Performance of the self in the theatre of the elite - The King’s Theatre, 1760–1789:The opera house as a political and social nexus for women.

Jarvis, Joanna (2020) Performance of the self in the theatre of the elite - The King’s Theatre, 1760–1789:The opera house as a political and social nexus for women. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

J Jarvis - Thesis - publish version.pdf - Submitted Version

Download (5MB)


This research takes as its starting point the King’s Theatre in London, known as the Opera House, between 1760 and 1789. It examines the elite women subscribers who were on display and their approach to self-presentation in this social and political nexus. It makes a close examination of four women who sat in the audience at that time, as exemplars of the various experiences and approaches to attending the opera.

Recent research has examined the performative offerings at the Opera House, the constitution of the audience and the troubled management of the theatre in that period. What is missing, is an examination of the power of the visual in confirming and maintaining status. As a group the women presented a united front as members of the ruling class, but as individuals they were under observation, as much from their peers as others in the audience and the visual dynamic of this display has not been analysed before.

The research uses a combination of methodological approaches from a range of disciplines, including history, psychology and phenomenology, in order to extrapolate a sense of the experience for these women. It applies current understandings of the psychology of dress to writings of the women themselves and commentary from wider society, to build an understanding of the phenomenological experience of sitting at the opera under the gaze of the audience.

The research brings to the field a greater understanding of the dynamic at play at the Opera House. It articulates in detail the importance of the visual to the women in that space and the pressures put on them by their class. It also adds to the understanding of the relationship between the performers, particularly dancers, and the subscribers in the audience. Each had an interest in maintaining the status of the Opera House as a theatre of the great.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
25 August 2020Completed
Uncontrolled Keywords: Eighteenth-century dance, Eighteenth-century opera, Costume, Dress, Self-presentation
Subjects: CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-05 - others in creative arts and design
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts > Birmingham School of Art
Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Kip Darling
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2021 20:21
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 17:20

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


In this section...