Centlivre v. Hardwicke: Susannah Centlivre's Plays and the Marriage Act of 1753


Margo Collins


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

The years between 1700 and 1800 saw Susannah Centlivre's plays performed 1,227 times in London theaters. Two plays, The Busie Body and A Bold Stroke for a Wife, accounted for 822 of these performances.1 The Busie Body was an immediate hit upon opening at the Drury Lane Theatre on 12 May 1709. After eighteen performances in its first season, it averaged more than six performances annually until 1800, thus becoming the most popular female-authored play of the century. The second spot belongs to Centlivre, too. A Bold Stroke, first performed on 3 February 1718 at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, enjoyed a relatively successful run of six nights. Yet, unlike The Busie Body, this play was not consistently popular with early-century audiences; indeed, after the initial run, it was not produced again in London for ten years. But after 1750 the play's popularity increased markedly-so much so that by the end of the century it was performed almost as often as Centlivre's earlier play.2

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