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Cabinet 13: Dramatic Works

John Gay, The Beggar's Opera. 2nd ed. London: Printed for John Watts, 1728. DeB Eb 1728 G

Gay, page 19 Gay, title page Of the 1680s to 1740s, Oliver Goldsmith wrote 'taste was united to genius' and writers shone 'like stars lost in each other's brightness.' John Gay - one of the Scriblerian satirists grouped with Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift - became one of those bright stars. Such was the success of Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), that it became 'the talking point of the chattering classes' (Brewer). He introduced stock character types such as Macheath and Jemmy Twitcher, easily recognisable in the motley London crowd. The opera ran for 62 nights in its opening season, and spawned a host of imitations, parodies, and Beggar-mania paraphernalia such as playing cards and fire screens. This is the second edition.

Charlotte Lennox, The Sister: A Comedy. London: Printed for J. Dodsley, 1769. DeB Eb 1769 L

Lennox, title page In spite of an unhappy marriage, Charlotte Lennox (1730/31?-1804) persisted with a literary career: writing novels, plays and poetry. She tried acting - deemed 'deplorable' by Walpole - and her verse raised the ire of Elizabeth Carter: 'It is intolerably provoking to see people who really appear to have a genius, apply it to such idle unprofitable purposes.' Her novel writing was more successful, especially with The Female Quixote (1752), which Jane Austen subsequently drew on as a model for her first novel, Northanger Abbey. The Sister, a play based on her third novel, Henrietta (1758), opens: 'I thought I should find you here, my Lord: this new taste for solitude is a mortal symptom of your distemper.' It ran for one night only (Saturday, 18th February 1769) at Covent Garden.

[John Leacock], The School for Scandal. A Comedy. London: Sold by S. Bladon, 1779. DeB Eb 1778 K

Lennox, title page In February 1782, a motion was passed in Parliament that no further attempt be made to subdue the Americans by force. This signaled the end of the American War of Independence that had started in 1775 as an attempt to reassert British control over rebellious American colonies. In 1779, radical American satirist John Leacock (1729-1802) wrote The School for Scandal (1779), an imitation of Richard Sheridan's more famous work. Published anonymously, Leacock's play is a satire on the American Revolution and corruption in England. The character Sir Benjamin Backbite is joined by Mr King, Joseph Surface, Lord Rubicon, Crabtree and Mozes.

Mrs Elizabeth Inchbald, Lovers' Vows. London: Printed for G. G. and J. Robinson, 1798. DeB Eb 1795 S

Inchbald Although not the Golden Age of drama, the eighteenth century had its fair share of luminaries. Over a period of seventeen years, Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) trouped up and down England acting in roles as diverse as Calista in The Fair Penitent, and the cross-dressing heroine Bellario in Philaster. With encouragement from actress Sarah Siddons and actor John Philip Kemble, she wrote her farce The Mogul Tale, which initiated her successful career as a dramatist. Altogether 19 of her comedies, dramas, and farces were performed at London theatres between 1784 and 1805. Her Lover's Vow (1798), a tale about a 'fallen woman' and her illegitimate son, was adapted from August Kotzebue's Child of Love. It was the drama performed in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.