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burlesque (bûrlĕskˈ) [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, and Mae West 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 (b. Rose Louise Hovick, 1911-1970); in c.1937 burlesque performances in New York City were banned. Tempest Storm (b. Annie Blanche Banks, 1928-2021) famously stripped into her 80s, having perhaps the longest career in the industry. Burlesque enjoyed a revival beginning in the 1980s with a new generation of performers taking its traditions to diverse audiences.


See studies by C. V. Clinton-Baddeley (1952, repr. 1974); R. P. Bond (1932, repr. 1964), J. D. Jump (1972), and K. Regehr and M. Temperley (2017).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A genre of comic parody poetry. The comic effect in burlesque is determined by the contrast between the theme and the character of its interpretation: either a deliberately “lofty” theme receives a trivially routine treatment and is presented in an explicitly “low” style (Big Morgante by Pulci, The Aeneid Transposed Into the Ukrainian Language by I. P. Kotliarevskii) or a “low” theme is realized by means of a traditionally “lofty” style—the so-called heroicomic poem (the ancient parody of Homer, Batrachomyomachia, and The Lectern by Boileau).

In Europe burlesque was especially popular in the 17th and early 18th century (the poem Virgile Travesti by the French poet P. Scarron), and in Russia at the end of the 18th century (the heroicomic poem Elisei, or Bacchus Infuriated by V. Maikov and the travesty Virgils Aeneid, Inside Out by N. Osipov) as a reaction to the conventional solemnity of the heroic poem of the classicists. Elements of burlesque may be found in Mystery Bouffe by V. Mayakovsky and in the satirical poem by A. Tvardovskii, Terkin in the Next World.

(2) A musical piece that is humorous, at times comical or whimsical, in character. It is related to the capriccio and humoresque. There are burlesques by J. S. Bach (Partita, no. 3), R. Schumann (Pages From an Album, for piano), M. Reger, B. Bartok, and R. Strauss (Burleske, for pianoforte and orchestra).

(3) A short comic parody opera, similar to vaudeville. It originated in Italy and gained popularity in France, Ireland, and Great Britain.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. an artistic work, esp literary or dramatic, satirizing a subject by caricaturing it
2. a play of the 17th--19th centuries that parodied some contemporary dramatic fashion or event
3. US and Canadian Theatre a bawdy comedy show of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: the striptease eventually became one of its chief elements
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Schoch points out that Coyne's play "gives theatrical shape to middle-class fears about unrestricted access to Shakespearean culture" (78) because Shakespeare's birthplace was in fact up for sale at the time of the burlesque. Coyne's text also comments on the contemporary theatre scene with its pageant of "The Bard and his Children" where Shakespeare's characters "bemoan that they can no longer find work on the legitimate stage" and the poet himself complains that he "cannot secure a 'roof to cover [his] head' unless he plays 'the walking gentleman in the fore leg of an Elephant at Drury Lane'" (83).
The third chapter, "Shakespeare in Bohemia," looks at how burlesque "critiqued the middle-class cult of respectability" (29).
In the latter half of this chapter, Schoch further discusses burlesque's "Bohemian" qualities, in its "irreverent disposition" and "dissent from dominant cultural and social hierarchies" (135).
Bardolatry and Burlesque in the Nineteenth Century offers readers a peek at some wonderful texts, as well as some suggestions for how they functioned as cultural critiques in their own day.
During his lifetime Bronzino's burlesque poems were circulated in both manuscript and printed editions.(13) In 1548 Antonfrancesco Grazzini edited an anthology of burlesque poetry for the Giunti press in Florence.
Prefaces that accompanied anthologies of burlesque poetry typically describe the compositions as "capitoli giocosi," "non meno arguti et artifiosi che giocondi e piacevoli capitoli," "rime in sulla burla," and "stil burlesco giocondo, lieto, amorevole, e per dir cosi buono compagno" (jocund capitoli; no less witty and artful than jocund and pleasing capitoli; facetious poems; and a jocund, happy, and loving burlesque style, and, so to speak, companionable).(15) In his preface to Il secondo libro dell'opere burlesche, the printer Filippo Giunti, clearly playing on Horace's declaration that the object of literature is to instruct and delight, proclaims that the chief goal of burlesque poetry is "recar piacere et diletto alle genti" (to bring pleasure and delight to people).
While other burlesque poets follow Berni in his frequent use of sexual euphemisms, their use of innuendo often lacks the subtlety of his works.
Antonfrancesco Grazzini's preface to the first volume of burlesque poems makes explicit the rejection of Petrarchan lyricism by Berni and his followers: "avendo le petrarcherie, le squisitezze e le bemberie anzi che no mezzo ristucco e 'nfastidito il mondo, per cio che ogni cosa e quasi ripieno di fior, frond'erb' ombre, antri, ond' aure soavi" (imitation of Petrarch and Bembo and excessive poetic refinement have half sated and bored the world because everything is replete with flowers, foliage, grass and shadows, caverns and billows and sweet breezes).(17) The capitoli giocosi offer a spirited alternative to readers glutted with the exaggerated refinements and formulaic verses of Petrarch's imitators.
Before the end of the 19th century, burlesque had largely yielded in popular favor to other forms.
Burlesque has a long and lascivious history, and is now making a deliciously depraved comeback.
'A female burlesque performer doesn't strip for the sake of men.
She has appeared in Train - a video for the band Goldfrapp - and will star in the first Burlesque musical to hit the West End this spring.