This essay examines actresses on the London stage between 1660 and 1890, focusing on the investigative topoi of pregnancy and rhetorical access and charting the starts and stops that characterize women's entry into public forums. The performance schedules of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century London actresses reveal that both married and unmarried women routinely performed while “big with child.” With the ascent of new constructs of sex and gender, however, women's recourse to and options on stage narrowed considerably. Victorian actresses developed new career patterns and rhetorical strategies to accommodate pregnancy's increasing relegation to the private sphere, their delivery thus reflecting and responding to a changed social context.

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