Author Biography

Elaine McGirr is a Reader in Theatre and Performance Histories at the University of Bristol. Her current research unites her interests in celebrity, repertory and reception by exploring the impact of celebrity actresses on the interpretation and understanding of canonical drama. Publications include Partial Histories: A Reappraisal of Colley Cibber, The Heroic Mode and Political Crisis and Eighteenth-Century Characters, the co-edited collection Stage Mothers, and chapters and articles on celebrity “parts,” Shakespearean adaptation, and actresses’ authorial power.


This essay demonstrates a significant break in eighteenth-century tragedy from tales of fallen women begging (the audience) for forgiveness and redemption to a different kind of she-tragedy, in which the heroine is neither fallen nor sexually desired, but rather transcends nation and politics with the “natural” moral force of maternal love. I argue that this shift was made possible/legible by Susannah Cibber’s ill-health, which forced Arthur Murphy to reconceive The Orphan of China’s heroine and allowed a rival actress, Mary Ann Yates, to step into this new role and to establish a tragic ‘line’ defined in opposition to that of her predecessor. The essay demonstrates this shift by tracing The Orphan of China’s convoluted path to the stage and by reading Murphy’s tragedy in dialogue with earlier translations of The Orphan of China and Douglas, the play Covent Garden mounted in opposition to The Orphan of China.