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The Licensing Act egregiously hindered the English theatrical community when it was placed into effect by King George II in 1737. Strolling actors were thereby forbidden to perform in new plays for profit, forcing acting troupes to disband. This act was widely protested throughout England at the time, most notably by artist William Hogarth in his etching titled Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn. This etching cleverly protests the Licensing Act as well as a myriad of quandaries that plagued 18th-century English society, namely, gender roles both on and off the stage. Yet, what exactly is the relationship between actresses in 18th-century England and the Licensing Act of 1737, and how does Hogarth’s etching Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn interact with this relationship? Building off of my presentation for the Kennesaw State University College of The Arts Research Forum, my research dissects Hogarth’s etching and unpacks the role of the woman central in the image. I have drawn connections between the censorship enforced upon the theatre community by the Licensing Act of 1737 and the constant suppression and sexualization of women in 18th-century England. I have also analyzed Hogarth’s repertoire of etchings that hold a specific political or social purpose in correlation to women or the theatre. I have investigated Hogarth’s theories on the sustainability of the Licensing Act and its ability to provide England with a safe theatrical community that glorified the church and state. My research will pioneer an exploration towards a greater understanding of the relationship between art as a medium of protest and its effects on society. Finally, this article will also reveal the importance of analyzing the extraordinary power of 18th-century women in theatre.
"Harlots and Hooligans: The Representation of Women in Hogarth’s Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn (1738),"
The Kennesaw Journal of Undergraduate Research: Vol. 8:
1, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/kjur/vol8/iss1/5