The Seventeenth Century

  • Sandra Richards


When the first women stepped onto a public English stage in the early seventeenth century the Puritan William Prynne complained, ‘they have now their female-players in Italy, and other foreign parts — and in Michaelmas 1629 they had French women-actors in a play personated at Blackfriars, to which there was a great resort’.1


Seventeenth Century Bridges Street Favourite Character Biographical Dictionary Restoration Theatre 
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  1. 2.
    Dr John Doran, Their Majesties’ Servants: Annals of the English Stage, vol. I (London: William H. Allen & Co., 1864), p. 60.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    E. K. Chambers, Modern Language Review, XI (October 1916) 466. Also, see Chambers’s book The Medieval Stage, vol. II (London, 1948), p. 409.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Thornton Shirley Graves, ‘Women of the Pre-Restoration Stage,’ Studies in Philology, XXII, No. 2 (1925) 189, 192–3. The record on which Graves draws is Reyher’s Les Masques Anglais, p. 25.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Robert Latham and William Matthews (eds), The Diary of Samuel Pepys, vol. I (London, 1970), p. 224.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    She was introduced to the world by means of a hilarious prologue especially written by Thomas Jordan to show what a ridiculous figure the boy-actor had been cutting: Henry Wisham Lanier, The First English Actresses: 1660–1700 (New York, 1930), p. 31. First printed in G. Malone (ed.), Works of Shakespeare, vol. III (1821 edn), p. 128.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Allardyce Nicoll, A History of English Drama: 1660–1900, vol. I (Cambridge University Press, 1955), p. 334.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    George Scott Saintsbury (ed.), The Works of John Dryden, vol. II (Edinburgh, 1882), p. 510. The occasion took place in June 1672 at the King’s Company’s temporary playhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.Google Scholar
  8. See also Philip Henry Highfill, Kaiman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans (eds), Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians and Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel: 1660–1800 vol. XII (Southern Illinois University Press, 1973-), p. 299. The epilogue first appeared in Covent Garden Drolery (1672), is included in Montague Summers’s more recent (1927) edition of the work on pp. 1–2, and was first attributed to John Dryden by Sir Walter Scott in the Saintsbury edition, pp. 509–11.Google Scholar
  9. William Bradford Gardner, The Prologues and Epilogues of John Dryden (Columbia University Press, 1950), p. 197 notes, however, that the evidence for Dryden’s authorship of the epilogue remains inconclusive.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Judith Milhous, ‘Elizabeth Bowtell and Elizabeth Davenport: Some Puzzles Solved’, Theatre Notebook, XXXIX (1985) 124–31.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    J. H. Wilson, ‘Biographical Notes on Some Restoration Actresses’, Theatre Notebook, XVIII (1963/4) 43–7.Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    Cibber, Apology, pp. 96, 99, 101–2. Playwrights like Davenant, Dryden, Shadwell, Tate and Crowne expanded women’s roles in Shakespeare and added female parts if not already there. See William Van Lennep (ed.), The London Stage, vol. I (Southern Illinois University Press, 1965), p. cxxx.Google Scholar
  13. 46.
    Judith Milhous, Theatre Notebook, XXXIX, No. 3 (1985) p. 127. The incident was first recorded in Narcissus Luttrell’s A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, vol. IV (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1857), p. 169.Google Scholar
  14. 48.
    See Thomas Macaulay, History of England, vol. III (London: J. M. Dent, 1906; repr. 1953), p. 380, and Biographical Dictionary, vol. II, p. 278.Google Scholar
  15. 52.
    Montague Summers (ed.), The Complete Works of William Congreve (The Nonsuch Press: London, 1923), p. 78. The entire ‘Song’ contains two verses:Google Scholar
  16. 53.
    Roswell Gray Ham, Otway and Lee: Biographies from a Baroque Age (Yale University Press, 1931), pp. 86–7.Google Scholar
  17. 54.
    Montague Summers, The Restoration Theatre (London, 1934), pp. 86–9.Google Scholar
  18. 59.
    Otway’s Venice Preserved, I, i, 337–42 as printed in J. C. Ghosh (ed.), The Works of Thomas Otway (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1932). Jeremy Collier quotes several salient examples of anti-feminism in Restoration plays.Google Scholar
  19. 60.
    David Bond, ‘Nell Gwyn’s Birthdate’, Theatre Notebook, XL (1986) 3–9. This recent piece of scholarship establishes that from the evidence of Nell Gwyn’s stage career, there is no reason to suppose that the actress was born any later than 1650 and there is, in fact, more persuasive reason to believe that she was still in her teens during the 1660s. Bond notes that the ‘madcap’ was Nell’s specialty and the ‘most distinctive contribution to the drama of the time’, and he describes her as usually a wayward young girl, witty, resourceful, mischievous and forthright, most often a younger sister or dependent cousin of 15 or 16 as Florimel and Mirida were (see Bond, pp. 5–6).Google Scholar
  20. 61.
    Arthur Irwin Dasent, Nell Gwynne: 1650–87 (London: Macmillan, 1924), pp. 32, 36.Google Scholar
  21. (See T. W. Craik (gen. ed.), Revels History of Drama in English, vol. V (London: Methuen, 1976), p. 172.Google Scholar
  22. John Harrington, The Gay Couple in Restoration Comedy (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1948), pp. 47–97 traces the development of this new comic convention from 1663 to 1676 toward playing the love game for its own sake rather than with a view to marriage, though later plays restored the social advantage to men by re-imposing the double standard, i.e. women could only win their man if they succeeded in marrying him.Google Scholar
  23. 69.
    Peter Cunningham, The Story of Nell Gwyn and the Sayings of Charles II (London, 1927), p. 127.Google Scholar
  24. 74.
    John Harold Wilson, Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress (London, 1952), p. 242.Google Scholar

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© Sandra Richards 1993

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  • Sandra Richards

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