Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity by Tana Wojczuk

“Charlotte Cushman is a very dangerous young man.” So wrote an anonymous female fan, on seeing the American actress play Romeo on stage in London in 1845, the role that secured her transatlantic stardom. Overturning decades of theatrical convention, Charlotte performed Shakespeare’s original text, rather than David Garrick’s bowdlerized version that woke Juliet up just in time for a tear-jerking final embrace. As Charlotte transformed herself into the strutting Italian nobleman, it was her audience, instead, that awoke. Stirred by her virility and moved by her vulnerability, they forgot the young hero was a woman, and remembered the play was a tragedy. With her younger sister, Susan, playing Juliet, Charlotte’s Romeo could clasp her lover’s body and weep over her freely without any hint of impropriety. Yet the frisson of her gender-bending performance hung in the air, inspiring the breathless adoration of scores of young women.

Dangerous indeed.