First com­edy writ­ten by a woman reaches the stage, 400 years late

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Vic­to­ria Ward

THE first com­edy writ­ten by a woman is fi­nally to be staged in pub­lic, 400 years af­ter it was com­pleted.

Lady Mary Wroth’s play Love’s Vic­tory, which she wrote be­tween 1617 and 1619, will be per­formed at Pen­shurst Place, the house in Kent where she wrote it, to­mor­row. The for­mer hunt­ing lodge of Henry VIII is now owned by her de­scen­dants, the Sid­ney fam­ily.

In Lady Mary’s day, the idea of women act­ing in pub­lic or pro­duc­ing a play for pub­lic per­for­mance was strictly for­bid­den. How­ever, it is likely that Love’s Vic­tory was per­formed within the grounds of Pen­shurst Place, where the sin­gle com­plete man­u­script of the five-act script re­sides.

The play starts with Venus vow­ing re­venge on all the mor­tals who have scorned love, and urg­ing her son, Cupid, to pierce them with ar­rows. Other scenes show fe­male char­ac­ters swap­ping their sto­ries of love and be­trayal.

Lady Mary, daugh­ter of Robert Sid­ney, was the niece of Sir Philip Sid­ney and Mary Sid­ney Her­bert, both fa­mous

‘It is cru­cial ev­i­dence of women’s en­gage­ment with a tra­di­tion usu­ally thought of as ex­clu­sively male’

writ­ers of the 16th and 17th cen­turies. She was said to have been friends with Ben Jon­son, the poet and play­wright, and was ru­moured to have had an af­fair with Wil­liam Her­bert, the king’s cham­ber­lain. Yet de­spite these con­nec­tions, and her ob­vi­ous tal­ent, she could not get her play pub­licly per­formed.

That is set to change af­ter a 24-year cam­paign led by Prof Ali­son Find­lay, of Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity, as part of her “Shake­speare and His Sis­ter” re­search project which ex­plores the works of Shake­speare and his fe­male con­tem­po­rary drama­tists.

Ac­tors from the Ura­nia Theatre Com­pany will star in the play, which has been di­rected by Martin Hodg­son.

Prof Find­lay said: “Love’s Vic­tory is the first ex­tant com­edy by an English­woman. It is a love story – or a se­ries of in­ter­twined love sto­ries.

Its sur­vival in man­u­script form is cru­cial ev­i­dence of women’s en­gage­ment with a dra­matic tra­di­tion that is usu­ally thought of as ex­clu­sively male.

“Lady Mary Wroth is one of ‘Shake­speare’s Sis­ters’, who did not, as Vir­ginia Woolf imag­ined, per­ish with­out leav­ing a word.”

Two tick­eted per­for­mances will be held to­mor­row, at 2pm and 7.30pm, in the Baron’s Hall at Pen­shurst, and a film of the play will be put on­line on the Shake­speare and His Sis­ters web­site.

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