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Abstract

Shakespeare’s characters have always fascinated readers and viewers, yet for the past several decades ‘character criticism’ has been unpopular among Shakespearean scholars. Recently, although, ‘character’ has made a resurgence, especially in the context of performance studies. The 18th-century stage presents a good venue from within which to examine this new critical approach, as 18th-century audiences were enamored both with Shakespeare’s plays and the offstage lives of the actors they came to see. Building from this fact, this essay examines the influence of the actor/role relationship on popular theories of characterization; in particular, it focuses on the actress Mary Robinson and the character of Perdita. By asking what it meant for audiences to recognize Robinson as ‘Perdita’, and ‘Perdita’ as Mary Robinson, the essay provides one example of how attention to performance history can enrich our analysis of Shakespearean characters today.