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_Introduction by_






George Robert Guffey, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Earl Miner, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Maximillian E. Novak, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Robert Vosper, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_


Richard C. Boys, _University of Michigan_
James L. Clifford, _Columbia University_
Ralph Cohen, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Vinton A. Dearing, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Arthur Friedman, _University of Chicago_
Louis A. Landa, _Princeton University_
Samuel H. Monk, _University of Minnesota_
Everett T. Moore, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Lawrence Clark Powell, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_
James Sutherland, _University College, London_
H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., _University of California, Los Angeles_


Edna C. Davis, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_


_The Female Wits; Or, The Triumvirate of Poets at Rehearsal_, published
anonymously in 1704 with "written by Mr. W. M." on the titlepage, was
played at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane around October, 1696. [1] A
devastating satire in the manner of Buckingham's _The Rehearsal_, it
attacks all plays by women playwrights but Mary de la Riviere Manley's
blood and thunder female tragedy, _The Royal Mischief_ (1696), in
particular. _The Female Wits_ resembles _The Rehearsal_ in that the
satire is directed not only at the subject matter and style of a
particular type of drama but supplies searing portrayals of recognizable
persons - in this case, of Mrs. Manley herself, and to a lesser degree,
of Mary Pix and Catherine Trotter (later Cockburn). It also follows
Buckingham's satire in that the actors play double roles - that of the
characters assigned to them and their own - and in so doing, reveal their
own personalities with astonishing clarity.

Colley Cibber tells the best stories of the chaos that ensued after the
secession of Betterton and most of the veteran actors in 1695 from the
dominance of Christopher Rich at Drury Lane. [2] Since Betterton had
been virtual dictator in London since 1682, he was able to command the
efforts, at least at first, of most of the well-known playwrights who
had written for the company before the establishment of his theatre in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. Young playwrights scrambled to ingratiate
themselves with one or the other of the two London managements. Among
them, there had been three women with four plays in less than a year.

When Mrs. Manley arrived upon the dramatic scene with her first play,
_The Lost Lover; Or, The Jealous Husband_, in March, 1696, she bore the
brunt of a growing criticism against a surfeit of female plays. But when
she protested in the preface of the printed version that "I think my
Treatment much severer than I deserv'd; I am satisfied the bare Name of
being a Woman's Play damn'd it beyond its own want of Merit," she took
upon herself the combined animus of the masculine critics. In the same
preface, she challenged them boldly with "Once more, my Offended Judges,
I am to appear before you, once more in possibility of giving you the
like Damning Satisfaction; there is a Tragedy of mine Rehearsing, which
'tis too late to recall, I consent it meet with the same Fortune." The
other play was _The Royal Mischief_.

One learns from _The Female Wits_ that Mrs. Manley considered herself
privileged at Drury Lane, that _The Royal Mischief_ had gone into
rehearsal, but that her imperious manner had alienated the actors who
laughed at her dramatic pretentions; and that she had stormed out of the
Theatre Royal vowing never again to honor them with her works. After
much bickering among patrons, patentees, players, and playwright, _The
Royal Mischief_ was finally presented by the newly formed Betterton
company at Lincoln's Inn Fields in May, 1696, instead of by the company
of actors led by George Powell at the rival Drury Lane Theatre. At
least, this is what is represented in _The Female Wits_, and although
highly exaggerated, it is essentially true. The time: March or April,

_The Female Wits_ is correctly compared in its preface to the satiric
masterpiece which had been written as a corrective to the bombastic
tragedy supplied by Dryden, Howard, and others in the early years of the
Restoration. With _The Rehearsal_, Buckingham and his fellow wits had
supposedly succeeded in laughing heroic tragedy into oblivion in the
1670's. By the 1690's, another type of heroic drama, equally unrealistic
but tinged with sentimentality, was enjoying a certain success. The
chief purveyors of this new drama which pleased the Ladies were a group
of women who seemed impervious to masculine criticism. In the 1690's,
therefore, another set of self-appointed critics evidently dedicated
itself to laughing the female authors off the stage. _A Comparison
between the Two Stages_, an anonymous satirical summary of drama from
1695 to 1702, echoes the attitude of the author of _The Female Wits_
toward women playwrights. When _The Lost Lover_, Mrs. Manley's first
play, is brought up for discussion, Critick demands

What occasion had you to name a Lady in the confounded
Work you're about?

Sullen: Here's a Play of hers.

Critick: The Devil there is: I wonder in my Heart we are so lost
to all Sense and Reason: What a Pox have the Women to
do with the Muses? I grant you the Poets call the Nine
Muses by the Names of Women, but why so? not because
the Sex had any thing to do with Poetry, but because in
the Sex they're much fitter for prostitution.

Rambler: Abusive, now you're abusive, Mr. Critick.

Critick: Sir, I tell you we are abus'd: I hate these Petticoat-Authors;
'tis false Grammar, there's no Feminine for the
Latin word, 'tis entirely of the Masculine Gender.... Let
'em scribble on, till they can serve all the Pastry-cooks
in Town, the Tobacconists and Grocers with Waste-paper[3].

* * * * *

Although _The Royal Mischief_ was the immediate pretext for _The Female
Wits_, the true cause of the attack was the surprising success of the
women playwrights with the Ladies in the boxes who were beginning to
enjoy the "Solace of Tears" and to dominate theatrical taste in the
middle 1690's. After Aphra Behn's death in 1689, a shattering blow to
rising feminism, women had not ventured thus far to write for the stage.
Mrs. Behn, however, was still a powerful influence, and her name was
invoked by every woman who put pen to paper.

Mrs. Manley openly aspired to be a second Astrea. Certainly there are
striking similarities. As in Aphra Behn's case, nothing Mrs. Manley ever
wrote as drama or fiction could equal the events of her own life[4]. Her
father died when she was fourteen, leaving her in the care of a cousin
who took her inheritance, went through a sham marriage with her,
abandoned her before their child was born, and left her to starve before
she was sixteen. She was befriended by Barbara Castlemaine, Duchess of
Cleveland, the notorious former mistress of Charles II, whose character
Mrs. Manley draws as Hillaria in _The Adventures of Rivella_ (1714), and
whose lineaments are certainly to be seen in the character of Homais in
the warmer passages of _The Royal Mischief_. After Mrs. Manley's cruel
dismissal by the Duchess, by her own account she spent two years
wandering unknown from place to place in England, and during this time,
she wrote plays for her diversion.

During the 1690's, despite the supposition of some modern critics that
heroic tragedy was out of style, the great classics of the three
preceding decades continued to be played by the Betterton company in
whose stock repertory they had been since their inception: Lee's _The
Rival Queens_, Banks' _The Unhappy_ _Favourite_, Otway's _Venice
Preserv'd_, and many of Dryden's (_The Indian Emperour_, _The Conquest
of Granada_, _All for Love_). In fact, Dryden was still writing and
pleasing audiences with tragicomedies that contained the ingredients of
the old heroic tragedy. Since the same company of actors was presenting
the old plays (indeed, most of the actors were still playing their
original roles), the histrionic magic of the early tragic hero could
still lift an audience to the empyrean heights reached in the heady
first years of the restoration of Charles II. If there is anything
strange in Mrs. Manley's _The Royal Mischief_ in 1696, it is not that it
was an heroic play but that the leading character was a woman, Homais,
who out-hectors and out-loves all of the Restoration Alexanders,
Montezumas, and Drawcansirs written for and by men.

If her own account of _The Royal Mischief_ is true, Mrs. Manley wrote it
after she left the household of the Duchess of Cleveland, some time
between 1692 and 1694. Since there was only one theatre in London from
1682 to 1695, she wrote for Thomas Betterton, Elizabeth Barry, Anne
Bracegirdle, Edward Kynaston, and other veterans in the Betterton
company, who were the prototypes for the characters in the early heroic
plays. She could have known no others. When Betterton seceded from the
Theatre Royal in 1695 and set up the independent theatre in Lincoln's
Inn Fields, Mrs. Manley, already committed to Drury Lane because of her
first play, gave Drury Lane _The Royal Mischief_ even though it had been
written for the Betterton company. Circumstances, then, dictated that
_The Royal Mischief_ was finally played by the actors for whom it had
been written originally.

It is likely, however, that _The Female Wits_ would never have been
written if Thomas Betterton had not aggravated the situation by
producing _The Royal Mischief_ as quickly as possible after Mrs. Manley
had withdrawn it from Drury Lane under such provocative circumstances.
It was played immediately at Lincoln's Inn Fields in April or May, 1696,
seemingly at the insistence of the Duke of Devonshire to whom Mrs.
Manley dedicated it. When it was published in June, the author was
supported by her sister playwrights in commendatory verses included with
the play. Catherine Trotter possibly earned her inclusion in _The Female
Wits_ when she wrote,

You were our Champion, and the Glory ours.
Well you've maintain'd our equal right in Fame,
To which vain Man had quite engrost the claim:

Mary Pix confirmed her place in the satire with her panegyric:

You the unequal'd wonder of the Age,
Pride of our Sex, and Glory of the Age,
Like Sappho Charming, like Afra Eloquent,
Like Chast Orinda, sweetly Innocent.

Mrs. Manley minced no words in the printed version in answer to the
flurry of criticism that had greeted _The Royal Mischief_ when it was
played: "I should not have given my self and the Town the trouble of a
Preface if the aspersions of my Enemies had not made it necessary."
According to her, in spite of "ill nature, Envy, and Detraction," _The
Royal Mischief_ was successful (it had a run of six nights) even though
some of the ladies professed to be shocked at "the warmth of it, as they
are pleas'd to call it.... I do not doubt when the Ladies have given
themselves the trouble of reading, and comparing it with others, they'll
find the prejudice against our Sex, and not refuse me the satisfaction
of entertaining them...." Everything Mrs. Manley wrote, however, simply
added to the ridicule that had been mounting against women playwrights,
and _The Female Wits_ is merely the distillation of the general attitude
of the self-appointed critics and wits at the Rose and the Grecian, at
Maynwaring's and at Will's.

In defending _The Royal Mischief_ and its reception, she said of the
actress who played the unbelievably wicked Homais: "... Mrs. Barry, who
by all that saw her, is concluded to have exceeded that perfection which
before she was justly thought to have arrived at; my Obligations to her
were the greater, since against her own approbation, she excell'd and
made the part of an ill Woman, not only entertaining, but admirable."
Years later in _The Adventures of Rivella_, she was to say, "Mrs. Barry
distinguish'd herself as much as in any Part that ever she play'd. I
have since heard Rivella laugh and wonder that a Man of Mr. Betterton's
grave Sense and Judgment should think well enough of the Productions of
a Woman of Eighteen, to bring it upon the Stage in so handsome a Manner
as he did...." [5]

It is easy to believe Mrs. Manley's high commendation of the actress but
difficult to credit Mrs. Barry's objection to playing a part that was a
natural sequel to all the heroic and sometimes wicked women she had
played throughout her career. Her audience identified her with Lee's
Roxana in _The Rival Queens_, Dryden's Cleopatra in _All for Love_, and
his recent Cassandra in _Cleomenes_. Every playwright since 1680 had
written expressly for her: Otway's Monimia in _The Orphan_ was her first
great part in 1680, followed two years later by Belvidera in _Venice
Preserv'd_. Southerne had given her Isabella in _The Fatal Marriage_ in
1694, Congreve was still to write for her his Zara in _The Mourning
Bride_ in 1697, and Rowe his Calista in _The Fair Penitent_ in 1703.
Cibber, in 1740, remembered her "Presence of elevated Dignity ... her
Voice full, clear, and strong, so that no Violence of Passion could be
too much for her." He emphasized that in "Scenes of Anger, Defiance, or
Resentment, while she was impetuous, and terrible, she pour'd out the
Sentiment with an enchanting Harmony." [6]

Mrs. Barry's ability and her strength of voice in expressing the
passions led to the full development of the rant, which was the test of
the dramatic actress as the aria is the test of the opera singer.
Ordinarily in a tragedy, there were two: one, the melodious expression
of unattainable love in the first part of the play, and the second in
the death scene, usually of raving madness. In _The Royal Mischief_,
there are at least six major rants, each more powerful and surprising
than the one preceding it. If Mrs. Barry's ability was ever tested, it
was with Mrs. Manley's Homais.

The story is that of another Messalina. Homais, married to the unloved
Prince of Libardian, had had many lovers in her progress to the throne
of Phasia: among them, Ismael, who had remained her creature and is
willing to kill the Prince for one more night's favors. Even her eunuch
Acmat is more than a mere pander to her desire for her husband's nephew,
Levan Dadian, whom she has never seen but for whom she writhes nightly
upon her bed in erotic desire, stimulated only by his life size picture
and secondhand descriptions of him. She conspires with Acmat to inflame
Levan Dadian with desire for her (her portrait was enough) and to bring
about a meeting even though that prince was bringing home with him his
virtuous bride, Bassima, princess of Colchis. Her proposal to enslave
Levan Dadian might have been difficult if it had not been for the fact
that years before, during a war between Phasia and Colchis, Osman, great
general and now Chief Vizier to the Prince of Libardian, had captured
Bassima, fallen in love with her (and she with him), but without a word
on either side before and after he had freed her, they had remained
platonically true to each other in spite of the passage of years,
Osman's marriage to Selima, sister of his Prince, the offer (and
rejection) of Homais' love, and of Bassima's recent marriage to Levan
Dadian. When Levan Dadian brings Bassima to court, the recognition
between Osman and Bassima is endured in silence, but the trusting Osman
bares his heart to Homais' creature Ismael, who inflames the hitherto
platonic Osman with unholy desire for the pure Bassima. The wily Acmat
insinuates distrust for Bassima into Levan Dadian's heart at the same
time that he inspires lust for Homais and brings about the promised
meeting. Homais immediately sets about disposing of everyone who stands
in her way. The Prince of Libardian is to be dispatched by Ismael. Osman
is to be accused of infidelity with Bassima, who is to be poisoned by
Ismael. Word of this gets to Osman, who urges Bassima to flee with or
without him, but she refuses because her virtue would be called into
question in either case. But plans go awry, the Prince is not
dispatched, and while Levan Dadian is absent, Homais is seized by her
husband and given the choice of drinking poison or submitting to death
by the bow-string. She charms him out of killing her, and he, overcome
by her beauty, weakly believes her promises and sets her free to pursue
her wickedness.

Bassima, however, has been poisoned and is dying when Osman comes to
her, urging the consumation of their passion then and there, before it
is too late. Her gentle refusal to stray from virtue on her deathbed
awakens him from his unplatonic spell, and he begs forgiveness but is
interrupted in the middle of his contrite speech, led away, crammed
alive into a cannon, and shot off. The soldiers, led by Ismael, revolt
in favor of Homais and declare her queen. For a heady moment, she has
attained her every desire as she stands exulting over the dying Bassima,
whose husband is somewhat disturbed by the turn of events but whose
attention is diverted when Homais takes him in her arms. But at the
height of her triumph, the Prince burst in, sword in hand, and runs
Homais through before she can change his mind. Unrepenting to the end,
she goes to her death and into her final rant with defiance on her
lovely lusty lips as she ticks off the men in her life one by one. In
the last three minutes, Osman's faithful but jealous wife gathers his
smoking remains, Levan Dadian falls on his sword, and the Prince of
Libardian ends the play with

O horrour, horrour, horrour!
What Mischief two fair Guilty Eyes have wrought;
Let Lovers all look here, and shun the Dotage.
To Heaven my dismal Thoughts shall straight be turn'd,
And all these sad Dissasters truly mourn'd.

There is no need to point out that _The Royal Mischief_ invited parody.
Everything was in excess. No woman had ever been so lustfully wicked as
Homais (played by Elizabeth Barry), no heroine so pure as Bassima (Anne
Bracegirdle), no hero so faithfully platonic (Thomas Betterton), no
husband so duped as the Prince of Libardian (Edward Kynaston), no wife
so weakly jealous as Selima (Elizabeth Bowman), no man so easily a prey
to lust as Levan Dadian (John Bowman), so much a creature as Ismael
(John Hodgson), so vile a tool as Acmat (John Freeman). Each character
was a stick figure for a single quality. Incidents happened so rapidly
that continual surprise is the predominant emotion if one discounts the
miasma of hot surging sex that hovers over the entire production. But it
must have been effective when played by the greatest actors in London.

After reading both plays, one can believe that immediately after the
presentation of _The Royal Mischief_, someone began putting together the
parodies of obviously over-written scenes and high-flown language,
burlesques of heroic acting by the acknowledged past-masters of the art,
Thomas Betterton and Elizabeth Barry, as well as the mincing pasquinade
of Anne Bracegirdle, who was as virtuous as the pure role she played.
Since _The Royal Mischief_ was played in May, near the end of the
season, there was ample time to gloat over its absurdities during the
summer months and have _The Female Wits_ ready for the delectation of
the Town early the following season. Like all satires, it had its day
while the original was still fresh in the minds of the theatre-going
public but was immediately forgotten because _The Royal Mischief_ did
not become a stock play.

_The Female Wits_ is a continuous hilarious romp of scenes from _The
Royal Mischief_ and an entire gallery of burlesqued portraits of the
famous actors who were as much under fire as Mrs. Manley herself.
Elizabeth Barry's histrionic style of acting is held up to derision when
Frances Maria Knight, who was playing the character satirizing Homais as
well as a caricature of Mrs. Barry, is told to "stamp like Queen Statira
does ... that always gets a Clap. No Stamp, and Hug yourself: Oh the
strong Exstasie!" When Homais is stabbed, Marsilia gives the order,
"D'ye hear, Property Man, be sure some red Ink is handsomely convey'd to
Mrs. Knight." Penkethman, a short, slap-stick comedian mimicking
six-foot Betterton as the faithful Osman is told to "Fetch long Strides;
walk thus; your Arms strutting, your voice big, and your Eyes terrible";
and later, "Louder ... strain your Voice: I tell you, Mr. Pinkethman,
this speaking Loud gets the Clap." Mrs. Bracegirdle's famous "pathetic"
style of acting is parodied when Marsilia instructs Miss Cross how to
speak a line: "Give me leave to instruct you in a moving Cry. Oh!
there's a great deal of Art in crying: Hold your Handkerchief thus; let
it meet your Eyes, thus; your Head declin'd, thus; now, in a perfect
whine, crying out these words,

By these Tears, which never cease to Flow."

Reverse situations are used as comic devices. Possibly the climax of
absurdity is reached when Miss Cross and Penkethman, instead of dying
horrible deaths, find themselves on the roof-top (instead of in the
dungeon) climbing into a celestial chariot that the Prince had been
building for fifty years. They escape their pursuing enemies, thus
making merry with the tragic conclusion of _The Royal Mischief_ and
using the same theatrical machinery that was being employed in _Brutus
of Alba_. Marsilia caps this scene by describing in detail the events
which were played seriously in _The Royal Mischief_:

You must know, my Lord, at first I design'd this for a Tragedy;
and they were both taken; She was Poyson'd, and dy'd, like an
Innocent Lamb, as she was indeed: I was studying a Death for
him; once I thought Boys shou'd shoot him to Death with
Pot-Guns; ... and that wou'd have been Disgrace enough, you
know: But at length I resolv'd to ram him into a great Gun, and
scatter him o're the sturdy Plain: This, I say, was my first
resolve. But I consider'd, 'twou'd break the Lady's Heart; so
there is nothing in their Parts Tragical; but as your Lordship
shall see miraculously I turn'd it into an Opera.

The continual interruptions in the rehearsal by Marsilia giving orders
to the increasingly irritated actors, their hostile asides as they come
out of their roles to ask bewildered questions, object to her
directions, or attempt to resign their parts keep the stage in an
uproar. The asinine remarks of her sycophantic followers, her own
erratic behavior which culminates in her rage and her stalking out,
vowing to take her play to Lincoln's Inn Fields, while George Powell,
Mrs. Knight, and Miss Cross double up with laughter - all make _The
Female Wits_ an hilarious piece of dramatic satire as well as a valuable
theatrical document.

All but forgotten, as it was when it was published in 1704, the played
version of _The Female Wits_ had its impact on women playwrights in
1696. Mrs. Manley did not produce another play until _Almyna_ was acted
in Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1706, ten years later. As a result of the
unjustified attack upon her, Mrs. Pix thereafter wrote for Lincoln's Inn
Fields, and at the beginning of the 1697-98 season was engaged in a
name-calling dispute with Drury Lane over the flagrant plagiarism of one
of her plays by George Powell, the actor who figures prominently in _The
Female Wits_. Mrs. Trotter gave her plays to the Betterton group until
1700 when a new management regulated affairs at Drury Lane.

Whether Mrs. Manley was driven from the stage for ten years by the jeers
of the Town is a matter of debate. She became one of the leading Tory
pamphleteers, political editors, and literary hacks in London, employed
for years and respected in an odd way by such people as Richard Steele
and Dean Swift. Her most famous work, _The Secret Memoirs and Manners
of Several Persons of Quality ... by the New Atalanta_ (1709) and her
semi-autobiographical _The Adventures of Rivella_ (1714) caused

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