Women Drama and Dramatists Summary


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

The history of female dramatists probably began in the tenth century with Hrosvitha of Gandersheim. Her dramas, written in the style of Roman playwright Terence, revised his negative image of women. There is no record of performances of her plays. If they were performed, the audience consisted of other religious women. In the seventeenth century, Aphra Behn became the first woman known to earn a living writing plays. Behn was rarely mentioned in books on theater history or included in drama anthologies until late in the twentieth century. She was then rediscovered, and university and community theaters began producing her plays.

Mercy Otis Warren is recognized as the first U.S. woman dramatist. She lived and wrote patriotic satires and propaganda plays during the American Revolution. Popular audiences accepted and appreciated the plays women wrote for the U.S. stage from Warren’s time until the mid-1800’s. Regardless of their artistic quality, early plays written by women in the United States offer a modern audience a better understanding of the reality of women’s lives then.

Nineteenth century society believed that the stage was an inappropriate place for proper women. Anna Cora Mowatt, a respectable gentlewoman, moved to change this perception. Although at first she avoided attending the theater because of its shady reputation, she later pursued an interest in drama as a playwright and actor. Her comic play Fashion (1845) has enjoyed success into the late twentieth century, and some scholars assert that it marked the beginning of an authentic American theater.