Women on the Restoration stage

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Goslin, Jean
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BA in English Literature and Drama
Dublin Business School
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I intend to explore the impact of the arrival of women to the stage during Charles the second's reign in England. Following twelve years of Puritan Commonwealth, the Restoration of the monarchy heralded a period of political and social change for England. Influenced by his exile in France, Charles, and his returning court brought back liberal new attitudes which affected social and cultural issues many of which were explored in the drama staged by the two newly-opened theatre companies. Innovations of plot, subject matter and staging were effected by playwrights and in the light of a new law banning men from playing women's roles and requiring women to take their place alongside established actors, a new genre evolved. The Comedy of Manners or Comedy of Sex became the genre most associated with this period and several playwrights tailored their texts according to the real life personalities and attributes of these women. The personal lives of actresses such as Nell Gwyn, Anne Bracegirdle and Elizabeth Barry became an integral part of their on-stage relationship with the audience. Their personalities were incorporated into their stage characters and playwrights such as Dryden, Congreve and Aphra Behn sought to represent women in a new way which was influenced by the pioneering actresses themselves. I propose to examine the lives of each of these three actresses and one play with which each of them is associated and assess how they influenced the playwrights, the particular construction of plays, the cultural representation of women within Restoration comedy and their impact upon the society of the day.