine nature while stressing the importance of intellectual/professional accomplishments and the social/moral respectability of actresses. Thus, the writer picked her battles, giving in on some to achieve success as a Victorian woman living in oppressive times.

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