Women Dramatists of the Early Eighteenth Century

Part of the English Dramatists book series (ENGDRAMA)


There is general agreement among critics that drama went into a long decline in the course of the eighteenth century. In the general uncertainty as to what might humour theatre-goers, plays became more diversified from the second decade of the century onwards, with ‘reformed’ Restoration comedies, sentimental comedies, farces, harlequinades, romances, tragi-comedies, heroic plays, ‘classical’ tragedies and historical tragedies being performed. Yet fewer new plays were put on by theatres and production opportunities were less easily forthcoming, a stiffening of climate felt especially by women playwrights, who found it difficult to establish a career in the theatre. Even those newcomers who were given a chance seem to have been quickly discouraged. Except for Centlivre with her prolific output, in the period until 1750 only two women had more than two legitimate plays performed on a London stage: Eliza Haywood, with four productions, and Mrs Hoper, with three. Charlotte Charke had two plays performed, and a puppet show, and Mrs Cooper could boast of two productions. Plays that were performed were not necessarily printed and are therefore lost, such as Letitia Pilkington’s comedy The Turkish Court, or The London Prentice (performed in Dublin in 1748), or the afterpiece The Maggot, which the actress Mrs Egleton wrote and performed on her own benefit night at Lincolri’s Inn Fields in 1732. Productions of new plays, of course, fell off sharply after the Licensing Act, when those women who had found a home in Fielding’s Haymarket Theatre found themselves on the street. So after 1737 it became more common to have an unacted play printed, a practice that had been comparatively rare except among aristocrats in earlier periods.


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Copyright information

© Margarete Rubik 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ViennaAustria

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