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Burlesque

BURLESQUE

BURLESQUE, a popular dramatic and literary form in which parody, coarseness, mockery, and innuendo provide many of the laughs, has a long history. Literary burlesque may be traced back to Greece, where dramas presented at festivals were sometimes satiric and received with joviality. Some of the earliest burlesques were Batrachomyomachia (The Battle of the Frogs and Mice), an anonymous burlesque of Homer, and the comedies of Aristophanes (fifth and fourth centuries b.c.). Burlesque evolved throughout Europe, always relying on satire and parody. Fifteenth-century Italian burlesque mocked chivalry, while seventeenth-century French burlesque portrayed the clash between the "moderns" and the "ancients." English burlesque was primarily dramatic, although it included some notable burlesque poems and prose. In the nineteenth century, English burlesque began to rely on pun as much as parody and it was this new, pun-filled burlesque, influenced by a rich history of satire and staging conventions, that was brought to America.

Burlesque, sometimes called "burleycue," came to the United States from England shortly after the Civil War in the form of variety shows that included dirty jokes, parody, and chorus girls performing "leg shows." One of the first, Lydia Thompson's British Blondes, sponsored by P. T. Barnum, toured the United States parodying, or burlesquing, current events and popular plays. Another popular show of the time was the High Rollers troupe's parody of Ben Hur, titled "Bend Her" and featuring female performers suggestively costumed as Roman warriors. In saloons, especially in the western territories, chorus girls who offered bawdy dance performances were sometimes known as "honky-tonk girls."

Many burlesque performers, especially comedians, moved into the similar but more respected form of entertainment known as vaudeville. Others went on to the films of Hollywood or the stages of Broadway. Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Bert Lahr, W. C. Fields, Mae West, Jackie Gleason, Bobby Clark, Phil Silvers, and Bob Hope began their careers in burlesque. Some burlesque striptease artists also graduated to stardom, most notably fan dancer Sally Rand and stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Although burlesque was always risqué, it was not originally merely striptease. In the 1920s, as new competition such as nightclubs and movies grew, the popularity of burlesque declined. In an effort to remain in business, burlesque houses evolved into soft-pornography strip shows. In 1937 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia closed New York City's burlesque houses.

In 1979 the tradition and spirit of burlesque was honored on Broadway with the show Sugar Babies. The lavish production, starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, featured chorus girls, classic songs, and the traditional risqué humor of burlesque.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, Robert C. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Goldman, Herbert G. Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lee, Gypsy Rose. Gypsy: A Memoir. Berkeley, Calif.: Frog, 1999.

Rothe, Len. The Bare Truth: Stars of Burlesque of the '40s and '50s. Altgen, Pa.: Schiffer, 1998.

DeirdreSheets

See alsoVaudeville .

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burlesque

burlesque (bûrlĕsk´) [Ital.,=mockery], form of entertainment differing from comedy or farce in that it achieves its effects through caricature, ridicule, and distortion. It differs from satire in that it is devoid of any ethical element. The word first came into use in the 16th cent. in an opera of the Italian Francesco Berni, who called his works burleschi. Early English burlesque often ridiculed celebrated literary works, especially sentimental drama. Beaumont and Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle (1613), Buckingham's The Rehearsal (1671), Gay's Beggar's Opera (1728), Fielding's Tom Thumb (1730), and Sheridan's Critic (1779) may be classed as dramatic burlesque. In the 19th cent. English burlesque depended less on parody of literary styles and models. H. J. Bryon was a major writer of the new, pun-filled burlesque. The extravaganza and burletta were forms of amusement similar to burlesque, the latter being primarily a musical production. They were performed in small theaters in an effort to evade the strict licensing laws that forbade major dramatic productions to these theaters. American stage burlesque (from 1865), often referred to as "burleycue" or "leg show," began as a variety show, characterized by vulgar dialogue and broad comedy, and uninhibited behavior by performers and audience. Such stars as Al Jolson, W. C. Fields, Mae West, Fannie Brice, Sophie Tucker, Bert Lahr, and Joe Weber and Lew Fields began their careers in burlesque. About 1920 the term began to refer to the "strip-tease" show, which created its own stars, such as Gypsy Rose Lee; in c.1937 burlesque performances in New York City were banned. With the increase in popularity of nightclubs and movies, the burlesque entertainment died.

See studies by C. V. Clinton-Baddeley (1952, repr. 1974); R. P. Bond (1932, repr. 1964), and J. D. Jump (1972).

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burlesque

bur·lesque / bərˈlesk/ • n. 1. a parody or comically exaggerated imitation of something, esp. in a literary or dramatic work: the funniest burlesque of opera [as adj.] burlesque Shakespearean stanzas. ∎  humor that depends on comic imitation and exaggeration; absurdity: the argument descends into burlesque. 2. a variety show, typically including striptease: [as adj.] burlesque clubs. • v. (-lesques , -lesqued , -lesqu·ing ) [tr.] cause to appear absurd by parodying or copying in an exaggerated form: she struck a ridiculous pose that burlesqued her own vanity.

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burlesque

burlesque (Fr.; It. burlesca; Ger. Burleske). Humorous form of entertainment involving an element of parody or exaggeration. Applied in 18th cent. to mus. works in which comic and serious elements were contrasted. In Eng. word usually means a dramatic work ridiculing stage conventions, while in Amer. it means a variety show, often involving strippers.

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burlesque

burlesque (It. ‘ridicule’) Form of literary or dramatic entertainment that achieves its effect by caricature, ridicule and distortion, often of celebrated literary genres or works. A later form, in the USA, became synonymous with strip shows.

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burlesque

burlesque †droll; derisively imitative; sb. burlesque composition. XVII. — F. — It. burlesco, f. burla ridicule, fun; of unkn. orig.; see -ESQUE.

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Burleske

Burleske (Burlesque). Work for pf. and orch. in D minor by R. Strauss, comp. 1885–6, rev. 1890. F.p. Eisenach, 1890.

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burlesque

burlesqueBasque, Monégasque •ask, bask, cask, flask, Krasnoyarsk, mask, masque, task •facemask •arabesque, burlesque, Dantesque, desk, grotesque, humoresque, Junoesque, Kafkaesque, Moresque, picaresque, picturesque, plateresque, Pythonesque, Romanesque, sculpturesque, statuesque •bisque, brisk, disc, disk, fisc, frisk, risk, whisk •laserdisc • obelisk • basilisk •odalisque • tamarisk • asterisk •mosque, Tosk •kiosk • Nynorsk • brusque •busk, dusk, husk, musk, rusk, tusk •subfusc • Novosibirsk •mollusc (US mollusk) • damask •Vitebsk •Aleksandrovsk, Sverdlovsk •Khabarovsk • Komsomolsk •Omsk, Tomsk •Gdansk, Murmansk, Saransk •Smolensk •Chelyabinsk, MinskDonetsk, Novokuznetsk •Irkutsk, Yakutsk

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