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Elizabeth Griffith: Celebrating and Extending the Irish Anglican Dramatic Tradition

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Abstract

Between the late seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries, a number of Irish Anglican playwrights found success after moving to London and writing English-set plays which commented archly upon the new country in which they found themselves and which often subtly included Irish subject matter. This line of playwrights is often said to extend from Farquhar and Congreve to Wilde and Shaw, but critics interested in Irish women’s writing have long argued that more women should be included in this pantheon of writers. One Irish female playwright who should certainly be considered part of this dramatic “school” is Elizabeth Griffith; in her five major plays which debuted in London between 1765 and 1779, she too examined the English with a critical, outsider’s eye and commented on Irish socio-political matters. Griffith should also be seen as part of this Irish Anglican dramatic tradition because she was very conscious of writing within that tradition.

Keywords

  • Elizabeth Griffith
  • Irish Women’s Writing
  • Irish Drama
  • Irish Women Playwrights

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Kiberd, Irish Writer and the World, 23. For other prominent examples of this, see Roche, Irish Dramatic Revival, 12, 15; Grene, Politics of Irish Drama, 1; Deane, Short History of Irish Literature, 9; Mercier, Irish Comic Tradition, 79; Mac Liammóir, Theatre in Ireland, 7.

  2. 2.

    See, for example, Ward, “Caught in a Contract”; Heard, Experimentation on the English Stage; Griffin, Enlightenment in Ruins; Clare, “Goldsmith, the Gate, and the Hibernicising of Anglo-Irish Plays”; O’Toole, Traitor’s Kiss; Killeen, Faiths of Oscar Wilde; Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook.

  3. 3.

    Griffith’s other plays, besides the five covered in this chapter, include the closet dramas Theodorick , King of Denmark (1752) and Amana: A Dramatic Poem (1764); her translation of Diderot’s Dorval ; or, the Test of Virtue (1767); and her adaptation of Beaumarchais’s The Barber of Seville ; or, The Useless Precaution (1776). It should be noted that some critics have cast doubt over her authorship of the anonymously published her authorship of the anonymously published Theodorick and Dorval.

  4. 4.

    Griffith’s fictional works include the novels The Delicate Distress (1769), The History of Lady Barton (1771), and The Story of Lady Juliana Harley (1776), as well as fourteen of the short stories included in the multi-authored volume Novellettes (1780). Her non-fiction works include an influential critical study entitled The Morality of Shakespeare’s Drama Illustrated (1775) and Essays , Addressed to Young Married Women (1782). Griffith also translated several French works into English between 1761 and 1788 and edited the popular, multi-volume anthology A Collection of Novels (1777).

  5. 5.

    Rizzo, “‘Depressa Resurgam’,” 127.

  6. 6.

    The six-night run meant that Griffith made a fair amount of money from the play, since she benefitted from two “author benefit nights.” As Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy explain: “The repertory system [used in the eighteenth century] involved author benefit nights on the third, sixth, and ninth performance of a successful run, whereby the box office receipts less the costs of the house would go directly to the author, which meant that writing for the theatre could prove very rewarding indeed.” (Griffin and O’Shaughnessy, Introduction to The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith, liv.) Rizzo estimates that, “depending on the value and number of the benefit tickets” sold, Griffith might have earned as much as “£300” from The Platonic Wife’s two benefit nights plus “£100” from the sale of the script’s copyright to her publishers. (Rizzo , “‘Depressa Resurgam’,” 128.)

  7. 7.

    Clare, “Why Did George Farquhar’s Work Turn Sectarian After The Constant Couple?” 160.

  8. 8.

    Griffith, Platonic Wife, 96.

  9. 9.

    Ó Gallchoir, “Irish Wit on the London Stage,” Chapter Three. It should be noted that Ó Gallchoir and David O’Shaughnessy have both discussed Patrick’s expanded and even more heroic role in the draft originally submitted to the Lord Chamberlain, England’s theatrical censor. (See Ó Gallchoir, “Irish Wit on the London Stage”; O’Shaughnessy, “The Platonic Wife (1765) LA 244.”)

  10. 10.

    Mann et al., Women Playwrights in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 116.

  11. 11.

    Rizzo, “‘Depressa Resurgam’,” 129. For similar views from other critics, see Mann et al., Women Playwrights in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 117.

  12. 12.

    Rizzo, “‘Depressa Resurgam’,” 129. For the limited nature of the proto-feminism in The Platonic Wife, see Ó Gallchoir. “Irish Wit on the London Stage.”

  13. 13.

    Griffith, Double Mistake, 56. For “Biddy” as an anti-Irish slur, see McCabe, “Paddywhacking and Mick-taking: Of Being on First-name Terms with the Irish Other,” Endnote 2; Murphy, “Bridget and Biddy.”

  14. 14.

    Griffith, Double Mistake, 10.

  15. 15.

    Ibid., 11.

  16. 16.

    Ibid.

  17. 17.

    Ibid., 12.

  18. 18.

    At one point, Lord Somerville angrily implies that the Belmonts are not “properly” British (in comparison with himself). However, he focuses on the French origin of their surname in his insults. (Ibid., 35.)

  19. 19.

    Ibid., 24, 25, 50, 61.

  20. 20.

    Griffith, School for Rakes, 5; Griffith, Wife in the Right, 27; Griffith, The Times, 64.

  21. 21.

    See Clare, “Goldsmith, the Gate, and the Hibernicising of Anglo-Irish Plays,” 239–259; Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook, 34–36, 93–94.

  22. 22.

    Griffith, Double Mistake, 14.

  23. 23.

    Douglas and Ross, Introduction and Notes to The Triumph of Prudence over Passion, 26.

  24. 24.

    Ibid., 191–192.

  25. 25.

    Griffith, School for Rakes, Advertisement. Italics in original.

  26. 26.

    Corporaal, “‘There’s no Place like old England’,” Chapter One.

  27. 27.

    Frances Sheridan’s A Trip to Bath was famously (and unjustly) rejected by David Garrick at Drury Lane; as such, what survives of the manuscript was not published until 1902 and therefore would have been unknown to Griffith and many of the other playwrights listed here.

  28. 28.

    Like Eton Montem , Edgeworth’s 1786 home theatrical The Double Disguise is set in a country inn in England . However, that (fascinating) play was not published until 2014, and therefore cannot be said to have influenced the ongoing Irish Anglican dramatic tradition.

  29. 29.

    One might also list Clotilde Graves’s A Mother of Three (1896); however, it must be noted that Graves , raised Anglican, converted to Catholicism around the time of the play’s premiere.

  30. 30.

    Griffith, School for Rakes, 4, 36, 60, 76, 81.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., 36, 81.

  32. 32.

    Ibid., 68.

  33. 33.

    Ibid., 60.

  34. 34.

    Ibid., 28.

  35. 35.

    Ibid., 66.

  36. 36.

    Ibid., 74.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., 59.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., 5.

  39. 39.

    Ibid., 1–2.

  40. 40.

    Ibid., 42. For Willis’s other anti-Welsh remarks, see Ibid., 41, 55.

  41. 41.

    Ibid., 5; 30.

  42. 42.

    Ibid., 30.

  43. 43.

    Ibid., 38, 61.

  44. 44.

    Mann et al., Women Playwrights in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 357.

  45. 45.

    It is possible that the actor and playwright Clive was born in London. However, her father was a celebrated Irishman (William Raftor) who served in the army of Louis XIV and was lawyer to James II, and she always placed great emphasis on her Irish background.

  46. 46.

    Mann et al., Women Playwrights in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 357.

  47. 47.

    Leigh, Touché, 47. It should be noted that Griffith also features Steele-esque “averted duels” in The Double Mistake and The School for Rakes.

  48. 48.

    Griffith, Wife in the Right, 13, 15–16, 22, 47, 66–67.

  49. 49.

    Ibid., 22.

  50. 50.

    Ibid., 13.

  51. 51.

    Ibid., 66–67.

  52. 52.

    As quoted in Holroyd, Bernard Shaw Volume 2, 81. This quote comes from the “Author’s Instructions to the Producer.” It should be noted that Shaw spelled certain words in his own idiosyncratic way: for example, he always spelled show as “shew,” as is evident from this quote.

  53. 53.

    Griffith, Wife in the Right, 87.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., 88.

  55. 55.

    Rizzo, “‘Depressa Resurgam’,” 138.

  56. 56.

    Mann et al., Women Playwrights in England, Ireland, and Scotland, 327.

  57. 57.

    Ibid.

  58. 58.

    Clare, “Goldsmith, the Gate, and the Hibernicising of Anglo-Irish Plays,” 252–253; Wilde, Complete Works, 118.

  59. 59.

    Griffith, The Times , 4, 6. Macklin’s Colonel Mushroom (an epicurean) may also have informed the creation of another unseen character in Griffith’s play: Sir Harry Granger.

    It should be noted that there is one other open allusion to the Irish dramatic tradition in the play: the Yorkshire-born but Kilkenny - and Dublin-educated William Congreve is namechecked in the play’s Prologue. (Ibid., vii.)

  60. 60.

    Ibid., 59. Emphasis mine.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., 73.

  62. 62.

    Ibid., 47.

  63. 63.

    Ibid., 24.

  64. 64.

    Ibid., 33. Emphasis in original.

  65. 65.

    In late 2015, the Abbey Theatre announced its “Waking the Nation” programme, which would mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Only one of the ten plays being produced was by a woman (Me Mollser, by Ali White); this was a short companion piece to the mainstage production of Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (1926) and was to be produced primarily in schools. A grassroots movement called #WakingTheFeminists (WTF) emerged, and this organisation would do much over the ensuing years to highlight gender inequality in the Irish theatre sector. See, for example, the vitally important report they put together: Donohue et al., Gender Counts.

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Clare, D. (2021). Elizabeth Griffith: Celebrating and Extending the Irish Anglican Dramatic Tradition. In: Irish Anglican Literature and Drama. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-68353-5_2

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