Article Title

From Great Women to Top Girls: Pageants of Sisterhood in British Feminist Theater


Rebecca Cameron


This essay considers how British feminist productions from both ends of the twentieth century—Cicely Hamilton’s Pageant of Great Women (1909), the Women’s Coronation Procession (1911), and Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1982)—appropriated elements of pageantry to create spectacles of transnational, trans-historical sisterhood responsive to the feminist movement of their day. Placing these somewhat disparate moments in British feminist theatre in dialogue with one another brings out revealing convergences and discrepancies in their constructions of sisterhood as well as their uses of women’s history, particularly women’s power and martyrdom. Whereas the suffrage pageants make imaginative attempts to transcend cultural, national, and class differences with magnificent spectacles of female solidarity across time and space, Churchill exposes the gaps and fissures that underlie these fantasies of united sisterhood. Anticipating some of the concerns of transnational feminism, Churchill’s dystopian vision of fractured sisterhood draws attention to the cultural and ideological differences that must be elided in order to achieve such displays of unity. Despite their differences, however, none of the productions abandons the notion of united sisterhood altogether; all three recognize it as a potent feminist ideal if not a material reality.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.