“I here and there o’heard a Coxcomb cry,
Ah, rot—’tis a Woman’s Comedy.”
Thus Aphra Behn ushers in a new era for women in the British Theatre (Sir Patient Fancy, 1678). In the hundred years that were to follow—and exactly those years that Curtain Calls examines—women truly took the theater world by storm.
For each woman who chose a career in the theater world of the eighteenth century, there is a unique tale of struggle, insult, success, good or bad fortune, disaster, seduction, or fame. Whether acting, writing, reviewing, or stage managing, women played a major, if frequently unacknowledged, role in the history of the theater from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries. From Alpha Behn’s earliest plays through the glorious celebrity of Sara Siddons, women molded the taste of the age and carved out in the theater one of the few available opportunities for independence and renown.
Not all the women who tried succeeded, of course, and even the best faced opposition as they challenged the male stronghold of playwriting and theater managing. Curtain Calls maps the new territory as these pioneering women staked it for their own; it chronicles their lives, their triumphs, and their losses.
We begin with Aphra Behn, whose first play was staged in 1670, and conclude in the early decades of the nineteenth century with Inchbald and Siddons. The one hundred and fifty years encompassed by their lives contain the careers of dozens of lesser–known women, a network, as Dr. Johnson would have it, encompassing both talent and tribulation.
Contributors include: Edward Langhans, Linda R. Payne, Pat Rogers, Maureen e. Mulvihill, Deborah Payne, Betty Rizzo, Ellen Donkin, Frances M. Kavenik, Jessica Munns, nancy Cotton, Edna L. Steevs, Doreen Saar, Jean B. Kern, Katherine M. Rogers, Constance Clark, William J. Burling, Judith Phillips Stanton, Douglas Butler, Rose Zimbardo, and the editors.
Mary Anne Schofield is professor of English at St. Bonaventure University. Macheski and Schofield are also the editors of Fettr’d or Free? British Women novelists, 1670–1815 (Ohio, 1986). More info →
Cecilia Macheski is associate professor of English at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY. More info →
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