Alessandra Grossi is a first-year PhD student in Theatre Studies, funded by the Lord Chancellor’s Scholarship.
She achieved an MA with honours in Euro-American Languages and Literatures at the University of Pisa (2017), with a final thesis focused on James Robinson Planché’s The Golden Fleece.
She obtained a BA with honours in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Pisa (2014).
The aim of Alessandra Grossi’s research is to analyse the reception of Medea’s myth in mid-Victorian classical burlesque. Between 1845 and 1856, four burlesques comically reworked the story of the infanticide mother: James Robinson Planché’s The Golden Fleece; or, Jason in Colchis and Medea in Corinth (1845); Jack Wooler’s Jason and Medea: a Comic. Heroic. Tragic. Operatic. Burlesque-Spectacular Extravaganza (1851); Mark Lemon’s Medea; or, a Libel on the Lady of Colchis (1856) and Robert Brough’s Medea; or, the Best of Mothers, with a Brute of Husband (1856). In order to investigate the dynamics that caused the sudden efflorescence of interest in this myth, three questions will be approached: firstly, how was Medea’s tragedy rewritten? Secondly, how did her image challenge the ideals of Victorian womanhood? Thirdly, what kind of audience was the target of these plays?
The first goal of this research is that of comparing each burlesque with its ancient and modern sources. However, Victorian burlesque did not parody a single source text or play. On the contrary, this theatrical genre mingled together disparate references ranging from other forms of entertainment (such as Italian opera, melodrama, Shakespeare plays) to contemporary fashions or events. Attempting to unveil such an articulate network of references means acknowledging burlesque’s intertheatricality and, consequently, its cultural value.
Furthermore, recognizing the intellectual sophistication of burlesque allows us to read the comic versions of Medea’s myth not as simple vulgarisations of the classical matter; instead, these plays acquire unexpected significance if read against the backdrop of the contemporary debate concerning divorce legislation and women’s rights. Scholars have given prominence to the portrait of Medea as an abandoned wife, neglecting the other shades of her multifaceted personality. Thus, this research will look at other female-centred classical burlesques that parody the myths of deserted lovers, virgins, femmes fatales, rebels, infanticide mothers, in order to show how Medea embodies a synthesis of all these nuances of femininity.
Finally, this research intends to re-evaluate the composition of burlesque’s target audience. No empirical evidence accounts for the presence of the lowest social strata among classical burlesques’ patrons. On the contrary, the public appears to be more socially stratified than previously acknowledged. For this reason, it is necessary to reassess burlesques’ subversive spirit, which will be relocated in its inherent theatricality: these plays desecrate their source text, parody declamatory acting styles, question gender boundaries through cross dressing, but they do so in the policed (and censored) space of theatrical comicality.