Burlesque:The Unknown Cultural Phenomenon History 394

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Burlesque:The Unknown Cultural Phenomenon

The term Burlesque is usually thought of as slightly naughty theatre produced and performed between the 1890s and World War II. Webster defines it as a literary or dramatic work that seeks to ridicule by means of grotesque exaggeration or comic imitation, mockery usually by caricature or theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits, and sometimes striptease acts. Today Burlesque has no meaning as a contemporary phenomenon to most Americans. Burlesque is far from the commonplace twentieth century definition. The background, rise and fall of American Burlesque takes place in less then forty years. The entertainment known as Burlesque has had many different types of audiences. It has entertained all classes of people.

Burlesque has been a legitimate type of entertainment for centuries. Aristophanes, the classic Greek dramatist and poet was known as the "Father of Burlesque."(Sobel, 10) The word burlesque comes from the word burlare, which means "to laugh at, to make fun of." Aristophanes liked to make fun of the world and laugh at it and he wanted to make other people laugh too. The burlesque was then what a movie is now. They were written for the purpose of letting people have an escape from daily life.

The development of Burlesque in England is what affected the American stage the most. The first burlesque in England, entitled, The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbie was produced in London in 1600. While burlesque was becoming popular it picked up two defining features: first, musical numbers and second, the play themes were based on French parodies and revues.


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...Dyed (her hair) for Love." This was commonplace at the time Burlesque was starting.

The fact that the class of people in NYC came together to enjoy a mutual entertainment at this time was an atypical occurrence. There were many barriers that kept upper, middle and lower classes apart; Burlesque was not one of them.


Allen, Robert Clyde, Horrible Prettiness

(1950,The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill)

Corio, Ann, This Was Burlesque

(1968, Madison Square Press, Grosset and Dunlap, New York)

Sobel, Bernard, A Pictorial History of Burlesque

(1956, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York)

American Memory

English-Language Play scripts

(Library of Congress)


The Age of Burlesque

[The Galaxy/ Volume 8, Issue 2, August 1869

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