Theatre and Celebrity in Britain 1660-2000 by Mary Luckhurst, Jane Moody

By Mary Luckhurst, Jane Moody

Those intriguing essays discover facets of reputation, notoriety and transgression in quite a lot of performers and playwrights together with David Garrick, Oscar Wilde, Ellen Terry, Laurence Olivier and Sarah Kane, reading the inventive ways that those stars have negotiated popularity. The essays additionally examine the complicated relationships among discourses of superstar and questions of gender, spectatorship and the operation of cultural markets.

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27 Hazlitt on Theatre, ed. William Archer and Robert Lowe (1895; repr. ), p. 94. 28 Hazlitt on Theatre, p. 93. 29 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (1790; repr. London: Penguin, 1968), p. 176. 30 Bagehot, The English Constitution, p. 248. Emphasis Bagehot’s. 31 Elinor Glyn, Romantic Adventure, p. 326. 32 Hardwick, Addicted to Romance, p. 263. 33 Hardwick, Romantic Adventure, p. 97. 3 Wilde: The Remarkable Rocket Peter Raby Wilde was arguably the first English-speaking playwright who systematically cultivated an image for himself.

Wilde, however, associated himself very publicly with his creations, like the jester/presenter in Aubrey Beardsley’s picturings of Salome. Wilde, in the summer of 1894, was juggling his various lives in an increasingly precarious manner. 18 The Wildes presumably went to Worthing because it was cheaper than many alternatives: it was certainly cheaper than normal that summer because the previous year there had been a serious typhoid epidemic, with 188 deaths. The Wildes paid 10 guineas a week. But even in Worthing, provincial to the core, Wilde decided to play the part of an extremely public figure.

Celebrities, like kings, have two bodies – the body natural, which decays and dies, and the body politic, which does neither. But the immortal body of the ‘image’, even though it is preserved on celluloid, on digitalised files or in the memory of the theatre-going public, always bears the nagging reminder of the former (‘She looks great. ’) As their sacred images circulate in the demotic swirl of the profane imagination, celebrities foreground a peculiar combination of strength and vulnerability, expressed through outward signs of the union of their imperishable and mortal bodies.

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