Females in Theatre and Drama in the 18th & 19th Century
Catherine II the Great
Catherine II the Great, Empress of Russia, who was born in 1729 and died of 1796 was a playwright, opera librettist and musician. In her lifetime she wrote fourteen comedies, nine opera librettos, seven proverb short plays and a number of other short plays and monologues. She created the Russian Imperial Opera and Ballet Theatre in 1783 and commissioned the building of the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St Petersburg.
She wrote nine opera texts in addition to fourteen comedies, seven proverbs (short plays), and other dramatic writings. Her first play was O Tempora (1772) which was “Composed at Yaroslaff during the terrible visitation of the plague.” The play is a romantic love story. In the same year she wrote Mrs. Grumble’s Birthday where she caricatures the elite and educated and their small mindedness.
Catherine the Great’s A Basketful of Linen is a translation and transposition of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. She also modelled her play Rurick is based on Shakespeare’s historical dramas. She was eclectic and diverse in her dramatic styles and content and even wrote to Voltaire about her desire to achieve a naturalism and truth in her work. Her other dramatic works include Передняя знатного боярина, комедия в одном действии - Perednyaya znatnogo boyarina (The Waiting Room of the Grang Boyard), Госпожа Вестникова с семьею, комедия в одном действии – Gospozha Vestnikova s semyoyu (Mme Vestnikova and her Family), Невеста-невидимка. комедия в одном действии – Nevesta-nevidimka (The Invisible Bride), Вот каково иметь корзину и белье, комедия в пяти действиях –Vot kakovo imet’ korzinu I belyo (This is How to Have Both the Basket and the Linen), Разносторонняя семья осторожками и подозрениями, комедия в пяти действиях – Raznostoronnyaya semya ostorozhkami i podozraniyami (The Versatile Family), Недоразумение, комедия в пяти действиях – Nedorazumeniye (The Confusion), Обманщик, комедия в пяти действиях – Obmanshchik (The Twister), Обольщенный, комедия в пяти действиях – Obolshchonny (The Seduced), Шаман Сибирский, комедия в пяти действиях – Shaman Sibirsky (Siberian Shaman), Из жизни Рюрика, историческое представление – Iz zhizni Rurika (From Rurik’s Life), Начальное управление Олега, историческое представление – Nachalnoye upravleniye Olega (The Early Reign of Oleg), Новгородский богатырь Боеслаевич, комическая опера – Novgorodsky bogatyr Boeslaevich (The Novgorod Hero Boyeslayevich), Горебогатырь Косометович, комическая опера – Gorebogatyr Kosometovich (The Unfortunate Hero Kosometovich), and Федул с детьми – Fedul s det’mi (Fedul and his Children)
Hannah Cowley was an English playwright and poet who was born in 1743 and died in 1809. Her comic plays are filled with witty dialogue, interesting comic characters and archetypes and intricate plots. Her best known plays her first play The Runaway (1776) written in 1776 and The Belles Stratagem written and performed in 1780. She wrote in variety of styles and she had periods of great prodigiousness such as between 1776 and 1777 when she wrote and had three plays performed The Runaway (a social satire), Who’s the Dupe? (a farce) and Albina (a tragedy).
Cowley’s life, like her plays, often drew criticism and controversy. Some of the common themes in her plays were how women face and must overcome the prejudice and inequalities of family decisions, conventions and social customs. Her plays were popular and performed often at large venues like Drury Lane. She even had an altercation with another female playwright when she claimed that Hannah More had copied or plagiarized events and passages from Cowley’s own play Albina. She went on to write many other plays through the 1780’s right up until 1794. Alternative play titles were popular in the late 18th Century so some have alternative titles or subtitles. Some of these plays include The World as It Goes or a Party at Montpelier (later re-performed under the title of Second Thoughts Are Best), Which is the Man?, A Bold Stroke for a Husband, More Ways Than One, A School for Greybeards or The Mourning Bride, The Fate of Sparta or The Rival Kings, A Day in Turkey, or, The Russian Slaves and The Town Before You; into production.
One of the most prolific female playwrights during this period was actress, novelist and playwright Elizabeth Inchbald (who was born Elizabeth Simpson in 1753). She overcame a stammer and eventually performed on the London stage at the age of eighteen. By the age of thirty-one she had started writing for the stage and she wrote some 22 or 23 plays most of which were comedies in the Restoration Comedy, farces and social satire styles. Her plays include Mogul Tale; or, The Descent of the Balloon (1784), Appearance is against Them (1785), I'll Tell You What (1785), The Widow's Vow (1786), The Midnight Hour (1787), All on a Summer’s Day (1787), Such Things Are (1787), The Child of Nature (1788), Animal Magnetism (1788), The Married Man (1789), Next Door Neighbours (1791), Everyone has his Fault (1793), To Marry, or not to Marry (1793), The Wedding Day (1794), Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are (1797), Lovers’ Vows (1798), The Wise Man of the East (1799) and The Massacre (1792). After 1790, she devoted more of her time to writing reviews of plays and she is perhaps the first female theatre critic and reviewer. Although she died in 1821, the following plays were performed and/or published after her death - A Case of Conscience, The Ancient Law, The Hue and Cry and Young Men and Old Women (Lovers No Conjurers).
The English playwright, satirist, novel and memoir writer Frances Burnley was popularly known as Fanny Burney. Her plays include the verse tragedies Hubert de Vere, 1789, Edwy and Elgiva (1790), The Siege of Pevensey (1790) and Elberta (1791). However, her more popular plays were her satires or satirical comedies of which four survive The Witlings (1779), Love and Fashion (1799), The Woman Hater (1800) and A Busy Day (1801).
The Scottish playwright Joanna Baillie was a prolific and diversely talented writer who was born in 1762 and lived and wrote for the next 88 years. She wrote tragedies, comedies, farces, romantic comedies, patriotic vitriols, gothic tragedies, musical dramas and melodramas. Her work was widely admired and performed for many years. The introductory commentaries and prefaces to her published works Plays of Passion (Volumes 1, 2 and 3) contain her strong dramaturgical and conceptual attitudes and conceptions of theatre and drama particularly in relation to the expressions of emotion and the concepts of human nature. Some of her work includes Arnold (1790), Plays on the Passions Volume 1 - (1798 which includes Count Basil, The Tryal and De Monfort), Henriquez (1800), The Separation (1802), The Election (1802), Ethwald (1802), The Second Marriage (1802), Rayner (1804), Constantine Paleologus (1804 but also was staged later under the name Constantine and Valeria), The Country Inn (1804), Family Legend (1810), Orra (1812), The Dream (1812), The Siege (1812) and The Beacon (1812). Appreciation for her plays grew during the 1820’s and 1830’s and many of her plays appeared on the stages of Edinburgh, Liverpool, Dublin and London during these decades.
The German female actress and writer Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer was born in Stuttgart in 1800. She started her acting career at the age of 13 but by the age of 25 started to realise that she had a knack for writing plays and adapting novels for the stage. Some of her novel stage adaptations include Dorf und Stadt, Die Frau in Weiss, Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, Die Grille, Nacht und Morgen and Die Waise aus Lowood (which was her adaptation of Bronte’s Jane Eyre). Her other plays include Der Goldbauer, Die Günstlinge, Der Herr Studiosus, Hinko, Kind des Glücks, Steffen Langer aus Glogau oder Der holländische Kamin, Der Leiermann und sein Pflegekind, Pfefferrösel and Mutter und Sohn. One of the other interesting elements of her career is that from 1837 until her death in 1868, she was the Theatre manager of theatres in Zurich and later in Berlin. This means that she is probably one of the first known female theatre managers with control over programming, staging and financial management of major theatre companies.
Amalie Marie Friederike Auguste
Amalie Marie Friederike Auguste, Princess of Saxony, was another prominent German female of this period. She composed music under the penname of A. Serena, and drama under the penname of Amalie Heiter. She wrote about 12 comic operas and about the same number of comic plays. Her most popular comic plays were Der Onkel (“The Uncle”) and Die Fürstenbraut (“The Prince's bride”) were written during the late 1830’s. A complete edition of her plays was published in 1843 under the title Originalbeiträge zur deutschen Schaubühne (“Original contributions to the German stage,” 6 vols., 1837–42). Six of her comic plays were translated into English in 1846 by Jameson and another six were translated two years later.
The French writer and composer Louise-Angélique Bertin performed in a number of operas and musical performances before writing her first operas. Her first opera Guy Mannering was staged in a private performance in 1825. Her second opera was Le Loup-garou which was staged in 1827. Her third opera was an adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, and Fausto was first staged in 1830. The next year she started working with Victor Hugo and in 1836, La Esmeralda (based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was performed. Up to her death in 1877, she publically read her poetry and even put some of it to music.
In Russia, one of the most prolific female playwrights of the late 18th century was the Empress of Russia, Catherine II the Great. She was not just a supporter of the arts but her canon includes She wrote fourteen comedies, seven proverbs (short plays), and nine opera librettos. other dramatic writings. She was also a great collaborator who worked with Elagin, Khrapovitsky and Pashkevich Her work from 1785 until 1795 include O Tempora!, Mrs Grumble’s Birthday, The Waiting Room of the Grang Boyard, Mme Vestnikova and her Family, The Invisible Bride, This is How to Have Both the Basket and the Linen, The Versatile Family, The Confusion, The Twister, The Seduced, Shaman Sibirsky (Siberian Shaman), From Rurik’s Life, The Early Reign of Oleg, The Novgorod Hero Boyeslayevich, The Unfortunate Hero Kosometovich and the comic opera Fedul and his Children.
References for European Female Theatre and Drama in the 18th & 19th Century
Carhart, M.S. (1923). The Life and Work of Joanna Baillie. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Chisholm, H. (ed.). (1911) "Birch-Pfeiffer, Charlotte". Encyclopaedia Britannica. (11th ed.). Cambridge, UK.: Cambridge University Press.
De Madariaga, I. (2002). Catherine the Great: a short history. Yale University Press.
Finberg, M. C., ed. (2001). Introduction. Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists. Oxford; New York: Oxford UP, 2001, xxxv – xxxvi.
Gilman, D.C., Peck, H.T. & Colby, F.M. (eds.). (1905). “Birch=Pfeiffer, Charlotte”. New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd Mead.
Karlinsky, S. (1984). Russian Comic Opera in the Age of Catherine the Great. Nineteenth-Century Music, 318-325.
Manvell, R. (1987). Elizabeth Inchbald: England’s Principal Woman Dramatist and Independent Woman of Letters in 18th Century London: A Biographical Study. Lanham, MD: U of America.
Smallwood. A. (2001). Women Playwrights, Politics and Convention: the Case of Elizabeth Inchbald’s "Seditious" Comedy, Every One Has His Fault (1793). Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Hallam University. Retrieved from https://www2.shu.ac.uk/corvey/cw3journal/issues/smallwood.html
Starr, J. (2009). Dancing into the Spotlight: Louise Bertin and La Esmeralda. Women in French Studies. New Orleans: University of New Orleans. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=fl_facpubs
The Complete Plays of Frances Burney. (1995). Vol. 1, Comedies; Vol. 2, Tragedies. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Woodbridge, CT : Yorkin, 1999: 254–255.
Works by Elizabeth Inchbald. (2011). Fadedpage. Retrieved from http://fadedpage.com/csearch.php?author=Inchbald%2C%20Elizabeth