Literary Dimensions Seminar Series
Abstract: Sarah Bernhardt's audiences often described feeling thrilled and dominated by the star performer, and they relished the ways in which her agency seemed to exceed or even negate their own. This essay uses rarely cited archival materials to identify the performance techniques that induced such extreme responses. Those techniques included mobility, framing, tempo control, and hyperextension, and I group them under the rubric of "exteriority effects." By attending to exteriority effects and the affects they inspired we can 1) challenge accounts of female performers as lacking agency or exercising it only to extend it to other women; 2) move beyond affect theory's focus on bad feelings; and 3) reorient accounts of nineteenth-century theatricality away from their focus on interiority and privacy.