Restoration Actress in Her Seventeenth-Century Social. Political, and Artistic Context: Nell Gwyn, Elizabeth Barry, and Anne Bracegirdle

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This book investigates the lives and careers of the Restoration era’s three most famous actresses: Nell Gwyn, Elizabeth Barry, and Anne Bracegirdle. It elucidates how these powerful women’s offstage reputations and their greatest performances were agents of political, social, and cultural change.


“Popple creates a framework from which to reexamine the Restoration by linking each of the three Restoration monarchs to a famous actress popular during that reign… the result is a thoughtful, engaging piece of scholarly literature that can easily be read for pleasure as it can for education.”
-Dr. Lisa Hall Hagen,
Assistant Professor,
Utah Valley University

“Popple maintains academic rigor and impeccable skill in linking each of the three monarchs during the Restoration with a popular actress during that king’s reign. These parings are a fascinating way to navigate through this time in history… This book is a treasure for multiple disciplines – especially theatre studies, women’s and gender studies and history.”
-Dr. Beth Osnes,
Assistant Professor,
University of Colorado

Table of Contents

Foreword by Lisa Hall Hagen
Acknowledgments/ Introduction
When the Actress Took the Stage:
Positioning the Restoration Actress in Her Social and Political Context

Scope of Study
Theory and Method
Chapter Divisions
Study Objectives
Chapter One: Setting the Stage
Politics Before 1649
English Interregnum
Preparations Begin
A Monarch Restored
Theatre Returns
Restoration Theatres
The Introduction of the Actress
Restoration Theatres as Businesses
Playwrights and Plays
Performance Conventions
Restoration Audiences
Sexuality and Difference Onstage
Chapter Two:
The Golden Years: Nell Gwyn and the Early Restoration, 1660-1665

The Restoration’s Cinderella
Charles II and the Early Restoration Court
Nell Gwyn’s Theatrical Introduction
Personal Appearance
James Howard’s All Mistaken, or, The Mad Couple
Mirida: The Female Libertine
The Proviso Scene Upended
The Mad Couple Takes Power
The Untamed Woman
All Mistaken and the Carnivalesque
Mirida as Signifier of Charles II’s Hobbesian Values
Stage Repertoire
Romantic Relationships
The Merry Fool
The Establishment of the Icon: Nell Gwyn in Contemporaneous Literature and Portraiture
Chapter Three:
The Cracks Appear: Nell Gwyn and the Early Restoration, 1666-1675

God’s Punishments Arrive: The Plague and the Fire
The Theatres Reopen
John Dryden’s Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen
Florimell: The Female Faux-Libertine
A Proviso Scene for “Equals”
An Unbalanced Ending
Mirida vs. Florimell
The Myth Begins to Crumble
The Incapable Tragedian
Negative Public Image
The Kept Woman
Contemporaneous Images: The Liminal Actress
The End of an Era
Chapter Four
A Nation Afraid: Elizabeth Barry and the Mid-Restoration, 1675-1688

Elizabeth Barry’s Early Life
From Spectacular Failure to Sensational Success
The Actress and the Libertine
Barry’s Return to the Theatre
England’s Tragic Muse
Personal Life
Thomas Otway’s The Orphan
An Uncertain Time
Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserved
Belvidera as Victim
The Passionate Wife
Control through Victimization
Belvidera Takes Power
Parallels in Sexual Violence and Sado-Masochism
Danger in Emotion
The Warning
Monarchical Approval
Otway’s Dangerous Message
Destabilizing the Center
Chapter Five
The Woman Question: Elizabeth Barry and the Mid-Restoration, 1675-1688

Elizabeth Barry and Aphra Behn
Aphra Behn’s The City Heiress
The City Heiress as Tory Propaganda
Woman’s Burden of Honor
The Passionate, Sacrificial Woman
Proviso Scene for Men Only
The Libertine “Code” Exposed
Elizabeth Barry’s Influence
The Restoration Theatre’s Powerful Businesswoman
The Non-Conformist’s Thirty-Five Year Stage Career
Barry as Mid-Restoration Symbol
Chapter Six
The Moral Revolution: Anne Bracegirdle and the Late Restoration, 1688-1707

Anne Bracegirdle: An Auspicious Beginning
England’s Dilemma: A Catholic King or Civil War
England’s “Glorious” Revolution
William and Mary: A New Moral Standard
Anne Bracegirdle’s Early Career
England’s Virgin Actress
Anne Bracegirdle Portrays the Virtuous Rape Victim Onstage
Anne Bracegirdle: Successful Comedian and Tragedian
Thomas Durfey’s The Marriage Hater Match’d
Phaebe as Sexual and Chaste
The Shift to Conservative Values
Rehabilitating the Libertine
The Marriage Hater Match’d and Queen Mary II
Anne Bracegirdle’s Tragedy: Life Imitating Art
Anne Bracegirdle Returns to the Stage
Chapter Seven
King William’s Symbol: Anne Bracegirdle and the Late Restoration,1688-1707

Chapter Eight
Recovering the Voice of the Restoration Actress

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