Staging Suffrage: Women, Politics, and the Edwardian Theater


Scholars have noted the scant critical attention paid to suffrage playwrights who experimented with language, audience expectation, and generic constraints in the Edwardian era, and they have further noted how their experimentation with content and genre, like the social problem plays of the late Victorian period, anticipates high modernism’s emphasis on formal experimentation. This essay investigates how the actress-managers, who wrote suffrage plays, modified the late Victorian social problem play and the conventions of popular domestic melodrama to suit a political agenda. It also investigates how these playwrights employed rhetorical strategies in order to give stage heroines increased psychological depth, while turning anti-suffrage discourse against itself through the considered use of dialogue, action, and staging. In both cases, their purpose was to give women a political voice and to positively change public perception about women’s roles by demonstrating through their stage heroines, plotted events, and spectacle that women could successfully negotiate the public spaces of profession, commerce, and politics.

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