Before the Restoration of Charles II there were no professional actresses on the English stage, and female roles had almost always been played by men. This book describes how and why women were permitted to act on the public stage after 1660, and the consequences of their arrival for the drama of the period. There is a surprising lack of published research into Restoration actresses. Elizabeth Howe not only supplies important new facts about the women and their drama, but also opens up a fascinating subject to non-specialists. Beginning with a general account of the workings of Restoration theatre, she goes on to explain the advent of the actresses and how they were treated by theatre companies, theatre audiences and society in general. Perceived predominantly as sex objects, the actresses' sexuality was variously exploited in ways that had important consequences for drama. The remainder of the book concerns the lives and talents of the major figures, in particular Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle, showing how their popularity, dramatic skill and public image frequently dictated the kinds of plays written for them. The book addresses questions that are relevant to women's issues in every period: how far did the advent of real women players alter dramatic portrayals of women? Did this encourage more or less equality between the sexes? Although in one sense merely playthings for a small male elite, the pioneering actresses also represent a new female voice in society and a new place in discourse.
"...packed with new information on women involved in drama of the times, from analysis of theatre objectives and performance technicalities to consideration of how actresses were treated by companies and society during the times." The Midwest Book Review "...a detailed, meticulous study, which will be of interest to the specialist as well as the general reader...presents an enormous amount of information and will almost certainly provide the impetus for future studies." Elizabeth D. Harvey, Renaissance Quarterly