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Actresses of the Restoration Period (Hardback)

Mrs Elizabeth Barry and Mrs Anne Bracegirdle

P&S History > By Century > 17th Century P&S History > By Century > 18th Century P&S History > Social History Women of History

By Susan Margaret Cooper
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 30 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399064804
Published: 16th January 2023



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The Restoration represents an exhilarating period of English history. With Charles II, the ‘Merry Monarch’ restored to the throne, the country saw artistic and literary talent flourish. Charles was an enthusiastic patron of the theatre and helped breathe new life into British drama, reopening the playhouses after the grey years of closure under Puritanical rule.

One of the most significant innovations in Restoration theatre was the introduction of actresses on the English stage. This exciting new history is dedicated to the life and times of two of the Restoration’s most celebrated actresses: Mrs Elizabeth Barry and Mrs Anne Bracegirdle. It details their family roots, the beginnings and progression of their London stage careers, their retirement from the limelight, and their eventual demise.

Their lives and work are set against the lively and often dangerous atmosphere that epitomised seventeenth-century London and its theatres, and the places where Mrs Barry and Mrs Bracegirdle lived and worked alongside their fellow players, dramatists and others of their times. There are references to the actresses’ admirers and lovers within and without the world of theatre. Along with more favourable critical appraisals, there are explicit and derogatory lines, satirically written, regarding their supposed reputations.

This insightful biography places Elizabeth and Anne back in the limelight, and includes transcriptions taken from contemporary works, letters, poems and wills, all adding depth and colour to this fascinating subject.

Longlisted for the STR Theatre Book Prize 2024

The Society for Theatre Research

Actresses of the Restoration Period not only brings these fascinating women back into view, it tackles a complex period that’s ripe for further research.

Read the full review here

Women's Studies Group 1558 – 1837

Cooper’s account of the lives and careers of actresses Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle is a marvelously informative work, replete with first-hand quotes. A must-read!

Isabel Azar

From the opening act, a prologue rich with detail and transcripts setting the context for Restoration Theatre (I especially enjoyed Charles II Letters Patent establishing theatre protocols and giving leave for “all women parts…may be performed by women”), I knew I was in for a treat. Ms. Cooper has laid out a marvellous and accessible guide, bound to entertain and inform seasoned seventeenth century historians and new visitors to the era alike.

The colourful scene setting and detailed world building continues within the profiles of Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle, and along with contemporary accounts of chocolate houses and taverns, we also navigate streets roaming with vagabonds and find ourselves inside a playhouse, where even the pits pose a danger to life and limb. Ms Cooper’s delightfully informative and accessible writing weaves contemporary excerpts from books and papers with her own encyclopedic knowledge of the 17th Century to produce a book full of fascinating information, facts, and anecdotes.

I particularly enjoyed the extracts of plays and lines performed by the actresses incorporated within their biographies, for this brings the book to life, and allows us to immerse ourselves in their world, measuring the professional growth and popularity of Barry and Bracegirdle, and reading firsthand London’s response to these pioneering women.

Actresses of the Restoration Period is an extraordinary piece of scholarly work, and an invaluable and entertaining contribution to the history of English theatre. It is a book I will keep close to hand and enjoy returning to again and again. Brava, Ms. Cooper, Brava.

Read the full review here

GoodReads, Elizabeth John

By Susan Margaret Cooper

A Compendium of Information on Restoration Theatre

From the Prologue to the final word, this book is filled with interesting, and often rare, information on the world of Restoration Theatre as it delves deeply into the lives of two well-regarded actresses of the era. Susan Margaret Cooper has researched this subject thoroughly and has uncovered a wealth of rare documents which she has transcribed. These include wills, letters and inventories, as well as extracts from scripts and poetry, all pertaining to the theatrical and literary world of the latter half of the 17th century. Added to these are the many images of documents, portraits, drawings and maps. Admittedly, not all facts are known, and this has been reflected within the book, and while this can be frustrating, it is also tantalising as perhaps one day another piece in the jigsaw will emerge.

Mrs Elizabeth Barry and Mrs Anne Bracegirdle were firm friends throughout and beyond their acting careers, often appearing together in plays to the delight of audiences, and it is likely that this bond, which they also shared off-stage, enhanced their performances. Though their personal lives were quite different, especially where amorous relationships were concerned, this did not impede their friendship and they no doubt supported each other through difficult times. Each had a circle of friends from differing backgrounds which gave them a wider view of the world outside the confines of theatres, and no doubt if they had lived in later centuries would both have had the title “Dame” inscribed on their gravestones.

I can highly recommend this book to all who have an interest in the Restoration period of history and theatre in general. My personal project, which incorporates research into Elizabethan theatre, has been given a new slant as, via this book, I can look into the future to see how the transformation, which dramatists such as Marlowe and Shakespeare brought about, paved the way for the restoration of this art form almost a century later.

Chasqui Penguin

This work of cultural history focuses on the British theatre following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and especially on the lives and times of two of the Restoration’s most celebrated actresses: Mrs Elizabeth Barry and Mrs Anne Bracegirdle.

The author draws on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, including transcriptions taken from contemporary works, letters, poems and wills. As with the other nonfiction history titles from this publisher, there are notes, a bibliography, and an index. There is also a repertoire of plays performed by Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Bracegirdle and various photographs of portraits and the like.

Susan Margaret Cooper is a researcher and author whose work focuses on Britain during the 17th-18th Century. I found her writing both academic and accessible.

I am quite interested in the history of the theatre as well as in this period of British history and this title proved very informative.

NetGalley, Vivienne O'Regan

Deeply researched, I was captured by the author's clear enthusiasm and passion that shone from the passages and therefore made me appreciate learning about this new information all the more... The women selected and studied by the author were enthralling, having led such fascinating lives.

An interesting introduction exploring the social history of women in theatre.

NetGalley, Kirsty Whyte

This books is entertaining, well researched and a good guide to theatre world in the Restoration time.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An interesting look at the first women in England to tread the boards and the world they lived in. The Restoration period is endlessly fascinating and it was great to learn more about these trend-setting ladies.

NetGalley, Caroline Palmer

This book bring to life two women who may not feature much in many history books but whose lives are so very fascinating. It is always pleasing to see such accounts as the lives of women offer such amazing insights into our history and, in the cases of these two women, into the history of the theatre in particular. It may seem quite niche but the book will appeal to those interested in social history, women’s history and the theatre, too.

NetGalley, Louise Gray

About Susan Margaret Cooper

Susan Margaret Cooper has for many years held a curiosity for England's colourful history, with particular emphasis on the Restoration period. Her enthusiasm for this fascinating age has led her to scholarly research of these times resulting in some of her works being published in 2011 and 2013 volumes of Oxford University Press Notes and Queries Journal. Susan also has unpublished pieces archived in Blenheim Palace at Woodstock, Magdalene College in Cambridge, and in the Library Catalogue of Trinity College also in Cambridge. To date, she has published seven non-fiction titles on subjects born in the 17th century; including one on an 18th century London actor, her ancestor.

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