Maria Helena Serôdio*


Recadrer le féminin dans le théâtre aujourd’hui

Au sujet de la réflexion autour du féminin au théâtre — réévaluée ici du point de vue historique et critique –, cet article examine la recréation de l’opéra bouffe du 18èmesiècle D. Quixote, récrite pour des marionnettes par António José da Silva, connu comme « Le Juif », et mise en scène en 2010 par João Brites pour sa compagnie O bando, avec des chanteurs, des musiciens et des danseurs.

La réflexion autour des trois axes adoptés par le metteur en scène — d’une exceptionnelle originalité dans l’approche des textes littéraires et dans l’invention de « machines de scène » étonnantes et sensibles — nourrit une révision des stéréotypes masculin et féminin, tout en suscitant des interrogations sur le corps et la vieillesse. De telles questions se posent d’ailleurs aussi dans l’écriture dramatique et scénique des dramaturges et metteures en scène portugaises actuelles, telles notamment Eduarda Dionísio, Mónica Calle et Lúcia Sigalho.

Quixote, by the Portuguese theatre company O BANDO

These scenes were taken from a recent performance directed by João Brites for his company O Bando, one of the most interesting Portuguese theatre companies set up after our democratic Revolution in 1974 by political exiles who had fled the country during fascism and were living in Belgium.

The performance addresses a Portuguese play – Vida do grande D. Quixote de la Mancha e do gordo Sancho Pança (The Life of the Great D. Quixote de la Mancha and the Fat Sancho Pança) written in the 18th century (in 1733) for puppets, obviously inspired on Cervantes’s novel about the “knight of the Sorrowful Countenance”.

Bonecos de Santo Aleixo (19th cent. Puppets)
Bonecos de Santo Aleixo (19th cent. Puppets)

The puppets were known asbonifrates, a name derived from the Latin “boni frates”, which means ‘good brothers’, and were made of cork and wire. There is no visual record of how these puppets might have been, but we can imagine they were perhaps similar to the folk puppets we could find in Alentejo in the 19th century:Bonecos de Santo Aleixo.

They were used to perform in plays by António José da Silva, known as the Jew (in reality, aconverso or “new Christian”), in the manner of a musical comic theatre – called “ópera bufa” – in a theatre venue in Bairro Alto, a neighbourhood near the centre of Lisbon where noblemen, religious orders and the academies had chosen to build their mansions.

In adapting the play, João Brites insisted upon following his own way of making a dramaturgical adaptation of texts. In general, this implies extensively rewriting the texts, be they – as has often been the case – as varied as lyrical poetry, long novels, short stories or, more seldom, other plays.

The three main trends he followed in this adaptation of the Jew’s parody of D. Quixote were: (1) changing the gender of all characters; (2) the specific choice of a cast (two singers on top of a huge cube in a Corbusier type of architecture) whose voices worked as the unseen strings that gave life to the dancers (performing below on the stage), as if they were puppets; (3) the representation of adventurous, transgressive old age.

The main character therefore is Dulcinea who runs after Don Quixote. She is followed by Teresa Pança who looks after an island after having been nominated its Governess as a reward. Dulcinea inherits the utopian quest of the Knight-errant Quixote while Teresa plays Sancho’s grazioso.

In this way João Brites combined the idea of an opera and accommodated the part played both by “puppets” and the puppeteers who lent them their voices. Indeed, the actors-dancers seemed to make a kind of playback, and only had a brief moment to speak one or two short lines in the form of a declaration. “So happy that we came and so sad we became / when the life that fades away is the one we dreamed of”.

The third idea that determined Brites’s aesthetic choice for this theatrical adaptation was that he located the beginning of this fantasy about Dulcinea in a kind of home for the aged. However, instead of a grim version of such an institution, João Brites looked at it through his deeply humane understanding of old people in general. Let me quote part of his foreword to the programme bill:

“I am fond of thinking that we won’t die as long as we keep up our capacity to dream that we are able to change something in the world. That we won’t die while we still have an unquenchable appetite to read or listen to music (…).

I know that the old man who loses his independence is like a prisoner who waits his turn in another death corridor. He is no longer able to control time and place.

But I also know that there are old people who are able to subvert everything, especially women who still put on their makeup and adorn themselves in order to fulfil the most indescribable fictions.

I suppose I will not do anything of the kind, but I am fond of imagining an old man, a very old man in a wheelchair turned upside down with his hands full of turf, who is digging a hole so as to plant an olive tree; and beside him, an old woman, a very old woman, about to leave by plane for China, where her two crutches have small packets of medicine hanging from them from top to bottom […] They surprise me, when all of a sudden, they both roll up their sleeves and get ready to meet the unnameable that is yet to come.”

The performance offered an amusing parody filled with kindness and radiance: the romantic white dresses, the joyful songs, the funny collage of music (by Jorge Salgueiro) that intermingled operatic moments with cheap popular songs, sounds coming from hospital equipment, TV publicity, tones of cell phones, computer games, etc. And the “orchestra” was quite original with all the musicians in wheelchairs riding around the stage and playing on synthesizers and laptops.

This “opera bufa” was written when the author – António José da Silva – was 28 years old. Six years later he would be sentenced to death by the Inquisition on the charge of upholding his Judaism, and because of it he was forced to make an auto-da-fé. The first time he was imprisoned he was only 17 years old and during his brief life (34 years) he was persecuted time and again by the Inquisition[1]. He would always go back to his post at the Teatro do Bairro Alto to earn his living (altogether he wrote 9 plays) and be acclaimed by his audience, mainly the lesser nobility (and some of the bourgeoisie) who were not invited to the royal palace, but were able to afford not to confraternize with the people who attended the Spanish type of corrales, an outdoor rectangular theatre venue where plays by Spanish dramatists Lope de Vega and Calderon were staged.

The Convent of Mafra
The Convent of Mafra

In his plays we may perceive (although from quite a satirical stance) many of the features typical of the Lisbon society at the time of King João V – the Magnanimous (1706-1750). Imitating the ceremonials and luxury of French Louis XIV – thanks to the gold that came from Brazil – João V enjoyed an opulent lifestyle. He was very cultured and fond of mathematics and music, especially the Italian opera. But the Portuguese society during his reign was full of contrasts: dire poverty characterized the life of the humble people while, on the opposite side, there was the baroque ostentation of monuments such as those built in Mafra – a cluster comprising a basilica, a convent and a royal palace – or the gold ornaments decorating both the interiors and exteriors of the royal coaches. Another great contrast was the overriding obscurantism of the Inquisition and University scholasticism as against the enlightenment of some of the Portuguese intellectuals who were under the influence of the French intelligentsia.

What seems puzzling, however, in the Jew’s comedies which mainly resorted to characters and stories from Greek mythology, such as Amphytrion, Medea, Proteus, Aesop, Crete’s labyrinth, is the intense joy we find in his plots and characters (although they are not devoid of melancholy). Even when referring to some of the social problems of his time through fictional lenses – such as deficient justice, poverty and famine – we can hardly discern any resentment or anger: everything emerges as an ingenious satire, more inclined to compassion than bitterness. Of course, the Inquisition was to be a great hindrance, preventing him from making slips of the tongue, but still we can feel how keen the Jew was in composing comedies for his audience such as this one, full of irony and amusing plots.

And I think that we can find the same attitude in the performance directed by João Brites who rightly espoused this celebration of fantasy and love manifested by a physically-weak body, but one which is full of dreams. Or, as Harold Bloom proclaimed in The Western Canon about Cervantes’s novel, involved in a “crusade against death.”[2]


In choosing this performance as a first case for elaborating upon the theme “Reframing the feminine”, and speaking about some classical heroines on the contemporary stage, I cannot avoid referring to some widely acknowledged perplexities.

These perplexities have mainly arisen from many of the stimulating new concepts that have come up during the so-called three waves of feminism where they have left their imprint on our life and culture but have also encouraged thought-provoking discussions. I am referring to the suffragettes’ movement at the end of the 19th century (that in 1929 still inspired Virginia Woolf’s accusation involving the social and cultural devaluation of women in A Room of One’s Own); although more in particular I shall be highlighting the feminist campaigns of the 1960s and the 1970s[3], and more recently, of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century.

Even when Sue-Ellen Case in a recent short essay looks back at some of the delirious images that were projected onto the past by former passionate feminists, where mythical creatures were re-imagined as matriarchies, amazons and goddesses[4], she still claims they were decisive and efficient as “imagined utopias, hopes for the future, embedded in the past […] a form of collective dreaming through temporal tropes” (Case 2004: 105).

Indeed, these feminists were trying to “recover” a subject position for women, demanding their release from oppressions (brought about by patriarchy and capitalism). They ventured into forming their own theatre companies devoted to specific new repertoires and new theatre languages, in short, trying to tackle new approaches through the lens of a feminist poetics. That is: assuming the difference (regarding men), and trying to collectively perform that difference.

Many of these new feminist formats for theatre acquired a broader political dimension by joining forces with other important movements such as antiapartheid, pacifism, etc. The reason behind this coalition stems from the historical fact that the concept of “difference” was predicated on relations of domination and exclusion: being different was being less (Braidotti 2002: 158), thereby justifying patriarchy, colonialism, religious persecution or fascism (Ibidem: 158-159). In this sense, it was appropriate for feminists to espouse other movements that were against this “metaphysical consumption of the others” as Braidotti writes (2002: 158), or against the existence of subaltern women, as referred to by Gayatri Spivak in her postcolonial critique[5].

The activist“embracing we” that marked most of the feminist discourse of the 1960s and 1970s points to the acceptance of a collective identity that seemed obvious in itself and helpful in reaching some of the most cherished goals of feminism.

However, as Elaine Aston and Geraldine (Gerry) Harris noted, the 1980s saw the rise of an individualist (right-wing) style of feminism (truly in line with the Reagan-Thatcher era) that acted as a backlash[6]. It brought discredit on the previous attitudes of the second wave of feminism, by reducing it to stereotyped man-hating, and aggressive, deliberately unattractive women. Instead, the new tendency would praise the image of the type of woman who found autonomy and happiness in her domestic life (Genz & Brabon 2009: 51-63) or, if she were a successful urban employee, she would be obsessed with her physical appearance and was voracious in her passion for shopping (mainly clothes), as well as for consuming glossy magazines and light literature (known as “chick lit”[7]).

Nevertheless, in the 1990s, many feminists were still pursuing their aim leading them towards liberation and claiming a subject position in culture and politics (even if among themselves they pursued different strategies). We may consider their “struggle” to be the third wave of feminism.

However, at the same time that a new agenda for feminism was being implemented, the media seemed to predict a new era for women in general – a postfeminism[8] – at the same time that they were foregrounding – if not directly devising – stereotypical symbols of feminine enculturation such as Barbie dolls, fashion magazines or “girl power”. In this last case, pop stars like the Spice Girls or a fictional character like Bridget Jones[9] went along with the commoditisation of feminism, figuring women who lived for consumerism as the most important “agency” they aspired to, even offering themselves as a marketing device.

Postfeminism indeed seemed to lack in political action and even went as far as being considered “a sexist, politically conservative and media-inspired ploy that guts the underlying principles of the feminist movement” (in Genz and Brabon 2009: 15).

However, some defend that it still addressed some important issues for women, even if on a more individualist basis, and claimed both a multiple kind of agency and different individual subject positions (Ibidem: 15, 25).

But the 1990s also saw the ascension of a radical black feminism, and the escalation of different sensibilities in terms of sexuality (lesbian, gay, queer, etc.).
So, when looked at within the chronological framework of the 1990s, two sensibilities and agendas were set side by side: postfeminism and a third wave of more politicized feminism.

This multiplication of various reasonings, sensibilities and attitudes pointed to a different pervasive feeling when comparing the 1960s and the 1990s: instead of the previous concept of an “embracing we”, most women in the 90s seemed more prone to resent “the violence of ‘we’” (Ibidem: p. 6).

This meant that the debate had shifted from “equality” or sisterhood to focus instead on “difference” and on multiple subjectivities and different agendas.

And here I admit to my first perplexity in discussing femininity in the theatre:

Is there – or should we ascribe – a thematic (or functional) identity to women whenever we are invited – or inclined – to address matters dealing with women. For instance, when working in academia, doing research into women’s theatre, or, as theatre critics, reviewing performances?

In referring to a possible “thematic or functional identity for women”, we may therefore assume that by assigning a special identity to women in general we may run the risk of ignoring – or, even worse, deleting – the great variety of concerns, inflections and claims that derive from specific historical, geographical, social, cultural, political, racial, sex-oriented, ethical, and psychological contexts, practices or sensibilities.

It is true that some theoreticians suspect that a positive, unanimous notion of “women’s issues or women’s interests” may be as authoritarian as the existing (patriarchal) power relations (Elam 1994: 8), in the sense that it might encourage (and therefore tend to impose) uniformity and conformity. For instance, Luce Irigaray (1992: 133) stresses the fact that all theories of the subject have always – sooner or later – been appropriated by men.

This is, however, a field which is not devoid of suspicion, since this anti-essentialism stems from postmodernism’s distrust of crucial concepts brought to our culture by the Enlightenment and Modernism. Such concepts were instrumental, indeed decisive, in many fields, particularly in the civic rights movements, or, for that matter, in the feminist crusade of the 1960s and 1970s, successfully granting women in general some real social and political victories.

Therefore some of these arguments have been considered questionable among political and cultural circles owing to the fact that when denying a possible unified agenda for social, political and cultural change, much of what was gained after 1960s in the racial, colonial and sexual domains would be simply impossible to sustain, much less to expand (in this or any other domain).

I am referring to the challenge that postmodernism placed before rationalist and liberal humanism epistemology where this challenge was based on some of the arguments raised by Jean-François Lyotard among other authors in his La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, 1979).

In this context, where the change of paradigm brought about by post modernism favoured the rejection of any theory of the subject (as well as the notion of truth or scientific knowledge), it is important not to lose sight of what should be used as a philosophical tool for most feminist demands, including the concept of feminism as a liberating politics. And, in a broader sense, we have to recognise that “the undermining of a sense of ‘we’ as a contingent, collective political position […] is simultaneously an undermining of a sense of agency – an ability to act on and change the world” (Aston & Harris 2006:12).

In this sense Rosi Braidotti proposes to renegotiate cultural definitions or concepts related to women in general that would avoid both essentialist and nihilistic concepts. Therefore, instead of referring to “identity” she suggests a “virtual subject position that needs to be created” (Braidotti 2002: 171), or, framing it differently, a “nomadic subject”. In her opinion, this is “the kind of subject who has relinquished all idea, desire, or nostalgia for fixity” (Braidotti 1994: 22), therefore presenting the feminist subject as multifaceted and with a non-codified identity, hence endowed with fascinating potentialities (Ibidem: 160). This feminist subject position – considered as a project (not as a given), a “becoming-subject” – is “something that some women can yearn for and work towards, for the good of all” (Braidotti 2002: 178).

Although admitting the tendency to simplify matters when using these generic labels, Judith Butler in her Gender Trouble, Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) as well as in Bodies that Matter (1993), considered, like Braidotti, that the category “woman” “has yet an important role to play in creating a more just and democratic future” (in Aston & Harris 2006: 9). But obviously in a way, she “twisted” the category so as to open it “as a site of permanent political contest” (Butler 1993: 221-222).

Tonan Quito, Joaquim Horta, Victor Goncalves in Dedicatorias, Sensurround, 2000 © Joao Tuna
Tónan Quito, Joaquim Horta, Victor Goncalves in Dedicatórias, Sensurround, 2000 © João Tuna

These two positions by Judith Butler and Rosi Braidotti seem to allow for a possible justification of João Brites’s proposal for a new kind of Quixotism by ascribing the desire and fantasy for love and heroism to Dulcinea.

It may seem relatively simplistic to resort to these basic changes in gender as far as the main characters are concerned. However, in a way, this simple change illuminates how far a universal icon such as D. Quixote has influenced an idealistic view of masculinity (devoted to utopia), as a chivalric visionary even if a touch of lunacy tinges his gaze.

In Brites’s version, we see a delirious old heroine determined to subvert the inevitability of approaching death by giving full rein to her yearning for adventure and romantic love. And we feel that it is a reliable portrait lying exposed in its fragile, amorous traits. Curiously, the scheme of composing a parody out of a parody contrived to produce a compassionate sample of a basic humanity.

Tonan Quito, Joaquim Horta, Victor Goncalves in Dedicatorias, Sensurround, 2000 © Joao Tuna
Tónan Quito, Joaquim Horta, Victor Goncalves in Dedicatórias, Sensurround, 2000 © João Tuna
Lucia Sigalho in Dedicatorias, Sensurround, 2000 © Joao Tuna
Lúcia Sigalho in Dedicatórias, Sensurround, 2000 © João Tuna


The debate about feminist subjectivity and its possible shared representation deals with historical and social questions and prompts us to address femininity in its material foundation: the body, the feminine body.

This politics of location – the “nearest geography”, as Adrienne Rich called it (1987) – establishes the body as deeply anchored in the social sphere and assigns it the site of difference and, consequently, resistance.

When focussing on the visual arts, Griselda Pollock relates the body to the most recent feminisms and writes:

The new feminisms are, in significant ways, a politics of the body: in campaigns around health and the claims for female sexualities, the struggle against violence and assault as well as pornography, the issues of motherhood and ageing. The new politics articulates the specificity of femininity in special relation to the problematic of the body, not as a biological entity, but as the physically constructed image that provides a location for and imageries of the processes of the unconscious, for desire and fantasy. (Pollock1996: 6)

And apparently feminism can claim to have converted the old metaphor about the “body politic” (the state or society imagined as a human body with different organs) into “the politics of the body”: “ […] the human body as […] a politically inscribed entity, its physiology and morphology shaped and marked by histories and practices of containment and control – from footbinding and corseting to rape and battering, to compulsory heterosexuality, forced sterilisation, unwanted pregnancy and […] explicit commodification”, as Susan Bordo writes. (1992: 188-89)

In these terms, I would raise my second question: on what terms should we bring the politics of the actress’s body into theatre criticism, more precisely in its various determinations that provide a location for (and imageries of) “the processes of the unconscious for desire and fantasy”?

When mentioning the “do-me feminism” (also referred to as “bimbo feminism” and “porno chic”[10]), Genz & Brabon address the sexualized power of feminism “that sees sexual freedom as the key to female independence and emancipation” (2009: 91), as shown for instance in the TV series Sex and the City.

In general, however, this sort of postfeminism runs the risk of debasing women by insisting on pornography as a way to liberation. It is seen by most feminists as a disputable “raunch[11] culture” that, in the end, is rooted in the perspective of male power, not devoid of misogyny, as we may read in the slogan “porn is the theory, rape is the practice” (in Genz & Brabon 2009: 94).

Lúcia Sigalho © Alfredo Cunha
Lúcia Sigalho © Alfredo Cunha

In Portugal, the 1990s saw the rise of an alternative theatre, generically labelled “off theatre” where merely in Greater Lisbon it amounted to over 50 new groups. It seemed to look for different approaches to the theatre, either by relying on a more visual type of theatre, or experimenting with poetry, dance, new circus,commedia dell’arte, body art, site specific happenings or performance art. They invented amusing names for themselves such as Orquestra Dramática ‘O Bife’ (Beefsteak Dramatic Orchestra) for instance, and the venues they used (when giving indoor performances) were mainly non-theatrical spaces: art galleries, discotheques, bars, etc.

Mónica Calle in Ouves a tempestadde?, Casa Conveniente, 2009 © Bruno Simão
Mónica Calle in Ouves a tempestadde?, Casa Conveniente, 2009 © Bruno Simão

It was within this context that Monica Calle ventured to use a de-activated downtown bar formerly used by sailors to meet up with prostitutes, thus clearly proclaiming her underground aesthetics. And in her first appearance in 1992, she chose to disrobe as she was reciting Rimbaud’s poem “La vierge folle” (The Mad Virgin / A virgem doida), thus performing it as a strip-tease-monologue. She did it in continuous sessions, which was not only unusual, but challenging to many people passing through who were not regular theatre-goers. She considers it to be the founding manifesto of her theatre company that still upholds her first assumptions: a kind of poor-man’s theatre based on the word, proximity and partaking, hence establishing a new type of relationship with space both as a venue and a dramaturgical space where limitations turn out to be the generative force of its own aesthetics, while scenic constructions are renewed in continuous experiments. Casa Conveniente is also a laboratory for speculating about the relationships between the inner and the outer.

In Cais do Sodré, as Mónica Calle claims, “everyone has his/her/its place: bars, prostitutes, customers, actors, actresses, spectators – all of them coexist without fusing together, by stressing their differences and by accepting neighbours and influences”, therefore, professing one’s own identity as a continuous process of becoming, through continuously relating to others.

Getting back to nudity as linked to topics of femininity, we may say that in Portugal it began to be used increasingly more systematically in the 1990s by this and other off-groups, as was also the case of Lúcia Sigalho with her company Sensurround.

Luísa Costa Gomes
Luísa Costa Gomes

But speaking only of regular theatre, not entertainment in casinos or sex shops, the kind of feminine nudity which has been performed in Portugal is far removed from raunch experiments. The main tendency lies either in a more serious way as withCasa Conveniente, or a more humorous approach as with Sensurround.

Perhaps the weight of patriarchy in a Southern European country like Portugal and the deep maternal disposition of women invite them to make a more emotional or spiritual commitment. It has therefore been mainly through a new repertoire and the need to approach both everyday life and the rereading of classical heroines that the question of femininity has had its strongest appeal in the most recent Portuguese theatre.

Poster of Nunca nada de ninguém
Poster of Nunca nada de ninguém

Playwrights like Luísa Costa Gomes Nunca Nada de Ninguém (Never Nothing of Nobody), (1991), Isabel Medina Os Novos Confessionários (New Confessionals), (1996) or Teresa Rita Lopes Esse tal alguém (That Someone), (2001) have approached – in a most engaging and witty manner – some of problems of the urban middle-class woman, while a theatre company like Escola de Mulheres (School for Women), directed by Fernanda Lapa, has revealed plays and playwrights of the utmost importance, women such as Caryl Churchill, Paula Vogel, Timberlake Wertenbaker, among others (men also included of course, as was the case of Bernardo Santareno).

Cucha Carvalheiro, Cristina Carvalhal, in Novos confessionários, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 Rui Pedro Pinto
Cucha Carvalheiro, Cristina Carvalhal, in Novos confessionários, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 Rui Pedro Pinto
Luísa Brandão, in Novos confessionários, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 Rui Pedro Pinto
Luísa Brandão, in Novos confessionários, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 Rui Pedro Pinto
Cucha Carvalheiro, Marta Lapa, in Novos confessionários, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 Rui Pedro Pinto
Cucha Carvalheiro, Marta Lapa, in Novos confessionários, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 Rui Pedro Pinto

I would further add a note about a wonderful play by Eduarda Dionísio Antes Que a Noite Venha (Before the Night Comes), (1992) that addresses four tragic heroines, who, in three highly poetical monologues each, speak about their suffering as women under a patriarchal order, while at the same time expressing their burning desire and voluptuousness. These four heroines represent the four ages of women: Juliet, Antigone, Inês de Castro and Medea.

Teresa Rita Lopes
Teresa Rita Lopes

The lyricism of their lines, however, is made to contrast a most unusual framework. Indeed, they are supposed to be recited by four prostitutes while getting ready for their night’s work. Dionísio’s basic axiom is that the love and death of these unnamed women do not have to be different from the love and death of the great tragic heroines in dramatic literature.

In a way the overlapping of such different social status indicates a kind of democratization of the tragic ethos, assuming, however, its absolute implausibility. Theatre is the generous framework where mythic and sociological orders melt together, because as it stands, the common place of truth is uttered through lies.

Fernanda Lapa in Agamémnon ou o crime, Escola de Mulheres, 2001 © Rui Pedro Pinto
Fernanda Lapa in Agamémnon ou o crime, Escola de Mulheres, 2001
© Rui Pedro Pinto

Fernanda Lapa in Bernardo Bernarda, Escola de Mulheres, 2005 © Margarida Dias
Fernanda Lapa in Bernardo Bernarda, Escola de Mulheres, 2005 © Margarida Dias

The scheme invented by the playwright in her Foreword “Flagrante delito” (“Caught in the Act”) in fact promotes a multiplication of possibilities, leading towards wider cultural breadth. At the same time that it develops – in those tragic figures – a clear recourse to a political stance where both gods and kings see their power reduced, it also unfolds the intense eroticisation of love affairs.

Thus, Eduarda Dionísio reframes femininity in kaleidoscopic images, in permanent rotation: in the physical presence of the body dressed to seduce, in the passionate relationship with men (based on both love and hatred), in provocative social involvement, and in the refinement of heartbreaking lyrical and dramatic poetry.

It is a way of showing one’s deeper acknowledgement of a militant commitment to reinvent oneself and remake the world.

Luísa Cruz, Rita Blanco, Maria João Luís, in Antes que a noite venha, Teatro da Cornucópia 1992
Luísa Cruz, Rita Blanco, Maria João Luís, in Antes que a noite venha, Teatro da Cornucópia 1992


Both João Brites in Quixote and Eduarda Dionísio in Before the Night Comes resort to questioning classical heroes and heroines by reframing their gender and social status, thus offering a cue so as to query cultural commonplaces and open up new possibilities in order to redefine women and their femininity.

In both cases we witness the driving force of “fantasies, desires and the pursuit of pleasure” playing an important and constructive role in subjectivity, side by side with “rational judgement and standard political action” (Braidotti 2002: 161).

In being reset in the process of assuming subject positions, women are shown as the location of “a bundle of contradictions”, but they are not devoid of passions and values that may inspire taking political stands in the “basic pursuit of decency, social justice and human rights”, as Rosi Braidotti vehemently defended (2002: 178).

Luísa Cruz, Rita Blanco, in Antes que a noite venha, Teatro da Cornucópia 1992
Luísa Cruz, Rita Blanco, in Antes que a noite venha, Teatro da Cornucópia 1992
Maria João Luís, Márcia Breia, in Antes que a noite venha, Teatro da Cornucópia 1992
Maria João Luís, Márcia Breia, in Antes que a noite venha, Teatro da Cornucópia 1992


[1] Besides the two plays that were lost (Amor Vencido de Amor e Os Amantes de Escabech), he wrote nine others: Vida do grande D. Quixote de la Mancha e do gordo Sancho Pança (1733); Esopaida ou Vida de Esopo (1734); Os Encantos de Medeia (1735); Anfitrião ou Júpiter e Alcmena (1736); Labirinto de Creta (1736); As Variedades de Proteu (1737); Guerras do Alecrim e Manjerona (1737); Precipício de Faetonte (1739); and El Prodígio de Amarante (1737) written in Spanish.
[2] Harold Bloom, The Western Canon. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994, p. 129.
[3] See: Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963), Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1969), Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), to which we should add the pioneering work by Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe (1949).
[4] Sue-Ellen Case, “The Screens of Time: Feminist Memories and Hopes” in Elaine Adton & Bryan Reynolds (Eds.), Feminist Futures? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 105.
[5] Stephen Morton, “The subaltern: Genealogy of a concept,” in Gayatri Spivak: Ethics, Subalternity and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Malden, MA: Polity, 2007: pp. 96-97.
[6] Cf. Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War against Women. London: Vintage, 1992; Stéphanie Genz & Benjamin A. Rabon, Postfeminism: Cultural Texts and Theories. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
[7] “Chick” is an American slang term for a young woman and “Lit” is short for “literature“.
[8] Postfeminism results from the intersection of postmodernism, multiculturalism and feminism.
[9] Bridget Jones is the famous heroine of Helen Fielding’s novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, 1996.
[10] Reference to the case of Paris Hilton, whose fame seems to have been ignited by an indiscreet video (showing her having sex with her boyfriend) in 2003.
[11] Synonymous with the racey, disreputable, obscene, vulgar.

Critical Studies

BARATA, José Oliveira (1991). História do Teatro Português. Lisboa: Universidade Aberta.

______ (1998). História do Teatro em Portugal (Séc. XVIII): António José da Silva (O Judeu) no palco joanino. Algés: Difel.

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*Maria Helena Serôdio is Full Professor at the Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon, where she directs the post-graduate Program on Theatre Studies. She has published widely on English and Portuguese Drama, Comparative Studies and Theatre Studies in various national and international journals, newspapers and collective books. She is the President of the Portuguese Association of Theatre Critics and directs two research projects at the Centre for Theatre Studies of the University of Lisbon. She has edited several books on theatre and is author of, among others, William Shakespeare: A sedução dos sentidos (William Shakespeare: Seducing the senses). Lisboa: Cosmos, 1996, and Questionar apaixonadamente: O teatro na vida de Luís Miguel Cintra (Passionately questioning: The Theatre in Luís Miguel Cintra’s Life). Lisboa: Cotovia, 2001.

Copyright © 2010 Maria Helena Serôdio
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

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Reframing the Feminine in the Theatre Today