Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Lady Liberty: Intertextual Performances of Gender and Nation

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Ronald Shields

Second Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Wendell Mayo (Committee Member)


This study explores how a variety of artistic representations of the Statue of Liberty have worked over the past half-century to reflect aspects of nation through the gendered performances of a particular set of American women as ideal constructs, objects for commodification and consumption. The first inquiry explores the play entitled Miss Liberty, written by Robert E. Sherwood, with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin, and first produced in 1949. Although conceived as an historical play loosely based on fact, the play provides a unique perspective on women's roles in society during the late 1940s. On the one hand the play forces nostalgic ideas of nationalism and outmoded views of women, while on the other, exposes a mid-twentieth century response to rising feminist thought and behavior. The second exploration discusses construction of the feminine ideal as presented through the popular film Miss Congeniality and the ritual of the national beauty pageant. As the bodies of the contestants conflate with those codes established by/for Lady Liberty in the film, they drive a more complex impulse that refashions women as adornments for a national concern. Consequently, this film works to strengthen our relationship with our most revered national icon, formalizing further our collective gender-driven national mythologies, and ultimately memorializing limiting conditions of feminine performance, agency, and ideals of American womanhood. The final chapter brings the themes investigated in the previous two chapters together in an original solo performance that both explicates and further parodies what I see as a national phenomenon. My scripted performance of Liberty Now builds upon our national construction of women as nation through the blending of "Miss Liberty" images with live performance. Designed to first perform the narrative currently in play and then to pull the audience into a complicit forum to deconstruct our national narrative, the satirical play of resistance within Liberty Now anticipates a utopian-like place (or point of imaginative speculation). To do so allows for the possibility of innovative and tangible, but most profoundly, equitable future narratives for women.