Susanna Centlivre (1667-1723) Accounts of Susanna Centlivre’s early life vary. Some describe her as daughter to a Rawkins, some a Freeman, some have her born poor, others, a gentlewoman of Lincolnshire stock, the daughter of a Parliamentarian whose estate was confiscated after the Restoration. (She frequently returned to Holbeach in Lincolnshire in later life.) She certainly learnt some Latin as well as French, Dutch and Spanish. She may have run away from home at the age of 14, either with strolling players or with Anthony Hammond, a Cambridge undergraduate, who kept her dressed as a boy, pretended she was his young cousin and taught her swordplay, logic and rhetoric, until questions began to be asked about their relationship. She apparently married a man called Fox when she was 16, but he died within the year and she remarried (to an officer named Carroll and published her earlier work as by Susannah Carroll after he was killed in a duel.) While working as an actress, famous for breeches parts, she met and married Joseph Centlivre, principal cook to Queen Anne. She also published Familiar and Courtly Letters Written by Monsieur Voiture and other volumes of letters, poems including contributing to a collection of elegies on Dryden’s death and possibly contributed to The Female Tatler. She enjoyed a wide circle of friends including the playwrights known as the ‘Female Wits’ – Catherine Trotter, Mary Pix and Delariviere Manley, as well as George Farquhar, Nicolas Rowe and Sir Richard Steele. Based on the number of performances of her work, Centlivre can be viewed as one of the most successful British dramatists of all time with her comic intrigues proving enduringly popular until the twentieth century. Her plays include: The Busy Body (1710) which had over 400 performances and was republished many times during the next century; The Wonder! A Woman Keeps a Secret (1714) a favourite of Garrick; The Gamester (1705); The Bassett Table (1706); Love at a Venture (1706); The Platonic Lady (1707); A Bickerstaff’s Burial (1710); Marplot (1711); A Gotham Election (1715); A Wife Well Manag’d (1715); The Cruel Gift (1717) and The Artifice (1723). A Bold Stroke For A Wife was successfully produced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1718 and was revived recently in Chicago as part of The Alcyone Festival 2008 which staged plays by women ranging over nearly 1000 years.
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