Re-forming the stage
in Treading the bawds
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The season of 1697/8 marks a crucial period in theatre history and an extraordinary chapter in the history of theatre women. In no other season on the late Stuart stage were so many new plays by female playwrights performed by the same company in the same playhouse. Competition between the two houses was still fierce and an act of overt plagiarism by the Patent Company fuelled the ongoing animosity. The Players' Company maintained its commercially successful edge over its rivals, and this season can be seen to represent the peak of Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle's joint career as actress/managers at Lincoln's Inn Fields. But this was also the season in which the entire theatrical community was beleaguered by determined moves to curb the activities of the playhouse. Objections to the immorality of the stage were supported and refuted in a flurry of publications that marked out the battle lines. The place of women in the theatre – on and off stage – was part of that moral debate. The diversity of the work co-produced by female playwrights and actresses in this season is all the more remarkable when considered in the context of the upheavals caused by the anti-theatrical lobby.

Treading the bawds

Actresses and playwrights on the Late-Stuart stage

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