Kate Flaherty on the ‘Scottish Gypsy Woman’ on stage

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place in-person)

Thursday 29 April, 4.30 – 6pm, AD Hope Conference Room, First Floor, AD Hope Bldg.

Elsewhere Within: Reading Charlotte Cushman as a Gypsy

This paper investigates the relationship between two female figures who loomed large in the nineteenth-century popular imagination. The first is Meg Merrilies the Gypsy from Walter Scott’s second Waverly novel: Guy Mannering; or The Astrologer (1815). The second is Charlotte Cushman—the American actress who by performing as Meg in Daniel Terry’s adaptation of Scott’s novel throughout her professional life, amplified the character’s significance and consolidated her own international renown. Lauded for her mesmerising power and her dedication to her art, Cushman’s life was one of striking contradictions. She was an international entrepreneur, viewed her vocation as continuous with her Unitarian faith, and cohabited with other women in what her letters reveal were erotically charged relationships. When she died in 1876, she was one of one of the most celebrated women in the English speaking world and possessed of a fortune. The moral example of her life was celebrated in obituaries, biographies and even sermons. But how did her public accommodate her radical unconventionality? This paper uses reception of Cushman’s performances to demonstrate how the Romantic trope of the Scottish gypsy woman offered audiences a way to recognise, categorise, and admire Cushman as an outsider within. This is furthermore contextualised by the broader imperial discourse in which Scotland figures as a literary elsewhere within. 

Kate Flaherty is a Senior Lecturer in English and Drama at the Australian National University. Her research is focused on the relationship between performed drama and public culture. Her book, Ours as we play it: Australia plays Shakespeare (UWAP, 2011), examines contemporary Australian performance. Other publications analyse theatrical rivalry, the agency of the touring actress, civic disorder, sectarian tension, military commemoration, and education, through their associations with Shakespeare. Among the venues in which her scholarship has featured are NTQ, Shakespeare, Shakespeare Survey, Contemporary Theatre Review, and Australian Studies along with volumes published by CUP, Routledge, Palgrave, and Rodopi. Recent and current project titles are ‘Reading Riot through Shakespeare,’ and Moving Women: The Touring Actress and the Politics of Modernity. Kate is Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Association, and winner of multiple teaching awards including the ANU Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education (2019).

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