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Chapter 2 - Damned Women, or the Disclosures of Censorship

from Part I - Gender

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 August 2023

David O'Shaughnessy
Affiliation:
University of Galway
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Summary

This essay examines theatrical damnation as a mode of censorship and how it proved to be a particularly fraught experience for women playwrights. The argument unfolds in two sections. The first section looks at how and why audiences shouted Hannah Cowley’s The World as it Goes (1781) off the stage after two performances. The damnation of such a successful playwright, in many ways at the height of her powers and popularity, discloses a great deal about what kinds of satirical commentary were viable for women writers at this historical moment. The play’s re-presentation, equally doomed, as Second Thoughts are Best, allows us to speculate on how class and gender converge in this scenario to produce the unproduceable. The second section focuses on the damnation of a far less accomplished playwright. Lady Eglantine Wallace’s comedy The Ton (1788) generated increasing levels of disapprobation over its four nights. In this case however the press played a crucial role in the censorship because it closely aligned Lady Wallace’s moral culpability with the play’s aesthetic shortcomings. The outrage was directed at elite sociability and thus it also offers a useful counterexample to Cowley’s excoriation of the middling ranks. Finally, the argument offers a snapshot of how the repertoire itself was changing over the 1780s.

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Chapter
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The Censorship of Eighteenth-Century Theatre
Playhouses and Prohibition, 1737–1843
, pp. 52 - 72
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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