Women playwrights

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The story of female playwrights in the later eighteenth century begins with the eclipse of most of the women who preceded them. The Rover, Aphra Behn's popular comedy of Spanish intrigue, faded from the repertoire, along with the works of Delarivière Manley, Mary Pix, Catherine Trotter, Penelope Aubin and Eliza Haywood. The exception to this trend was Susanna Centlivre, but frequent revivals of her work and the occasional piece such as Charlotte Charke's The Art of Management (York Buildings, 1735) or Kitty Clive's Bays in Petticoats (DL, 1750) could not undo the cultural amnesia that was setting in. This eclipse occurred in a period of backlash against the libertine, rough gender play of the Restoration and early eighteenth century. In their place came more sentimental or 'humane' comedies, as well as the next generation of female playwrights including Frances Sheridan, Elizabeth Griffith, Hannah Cowley, Hannah More, Sophia Lee, Elizabeth Inchbald and Joanna Baillie.The developing sense of bourgeois taste and propriety put the female playwright in a complicated position. Long-standing concerns about sexual impropriety in the theatre and the likelihood of critical censure in the rough-and-tumble world of reviewing made life in the theatre a suspect choice for a 'proper lady'. While many female playwrights successfully negotiated these concerns, women such as Frances Burney found themselves caught between aspirations and expectations. Even with a successful novel, Evelina, to her credit, Burney's father Charles was convinced that the production of her comedy, The Witlings, would endanger her reputation and that of the family: I wd have you be very Careful, & very perfect - that is, as far so as your own Efforts, & best advice you can get, can make you. In the Novel Way, there is no danger - & in that, no Times can affect you.

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This article reads a series of essays on the actor by James Boswell through recent scholarship on the theory of acting in order to elaborate an expansive and historically grounded definition of what was and is meant by ‘18th‐century acting theory’. I thus show how 18th‐century texts on acting are important documents that should be read not as isolated phenomena but as works that can illuminate contemporary stage performance and the culture that produced it. In particular, I follow Boswell by placing a specific, illustrative emphasis on three key themes of professionalism, theatrical expression and ephemerality: each theme is both essential to thinking about the stage (and criticism on this topic) while also, like so much about the 18th‐century theatre, applicable far more widely both then and now.
Over the past 20 years, the study of eighteenth-century British actresses has blossomed into an emerging interdisciplinary field. Early works on actresses in the 1990's coincided with a heightened interest in recovering non-canonical eighteenth-century texts by female authors as well as the publication of Judith Butler's ground breaking Gender Trouble in 1992. Actresses became, in many ways, the perfect vehicle for looking at how ideologies of femininity, performance, and embodiment materialized in eighteenth-century culture. The publication of Felicity Nussbaum's Rival Queens in 2010 signaled a new phase in actress studies. This article looks closely at the ways in which scholarship on eighteenth-century actresses and celebrity produced since 2010 responds to and/or complicates Nussbaum's invitation to move beyond the parameters of the lady/prostitute divide in actress studies towards more “productive frames of reference” and methodologies. In 2016, actress studies is a truly interdisciplinary field intersecting with art, music, literature, history, economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and fashion. Scholars in actress studies have pioneered new theoretical approaches to theater history, archives and evidence, re-enactment and performance, as well as studies of sound and material culture. Studies of actresses have contributed significantly to the history of early modern women specifically focusing on maternity, professionalism, marriage, domestic life, and kinship networks. Considering “Actress Studies” as a distinct field highlights an important legacy of paradoxical ideologies about women, power, and fame that still operate today.
IT SEEMS AN UNACCOUNTABLE PLEASURE WHICH THE SPECTATORS OF a well- wrote tragedy receive from sorrow, terror, anxiety, and other passions, which are in themselves disagreeable and uneasy, " David Hume archly observed in the mid-eighteenth century. "they are pleased in proportion as they are afflicted, " he continued, "and never are so happy as when they employ tears, sobs, and cries to give vent to their sorrow, and relieve their heart, swoln with the tenderest sympathy and compassion" (216). Tragedies of all kinds, according to Hume, share the power to transform the disagreeable into "agreeable sorrow, and tears that delight us" (219), provoking an exquisitely complicated response. But with reference to Georgian drama in particular, it was the performance of tragedy in all its excess, however saccharine or bombastic, that brought inexplicable pleasure in spite of, indeed because of, the wrenching emotional engagement that drew audiences together into sociable communities of weeping spectators.
Famous as a salonniere, fashion icon and supporter of the Whig Party, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) was also a prolific writer, author of two epistolary novels, numerous poems and at least six manuscript plays. Just as she is in the process of being rediscovered as a novelist and poet, this article explores her even less well-known ambitions as a dramatist and her complex involvement in the theatrical world. The main focus is on the Duchess's earliest surviving play “Zillia” (1782), which is illuminating in connection to her development as a playwright, her interest in closet drama, and the pedagogical and political dimensions of her dramatic works. Particular attention is devoted to the ways in which Devonshire uses the language and discourse of sensibility to sketch an ideal of female aristocratic citizenship. The author also looks at the dynamics between the play and the work it was inspired by, Stephanie-Felicite de Genlis's Theatre a l'usage des jeunes personnes (Theatre of Education, 1779-80), which illustrate the anxieties surrounding debates about acting and its subversive potential, and the complex cultural appropriation of “foreign” drama in late eighteenth-century Britain. Additionally, the author shows how Devonshire's ambivalent comments on Genlis in her correspondence reflect her anxieties about her own authorship. Finally, the article briefly assesses the affinities between experimental “closet drama”, pedagogical plays and elite culture.
This article examines the role of gender in the popularisation of Shakespeare in the long eighteenth century, providing an overview of scholarship on three groups of women: actresses (the first women on the stage and later performers such as Catherine Clive, Susannah Cibber and Hannah Pritchard), women in the theatre audience (including Elizabeth Pepys and the Shakespeare Ladies Club) and female critics (notably Charlotte Lennox and Elizabeth Montagu). In addition to suggesting further reading on the topic of women and Shakespeare and highlighting directions for subsequent research, the essay demonstrates that women were instrumental in shaping the Bard's reputation in the period from the reopening of the theatres in 1660 to David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769, the height of the period's adulation of Shakespeare.
"Theatrical revolutions are as frequent, and owe their rise to the same principles, as those in the political world. —Pique, resentment, ambition, or interest, which ever motive happens to preponderate, brings them about." George Anne Bellamy, An Apology for the Life (1786) The London stage is haunted by the performances of plays recycled from earlier periods, many of which centered on pairs of historical or classical female characters. The new phenomenon of actresses —real, beautiful women —catapulted the antiquated roles into an eighteenth-century present. "Before the Restoration," writes theater manager, actor, and playwright Colley Cibber in his Apology, "no Actresses had ever been seen upon the English Stage. The Characters of Women, in former Theatres, were perform'd by Boys, or young Men of the most effeminate Aspect," but after their appearance as players, there was a radical shift, for "the additional Objects then of real, beautiful Women, could not but draw a proportion of new Admirers to the Theatre."1 The success of the innovation depended upon the erotic impact of live female bodies, but also, less obviously, upon the women's genuine entrepreneurial skill and increasing economic authority. Actual women engaged in rivalries kept heroic tragedies such as Nathaniel Lee's The Rival Queens, and other plays resembling it, viable. The characteristic scene of two women locked in combat remained a staple of the genre from The Mourning Bride (Zara-Alemeria), to All for Love (Octavia-Cleopatra), The Indian Emperour (Almeria-Cydaria) and Jane Shore (Jane-Alice), and the confrontation scene contributed to the popularity of the anachronistic plays for generations of theatergoers. In their sensational reenactments, the tragedies were transformed into what John Downes called "living play[s]," featuring living, breathing actress-characters for over more than a century.2 By considering ongoing productions of Nathaniel Lee's popular Restoration tragedy The Rival Queens, I will argue here that actresses drew the eighteenth-century theater into its contemporary moment by resetting and realigning the audience's relationship to time. Relevant to my argument here is Jean-Christophe Agnew's influential book, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theatre in Anglo-American Thought, 1550-1750 (1986), which posits that the separation between market and theater had fully emerged by the middle part of the eighteenth century. Agnew defines commercialism and theatricality as "abstracted properties" and argues that a more fluid market, with its timeless and fleeting elements, comes to replace a theater situated within specific material practices.3 As Natasha Korda succinctly frames the issue, Agnew, "in defining the 'situated phenomena' of the marketplace as residual, and the 'placeless and timeless' (x) market process as emergent (and ultimately dominant) privileges the latter." 4 This increasing abstraction of the market is represented in part for Agnew by the socially mobile actor for whom identity and class position were as unstable and unfixed as the emerging credit economy. But the concept of liquidity does not, as Korda points out, fully dominate the theater until the end of the eighteenth century and thus should not be applied to the earlier periods. Instead of "the placeless market," Korda astutely analyzes how the material practices of the theater economy before the eighteenth century intersected with the larger culture. Uncovering diverse networks of commerce, production, and exchange, she shows how women apprentices and workers in guilds, trades, and the informal economy of pawnbroking, for example, permeated Renaissance theater walls to blend the theater into the larger culture, even at this early juncture (195-96). Both Agnew and Korda largely exclude actresses from their consideration —in Agnew's case because he thinks of the actor as the "Protean man" (my emphasis) and consequently ignores the ways that a woman's situation differs vis-à-vis the market and the theater. Korda, on the other hand, is interested in the theater prior to the Restoration, and because the Renaissance stage included no women players, she focuses instead on tradeswomen's economic activities as they intermesh with theater productions. Here I will suggest that between 1700 and 1780, women, especially celebrated actresses, through their often invisible labor were intermediaries between residual modes of production and these newly emergent abstract and liquid practices. I join the many feminist...