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Nell Gwyn’s Breasts and Colley Cibber’s Shirts: Celebrity Actors and Their Famous “Parts”

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Intimacy and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Literary Culture

Abstract

This chapter explores the physicality of celebrity. It demonstrates how the act of embodying power—the tangible, physical presence of fame—merges personality and accomplishment: the performative body becomes the accomplishment, simultaneously the expression of, and reason for, an actor’s celebrity. Public intimacy is mediated through the body and constructed in specifically gendered ways. By focusing on the famous “parts”—both bodily and repertory—of the celebrity actors Nell Gwyn and Colley Cibber, the chapter illustrates how the actor’s body provided access to the celebrity’s “self” while simultaneously shaping the celebrity persona.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), 10; Tom Mole, “Introduction,” in Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, ed. Tom Mole (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 1–18 (3), echoing Boorstin’s famous “a person known for his well-knownness”. See Daniel Boorstin, The Image; Or What Happened to the American Dream (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), 57. James Bennett argues that “our understanding and evaluations of fame are structured by issues of authenticity, talent and the ‘real’ persona behind a celebrity image”. Bennett, “Would the Real Celebrity Please Stand Up?” Celebrity Studies 3, no. 2 (2012): 249.

  2. 2.

    Jason Goldsmith, “Celebrity and the Spectacle of Nation,” in Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 21–40 (25).

  3. 3.

    Felicity Nussbaum, Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 9; Joseph Roach, It (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 3.

  4. 4.

    See Rojek, Celebrity, 10–11; Simon Morgan, “Celebrity,” Cultural and Social History 8, no. 1 (2001): 97.

  5. 5.

    For more on the interplay between the body and celebrity personae, see David Graver, “The Actor’s Bodies,” Text and Performance Quarterly 17, no. 3 (1997): 221–35; Sarah R. Cohen, “Body as ‘Character’ in Early-Eighteenth-Century French Art and Performance,” The Art Bulletin 78, no. 3 (1996): 454–66, especially “the artist’s concentrated exploration of corporeal types and the possession of postures … epitomize a preoccupation … with the construction of the body as spectacle” (454). She argues that “character” comprehended both “the embodiment of a costumed type and the elaboration of corporeal movement, and it was the play between the two … which constituted the essence of performance” (454).

  6. 6.

    See Cohen, “Body as ‘Character’,” 455–56.

  7. 7.

    Joseph Roach, “Celebrity Erotics: Pepys, Performance, and Painted Ladies,” Yale Journal of Criticism 16, no. 1 (2003): 211–30. “Castlemaine, standing in for an actress, exists for him as a voyeuristic image to be acquired, savored, and refleshed at intervals, most often at the theater” (223).

  8. 8.

    Pepys, Diary, 7 January 1669 (IX. 410) Charles II’s biographer, Ronald Hutton, elaborates on this description, detailing “a heart-shaped face, a full-lipped mouth, dimples, bright chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and a small, slender, and shapely body. Her personality was that of a perfect gamine, a compound of wit and urchin looks”. Hutton, Charles II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 262.

  9. 9.

    See James Anderson Winn, John Dryden and His World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 183: “In March [1667], the King attended Secret Love, declared it to be ‘his play’, and commanded a court performance, which took place on 9 April”.

  10. 10.

    See, for example: “Unknown Woman, formerly known as Nell Gwyn” studio of Sir Peter Lely, oil on canvas, c.1675 (NPG 3976); “Nell Gwyn (Margaret Lemon with Head altered to Nell Gwyn)” by Richard Gaywood, after Sir Anthony van Dyck and head after Gerard Valck, after Sir Peter Lely. Etching and line engraving c.1662; head late seventeenth century (NPG D47402) or “Eleanor (‘Nell’) Gwyn (‘Madam Elinora Gwynne’)” by Abraham de Blois, after Sir Peter Lely. Mezzotint, 1670s (NPG D2543), or “Eleanor (‘Nell’) Gwyn” by Gerard Valck, after Sir Peter Lely, line engraving c.1673 (NPG D10959).

  11. 11.

    Roach, “Celebrity Erotics: Pepys, Performance, and Painted Ladies,” 216.

  12. 12.

    Roach, It, 4; Alison Conway, The Protestant Whore: Courtesan Narrative and Religious Controversy in England, 16801750 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010).

  13. 13.

    Roach, “Celebrity Erotics,” 216.

  14. 14.

    In February 1666, Pepys had Hales paint both his mistress, the actress Elizabeth Knepp, and his wife “in the posture we saw of one of my Lady Peters, like a St. Katharine” (15 February 1666).

  15. 15.

    Catherine MacLeod, Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2001), 168.

  16. 16.

    Pepys, Diary, Saturday, 7 October 1667.

  17. 17.

    David Piper, Catalogue of Seventeenth-Century Portaits in the National Portrait Gallery, 16251714 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 149.

  18. 18.

    For variations on this story see: Hamilton, vol. 2, 316; John Genest, Some Account of the English Stage, vol. 1, 382; The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 189–190 (1853), 616.

  19. 19.

    Conway, 58.

  20. 20.

    Hamilton, vol. 2, 249. A variation has her requesting: “Pray good people be civil; I am the protestant whore” (see G. H. Wilson, The Eccentric Mirror, vol. 3 (London, 1801), 15). This story is widely believed to be apocryphal. Catherine Macleod and Alison Conway both argue that it “appeared first in the Supplement to James Granger’s A Biographical History in 1774” (Painted Ladies, 168; Conway, 61).

  21. 21.

    MacLeod, Painted Ladies, 206.

  22. 22.

    3 April 1665: “All the pleasure of the play was … and pretty witty Nell at the King’s house, and the younger Marshall sat next us; which pleased me mightily” and “… Nelly, a most pretty woman, who acted the great part of Coelia to-day very fine, and did it pretty well: I kissed her … and so away thence, pleased with this sight also, and specially kissing of Nell” (23 January 1667).

  23. 23.

    See also Roach, “Celebrity Erotics,” 216.

  24. 24.

    Pepys, Diary, 26 August 1664.

  25. 25.

    For more on fashion and character, see my “Rethinking Reform Comedies: Colley Cibber’s Desiring Women,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 46, no. 3 (2013): 385–97.

  26. 26.

    Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Mr Colley Cibber (London: Printed by John Watts, 1740), 127.

  27. 27.

    Kristina Straub, Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 52. She returns to this anecdote in a later chapter and again argues for “the eroticization of the wig” (140). See also: Margaret K. Powell and Joseph Roach, “Big Hair,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 38, no. 1 (2004): 79–99; Roach, It; Robert B. Heilman, “Some Fops and Some Versions of Foppery,” English Literary History 49 (1982): 363–95; Julia Fawcett, Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 16961801 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016), especially 23–60; and of course, Alexander Pope, The Dunciad (1742), Book I, ll.167–8 with Pope’s accompanying footnote.

  28. 28.

    For a more detailed analysis of Cibber’s management of relations in Drury Lane, see my Partial Histories: A Reappraisal of Colley Cibber (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), especially 40–41, 175–80.

  29. 29.

    “S’Death! What Bully’s this? Sir, you pardon I don’t know you!” cries Young Worthy when Loveless attempts to salute him in the Park (LLS 1.1.71).

  30. 30.

    Tim Adams, “The First Actresses: Nell Gwynn to Sarah Siddons,” The Observer, 30 October 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/oct/30/first-actresses-vermeers-women-review.

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McGirr, E. (2018). Nell Gwyn’s Breasts and Colley Cibber’s Shirts: Celebrity Actors and Their Famous “Parts”. In: Jones, E., Joule, V. (eds) Intimacy and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Literary Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76902-8_2

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