Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 April 2022
This chapter explores Cavendish’s career as a dramatist by examining the similarities and differences between her two volumes of drama, Playes (1662) and Plays Never Before Printed (1668). One of the plays in the 1668 volume, The Sociable Companions; or the Female Wits, recycles and adapts characters and plot – the story of a character called Prudence and her search for a husband – from The Publick Wooing, a play included in the 1662 volume. This pair of plays provides an opportunity to trace Cavendish’s response to changing theatrical conditions, while also revealing the flexibility of her principles of dramatic composition. By reworking the character of Lady Prudence in The Public Wooing in her later play, Cavendish explores the possibilities and limitations of prudence as a virtue available to women. Further, her recycling of this plot from one play to another reveals the prudential thinking that underlies her own writing and publication practices. Plays Never Before Printed includes two dramatic fragments – “A Piece of a Play” and “Scenes” from The Presence – that highlight the potential for transformation inherent in Cavendish’s dramatic works.