Restoration Actresses During the Reign of Charles II

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Beate Braun

Restoration Actresses During the Reign of Charles II with Special Regard to the Diary of Samuel Pepys

ISBN 978-3-88476-114-4, ISBN 3-88476-114-5, 288 S., kt., € 28,00 (1995)

Contemporaries as well as 19th and 20th century historians and theatre critics have written about the outstanding theatrical innovation of Restoration England: the appearance of the first professional actresses. Many writers, however, have reflected traditional attitudes to gender by showing more interest in the private lives and scandals of these women than in their acting abilities. By contrast, this study places the emphasis on Restoration actresses as women working for a living in a world dominated by men. These actresses were a new breed, some of the very first career women. They were among the first women who had the chance to develop professional skills and, by their own efforts, to achieve a certain financial independence and a rise in social status. But like working women of later times they had to find ways of combining their various roles – in private and on stage. This study is intended as a contribution to the ongoing investigation of the part played by women in the history of the English theatre. It examines the circumstances favouring or inhibiting the employment of actresses in England, chronicles the events leading up to this important innovation and describes its consequences. What was the social situation of women in 16th and 17th century England? Why were actresses introduced onto the London Stage in 1660? What was the daily life of a Restoration audience and what was their reaction to the new female professionals? The analysis of hitherto unpublished archive material brings new details to light and the whole Restoration period comes to life in the biographical sketches of actresses such as Mary Betterton and Mary Moll Davis. There is a close examination of the illuminating relationship between the theatre-lover and diarist Samuel Pepys and actress Mrs. Knepp. While avoiding narrow ideological bias this study aims to present both well-known facts and newly discovered information in a distinctively modern light.