Article Title

“A somber passion strengthens her voice”: The Stage as Public Platform in British Women’s Suffrage Drama


Rebecca Cameron


This paper considers how several suffrage plays capitalize on the correspondences between stage and public platform to produce a distinctive form of political drama that merges suffrage oratory with drama. Several plays—including Elizabeth Robins’s Votes for Women (1907), Beatrice Harraden’s “Lady Geraldine’s Speech” (1909), Christopher St. John’s “The First Actress” (1911), Evelyn Glover’s “A Chat with Mrs Chicky” (1912), and Cicely Hamilton’s Pageant of Great Women (1909)—dramatize the challenge of articulating a feminist stance before an unreceptive audience through female characters who show hesitancy in speaking publically but are eventually moved to speak out through their sense of the righteousness of their cause and their solidarity with other women. These plays also reflect on the role of the audience, suggesting that two complementary elements work together to facilitate the successful articulation of a feminist point of view: an oppositional audience that provokes the protagonist to speak out or to engage in debate, and a more supportive, ideal audience that is moved by what the speaker has to say. In performance contexts in which the actual audience consisted partly or largely of supporters of the suffrage cause, these suffrage plays experiment with breaking down the barrier between the ideal audience represented or implied within the production, creating a more direct relationship between audience and actor that anticipates later developments in political theatre influenced by Bertolt Brecht.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.