Love, Death, and Mrs. Barry in Thomas Southerne's Plays


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Thomas Southerne's tragedies were once held in great esteem. Sophocles might have profited if he could have heard the "moving Moan" of Isabella in The Fatal Marriage, wrote Elijah Fenton in 1711:

If Envy cou'd permit, he'd sure agree

To write by Nature were to Copy Thee:

So full, so fair thy Images are shown,

He by Thy Pencil might improve his own.1

A modified version of this view lasted a long time: Southerne's The Fatal Marriage: Or, The Innocent Adultery (1694) and Oroonoko: Or, The Royal Slave (1695) remained repertory plays into the nineteenth century.2 On the other hand, Fenton's panegyric epistle makes no mention of Southerne's comedies Sir Anthony Love: Or, The Rambling Lady (1690), The Wives' Excuse: Or, Cuckolds Make Themselves (1691 or 1692), and The Maid's Last Prayer: Or, Any Rather than Fail (1693). These comedies at present enjoy respectful critical attention, especially The Wives' Excuse,3 but in 1711 it was no more than tactful to ignore them. They had never been revived after their initial runs, and, although Southerne included them in his Works of 1713, their sexual outspokenness would by then have been unacceptable to many readers as well as all audiences.

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