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Title:Domestic Servants on the New York and London Stages: 1880 - 1920 With an Emphasis on Costume
Author(s):Kline, Ruth Fifield
Department / Program:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:From 1880 to 1920, a social revolution took place in the United States and England, a revolution more costly in terms of human life and property than the French Revolution that preceded it a century earlier. Slow-moving, massive, and comprehensive, this social revolution had the same aim as its predecessor--the relief of the laboring classes from exploitation by the upperclass in whom wealth and power was vested.
Domestic servants, exploited as badly as other laborers, occupied a unique position in that they worked and lived side by side with their exploiters. In private homes, the social revolution not only divided masters and servants, but also turned conservative servants, loyal to the old ways, against their democratically minded peers. The plight of domestic servants, moreover, was extremely resistant to relief since they worked in a field in which it was impossible to band together for collective power. A growing rebelliousness among men and women in service made them increasingly "visible" to their employers, a situation that was reflected on the stage, finding its way into the popular theatre and problem plays alike. Sexual liberation, reforms in the law, improvement of social conditions, and governmental reform are subjects that come first to mind when considering the plays that deal with social reform. A moment's reflection, however, reveals that all of those subjects bear on the changing master-servant relationship.
This study examines, through the plays of the day, the master-servant social relationship that existed in the two great English-speaking nations from 1880 through 1920. The first chapter deals with the general sociological and dramatic uses various playwrights make of servant characters. Chapters two through five deal with specific characters, representative of types, demonstrating social and theatrical attitudes and changing trends. Chapters six and seven are concerned with the costuming of servants on the stage and the dress worn by servants in real life. Photographs of servant characters from productions in the London and New York theatres are used to illustrate these chapters. Line drawings of servants from the weekly periodical Punch are appended to the study as a further costume resource.
It is the description of servant dress that is perhaps the most interesting in terms of revealing visually the social phenomenon being studied. The badge of service was impressed on every servant in every class, saving only the executive ranks of butler, housekeeper, and the like. The element of dress was intended to define the gulf between servant and employer. More, it served to depersonalize, to dehumanize, and to demean. There is still much interest in the dramatic literature from these forty years. Some works have achieved the status of minor classics or have an historical interest to recommend them for production. For production purposes, this work is meant to serve in two ways. First, in interpreting the play, the director and the actor should find help in appreciating the servant-role's significance to the play as a whole. Ideas for blocking and business may also be drawn that will lend interest and verisimilitude to the actor-servant's performance. Second, the costumer will find descriptions, photographs, and drawings from which to reproduce the livery, cap and apron, and other servant apparel.
Issue Date:1980
Description:326 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8108565
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1980

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