This essay investigates Hogarth’s theatrical afterlife with specific reference to the work of two key figures of contemporary British drama, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Mark Ravenhill. Staged respectively in 1985 and 2001, "The Grace of Mary Traverse" and "Mother Clap’s Molly House" look back on the eighteenth century in order to address some highly topical cultural issues about gender, class and sexual politics in present-day Britain. Wertenbaker’s play was expressly intended as a female (and feminist) response to Hogarth’s Rake and an attempt at confronting the tensions and contradictions of Thatcherite Britain; her narrative charts the “progress” of Mary Traverse, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant who escapes her cloistered girlhood to plunge into the male world of coffee houses, gambling dens and political power. Ravenhill’s "Mother Clap Molly House" similarly draws on the eighteenth century as a “valid metaphor” for the present day, setting up a dialogue between the thriving transvestite subculture in 1720s London and contemporary constructions of gay identity. In my analysis I look at the extent to which the two dramatists’ cross-historical dialogue is mediated by Hogarth, a prime conceptual as well as aesthetic guide that they turn to in order to dress up a contemporary narrative in historical garb and in this way sharpen its critical edge. As I show, the plays’ narratives and the social and cultural critique they articulate are deeply indebted to Hogarth’s series with their ironical reversal of the Bunyanesque notion of “progress”. Hogarth, moreover, has proved an invaluable resource for realizing the playwrights’ vision on stage and providing visual support to their acts of historical transvestism. Conversely, Wertenbaker’s and Ravenhill’s sustained focus on different forms of cross-dressing – male and female, homosexual and heterosexual, literal and metaphorical – reflects back to us an image of Hogarth “in drag”, bringing to the fore the complex, multifaceted, and quintessentially performative construction of identities within his oeuvre.

Hogarth in drag: Acts of transvestism in 'The Grace of Mary Traverse' and 'Mother Clap’s Molly House'

Sara Francesca Soncini
2021

Abstract

This essay investigates Hogarth’s theatrical afterlife with specific reference to the work of two key figures of contemporary British drama, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Mark Ravenhill. Staged respectively in 1985 and 2001, "The Grace of Mary Traverse" and "Mother Clap’s Molly House" look back on the eighteenth century in order to address some highly topical cultural issues about gender, class and sexual politics in present-day Britain. Wertenbaker’s play was expressly intended as a female (and feminist) response to Hogarth’s Rake and an attempt at confronting the tensions and contradictions of Thatcherite Britain; her narrative charts the “progress” of Mary Traverse, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant who escapes her cloistered girlhood to plunge into the male world of coffee houses, gambling dens and political power. Ravenhill’s "Mother Clap Molly House" similarly draws on the eighteenth century as a “valid metaphor” for the present day, setting up a dialogue between the thriving transvestite subculture in 1720s London and contemporary constructions of gay identity. In my analysis I look at the extent to which the two dramatists’ cross-historical dialogue is mediated by Hogarth, a prime conceptual as well as aesthetic guide that they turn to in order to dress up a contemporary narrative in historical garb and in this way sharpen its critical edge. As I show, the plays’ narratives and the social and cultural critique they articulate are deeply indebted to Hogarth’s series with their ironical reversal of the Bunyanesque notion of “progress”. Hogarth, moreover, has proved an invaluable resource for realizing the playwrights’ vision on stage and providing visual support to their acts of historical transvestism. Conversely, Wertenbaker’s and Ravenhill’s sustained focus on different forms of cross-dressing – male and female, homosexual and heterosexual, literal and metaphorical – reflects back to us an image of Hogarth “in drag”, bringing to the fore the complex, multifaceted, and quintessentially performative construction of identities within his oeuvre.
Soncini, SARA FRANCESCA
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11568/1105519
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