Negotiating Marriage and Professional Autonomy in the Careers of Eighteenth-Century Actresses

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Brooks, Helen E.M. (2011)

This essay examines the ways in which marriage could function both to the benefit and detriment of an actress’ professional activities and agency. It argues that an astute marital decision might support and promote an ambitious actress’ future on the stage, largely through integrating her into established networks within the profession. It then reveals the ways in which an actress’ legal status as feme covert might impact upon an actress’ professional agency particularly in light of her unique position as both trader and object of trade. Having considered both the possibilities and liabilities of marriage for the actress, the ways in which some actresses appear to have sought to negotiate between them is then considered. ‘Contract’ marriage, or ‘performing marriage’, the essay suggests, was one way in which an actress might maintain her legal, and therefore professional agency, within the framework of a long-term personal relationship. Some actresses, the essay argues, may have chosen to negotiate their personal and professional lives by cohabiting and living as if married, outside the legal framework of a legitimate union. Such an argument, moreover, opens up a wider awareness of the eighteenth-century businesswomen’s choices in marriage.
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