Title page for ETD etd-1112101-150039

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Mather, Christine Courtland
Author's Email Address cmathe2@lsu.edu
URN etd-1112101-150039
Title Grave Matter: Contestations in Actress Burial
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Theater
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Leslie A Wade Committee Chair
Femi Euba Committee Member
Jennifer Jones Committee Member
Katrina Powell Dean's Representative
  • European actresses
  • theatre & death
  • women's bodies
  • women in theatre
Date of Defense 2001-11-09
Availability unrestricted
Death disrupts. The social space accorded to rituals of death and memorialization differs from all other spaces. Actresses disturb. Society contests, determines, and enacts the burial of an actress as her final performance. This study explores the actress burial as a site of meaning.

Contestations over the fate of the actress body reveal power structures and the motivations of cultural institutions. This study highlights four actresses—Lecouvreur, Oldfield, Bernhardt, and Duse—whose burials cover a wide range of circumstances. Each chapter gives the relevant biographical information for the actress and the social background for the cultural contestation over the actress body.

Traditional history often overlooks the contestations of the burial moment in its attempts to find meaning from the recorded life. As a strategy for this study I ask, what if we take death not as the end but as the beginning of a new cultural operation? What if we posit the actress burial as a key time in a process that continues to produce social meaning even as the body that initiated the action disappears from view?

Currently, actress burials in the theatrical historical record provide a starting point without a meaningful exposition. Without an evaluation of what occurred after an actress’s death, neither an actress’s effect on a culture or that culture's effect on her can be understood. Actresses not only embody a signifying/surrogacy function, their burial also reflects the culture’s attitude toward women. The intensified reaction to actresses ranges from extreme antitheatrical prejudice to worshipful admiration, strikingly displayed in the fate of the actress body.

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