Masculine Appearances

Male Physicality on the Late-Victorian Stage

in Critical Survey

James Eli Adams, in Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (1995), has written of the ‘intractable element of theatricality in all masculine self-fashioning, which inevitably makes appeal to an audience, real or imagined … even the normative is typically asserted as an unending performance’. It could also be argued that ‘masculine self-fashioning’, and the necessity for display to an audience gaze, is taken to its extreme in the world of entertainment, where men appear on stage, in costume, wearing make-up, and acting out aspects of masculinity often alien to their own personae. Through applying this debate to nineteenth-century popular culture, this article discusses men who confronted the gaze of both sexes while posing as living statues, displaying muscular strength, or encouraging idolatry through their charismatic presences on the legitimate stage.