Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Theatre and Performance


Marvin Carlson

Committee Members

Stanley Kauffman

Mary Ann Caws

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


This dissertation examines the woman's part in dramatic representation as a hysterical construct and explores the hystericizing effect that the playing of this construct has on the actress. Drawing on feminist psychoanalytic analyses of male psychology and on the historical origins of male-invented female hysteria, this study uses dramatic representation as a model and metaphor for woman's hystericization in Western culture.

Charcot's theatricalization of female hysteria through public performances of hysterical acts and the Ophelia as psychological/aesthetic model in British mental asylums are investigated as metaphorical sources for a new definition of female hysteria as a disease of performance, of acting.

Case studies of Eleonora Duse, Vivien Leigh and Liv Ullmann are presented as vivid examples of the effects of hysterical parts on the actresses who play them.

Feminist strategies are offered for the actress (the woman) in an attempt to explore how one recognizes the hysterical construct at work (at play), and the ideas of feminist theorists such as Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous and Elin Diamond are explored as tools to help the actress-woman question and subvert the oppressive, maddening effects of the hysterical part. Michel Foucault's investigation of madness and Bertholt Brecht's estranging techniques serve as sources of recognition and strategy for the feminist approach to acting hysteria.

Finally, case studies of several hysterical dramatic roles, categorized as (1) pure victims, (2) hysterical minds, (3) modern, analyzed hysterics, (4) actresses, are offered as examples of feminist strategic analysis.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.