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liz m

Actually, I hate them. I do! It's one of my few just about impossible to overcome biases. (the other being gender based inheritance fights) While this entry was fascinating and restoration theater history engages me, romances (especially regency) set with actors and the theater annoy me senseless.

I don't know if it's my low tolerance for 'quirky', the way selfishness is often excused in those characters because they are in the arts or what - can't stand them. Every hero won over by an engaging theater company makes me cringe. Every fun loving group of dramatists in the drawing room make me long for a private chaise.

The only theater books I've really been able to get past my bias with involved side professions - she's a seamstress, he's funding a place - they both can't stand the talent. That sort of thing.

liz m

Hey, I'll double post - that's it, then. Reading my response nailed it for me. I can't tolerate characters who think of reality as something for other people or who treat responsibility as unnecessary. Really bothers me. in live and fiction. I love to have fun, but i don't think I'm 'above' daily obligations. Too many theater books take that stance.

(And, since I haven't plugged it lately - click my name! See me bald!)

Anne with an e

Thank you for the fascinating whirlwind tour of the theatre!
I don't think I've ever read a romance set in the theatre - sheltered, I guess. :) While I absolutely agree with Liz's dislike of those who disdain reality, I would not put aside theatre romance as a category. It would take the right hero and heroine, but I could be convinced. :)
Again, thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us. I really enjoyed your visit!

Karen Hore

Interesting comments about theatre based novels being stuffed full of stereo-typed 'luvvies'. I'd hazard a guess they're written by people who have never worked in the theatre, or who are the type of writers who can only do stereotypes anyway, or worse still - horror - make a living pandering to known prejudices! I have written a story centred around an unlikely young woman becoming an actress in the early Restoration (most of them 'unlikely' really, as there was no previous model), there are other main characters who all contribute to her 'career', but I carefully avoided, I trust, using such stereotypes as the performers who think that anything is permitted an 'artist'. This is in any case, I think, a much more modern 'romantic' concept, and not something that performers working in a pre-romantic era would have understood. They were mostly craftsmen, learning their trade on the job, like other craftsmen. There were many women who no doubt came and went because of the influence of men - but what can you expect in a male-dominated society? There were women who studied their craft and were admired and respected for their ability. Margaret mentioned a few of these from the Restoration, but missed one of the most respected and long serving, Mary Betterton (nee Saunderson), who was one of the first actresses and married to Thomas Betterton, the most famous actor of the period, who in fact worked throughout almost the entire period we call the Restoration. I would disagree slightly with Margaret over Peg Hughes being the 'first'. In fact there is no evidence at all as to the identity of the 'first', some like to think it was Peg, but it could easily have been one of half a dozen women, including the then Mary Saunderson; we simply do not know.
I might also hesitate to recommend 'Stage Beauty' for those seeking enlightenment about the Restoration stage, since it played fast and loose with facts and the chronology, and the two leads were not convincing at all, unlike the raft of character actors who supported them. It looked quite nice up to a point (as an ex-Frock Fairy I'm a stern critic), but no, something more than accuracy was missing in it.
I find the theatre completely fascinating having come to it from a non-theatre background, and even though I no longer work in it, I still get a thrill from being in a theatre as the lights go down and the first lines come across. I do find, that most people's ideas about the theatre are totally unreal, some stereotype ideas do exist. Many actors can do 'camp' at the drop of a hat, some of them even believe themselves. There are selfish, thoughtless performers, but they are usually a minority who have been lucky, and don't realise it. Most are just as they say themselves 'jobbing actors', they get on with the job, whatever it is, employing real skills. Some know how to party hard to relax, just as many hang up the frock and go home to the family. I always found the theatre very welcoming to strays (one of the themes of my story), and as someone who had had a peripatetic childhood have never, before or since, found myself included instantly in a new group.
Margaret will no doubt be familiar with what I simply call 'Highfill', because its full title and list of
contributors is so long, and also 'The London Stage', which are both stalwarts of theatre research covering the Restoration and the 18th century. We here in Blighty have the Americans to thank for their tireless compilation of these tomes, when this period was out of academic favour here. I hope it is making a real comeback now.
At present I am working on an idea about Anne Bracegirdle (was ever an actress better named?) and William Congreve and their supposed affair, which I hope will be, partly, a study of celebrity. They were both extremely discreet, perhaps because Anne seems to have suffered some public 'disapproval' after William Mountfort's murder - a story with elements of 'stalking' in it.
It's all so fascinating!

Susan Scott

A wonderful post, Margaret! Many thanks for sharing your expertise with us.

It’s easy to forget today, with so many entertainment options available right down to movies on our cell-phones, how the theatre could hold such a magical attraction for earlier audiences.

I agree with Karen that the early actors and actresses had to have been phenomenally hard workers who took their craft very seriously. Until I researched the Restoration theatre for “King’s Favorite”, my Nell Gwyn book (more about that in my blog here on Friday!), I’d no idea that most plays only ran for a week or less. Actors were expected to report for rehearsals in the morning, the plays (and they’re looooonnnnnng plays, too) were given in the afternoon and into the evening. I can’t imagine the amount of sheer memorization, especially the complicated, witty dialogue of the time.

Yet while the playhouse could be a stepping-stone for aspiring mistresses, most of the actresses were far more serious about their craft. In the 1660s, the opportunities for intelligent women (and despite the old stereotype that all actresses are bimbos, you HAD to be smart to be an actress) to support themselves were almost nonexistent. The Civil Wars had impoverished many once-genteel families, and many well-bred young women languished as poor spinsters without dowries (the “golden age” of 19th century governesses was still far in the future.) Some of these young women chose the independence of the stage rather than dependence on relatives, and the first crop of actresses even included a pair of clergyman’s daughters!

For a young woman like Nell Gwyn who had been born into poverty, there were only two choices: to be a street-vendor, or a prostitute. As an actress in the King’s Company, she had lodgings and (for a woman) an excellent salary. All the Company’s actors were considered servants to the king, and under his protection, and the actresses wore special red woolen cloaks as royal livery that were recognized and respected throughout London. Yes, the actors were celebrities, much like movie stars today, but they’d earned that celebrity.

As for the readers who are so violently against theatrical settings: well, that’s why there are so many different books out there, isn’t it? And again, I agree with Karen (and I’ll paraphrase the old dog-trainer’s adage) that there are no bad stories, only bad storytellers. *g*


Hello Margaret -- Welcome to Word Wenches! Enjoyed your post and it plays so perfectly into my current WIP. Would Drury Lane have been open in mid Oct, 1815? If so, do you know were I could go to learn what might have been playing at that time?

Nina, who loves romances set in the theater.


What interesting comments! Keep them coming...

Karen, with limited space here, I simply couldn't include every actress! I considered but omitted Mrs Betterton because Bracegirdle ties in with the Mountford tragedy--caused it, in fact, although unconsciously. I look forward to someday reading your story about Anne! I've pored over the first-hand accounts of Mountford's murder, thinking it might well be an episode in my own novel. Probably not, unless peripherally. But I was so riveted that I researched it more than I really needed.

As to Peg Hughes, I am not convinced she was the first--as you say, there's no firm evidence about who was first. I merely said "credited", and as more than one source does so, I'm perfectly happy to be general in my comments. She ties in with the royals, and with Nell, who--I think we'd all agree and if we didn't Susan would take us to task--is the best-known Restoration actress!

So, apologies for what appears to be an ommission, but this was never intended to be a dissertation on Restoration players (been there, done that!)

Or Regency ones either. (I didn't mention Mrs Jordan...in all ways, a far more interesting person than Siddons. At least in my opinion!)

Highfill is a treasure and the pertinent volumes of The London Stage are part of my embarrasingly large collection of theatrical history books.

Nor would I recommend Stage Beauty for accurate history or chronology, that was not my point. (I've always heard the play is superiour to the film but haven't read the script myself.) It does, however, depict the connection between stage and society--and court--the importance of patronage and the danger of popularity. It's very pretty to look upon and there Restoration era films are something of a rarity, more's the pity.

I'm not at all surprised that there are readers who dislike theatre-set stories. I've got my own dislikes, so of course I understand. As Susan rightly says, though in a different way, variety--even within particular genres--is absolutely necessary!


Besides Shakespeare plays, what kind of plays were likely to be performed professionally during the Regency time? Would they stage restoration plays, jacobean plays (such as duchess of malfi), ancient greek plays?

FWIW - I watched Stage Beauty on a plane to London and really enjoyed it. I don't necessarily seek out romance novels with theater settings, but I've really enjoyed some of the ones I've read. LOVED MJP's One Perfect Rose. I've enjoyed theater based stories by Carla Kelly and Lisa Kleypas. I believe Mary Balogh has had some actress heroines as well.


Responding to research questions...

First, Regency era repertory. Yes, lots of the 16th and 17th century playwrights--their classic works--were performed repeatedly. Usually tragic plays were from earlier eras. As well, there were contemporary playwrights. The most popular authors of comedy were Sheridan, O'Keefe, Dibdin, Mrs Inchbald. And more. As well, popular French plays were translated into English. Often the fame of specific plays exceeded that of the individuals who wrote them. Hardly anyone today would recognise the name Philip Massinger, but "A New Way to Pay Old Debts" was probably performed in every theatre in England, over and over.

About Drury Lane in October, 1815. Luckily for you, Nina, this was Edmund Kean's third season with the company. There was a great rivalry between him and John Kemble over at Covent Garden.

On October 6, Kean revived his Richard III (after Shylock probably his most popular character.) On November 6th he was in Tamerlane, as Bajazet.

Linda Kelly's The Kemble Era would be a good starting point. Drury Lane by J.M. Macqueen Pope give a basic outline of the theatre's history, but only a few paragraphs about 1815 (from which I quickly got the info about Kean's performances that autumn.)

There are biographies of Kean that would be useful as well, I should think.

Kalen Hughes

Fantastic information (and I love the pic of you in your Regency gown and tiara!).

Do you happen to know how the chandeliers of candles were dealt with? Were they lowered at the start of the play and snuffed out or did they burn all the way through?


All sources of illumination inside the auditorium remained lighted during the performances.

The chandeliers were lowered before the performance and fresh candles were set in place by theatre personnel. This was done for the many sconces also.

It wasn't a quick task, either. At Covent Garden several hundred candles would be needed for "At least 50 crystal chandeliers, mirrored wall brackets...yet...their brilliance seems to vanish the moment the curtain rises and the stage
lightning floods the area like the brightest sunshine."

At the Opera House the house interior was lighted by wax candles and oil lamps, inside
and outside the boxes and in the lobbies and passages. A large
chandelier was suspended over the pit, enabling people to read the
libretto during the performance if they wished.


As noted by another poster, I don't have a prejudice either for or against theatre-set stories, it all depends on the ability of the storyteller to make me care about her characters.

An interesting take on the Peg Hughes story can be found in Diana Norman's "The Vizard Mask". She renames the heroine but much of the events in the book follow Peg's life: the heroine becomes an actress famed for her Desdemona and has an affair with Prince Rupert. I loved the book and its opening line: "Penitence Hurd and the plague arrived in London on the same day."

Thank you Ms. Porter for all of the facts about the theatre. Even if I don't win the book (although my fingers are crossed), I've got a new author to look for, which always makes my day brighter.


Susan/DC, Diana Norman's A Catch of Consequence has been on my TBR for some time. Having just ordered The Vizard Mask--thanks for the recommendation!--I suspect I will be reading it first.

The terrific opening line shows the importance of getting one right! If only it were easier...for me, that is.

Karen Hore

Hi Margaret
Sorry if I sounded condemnatory about not including poor Mary Betterton. It is only natural that the (public) interest has been in the actresses with the 'reputations', like Mrs Barry, Peg Hughes (I read The Vizard Mask, and enjoyed it in parts, but to me it wasn't 'in' the theatre enough), Nell Gwyn (people often overlook Moll Davis who was, as you know, Charles' mistress before Nell), or Anne Bracegirdle, about whom everyone wondered like mad. Ditto, the later periods to a certain extent. It seems that many people like to have their prejudices (all actresses are tarts) reaffirmed rather than to read the real, and infinitely more interesting stories. I deliberately focused on the Duke's Playhouse in Lincoln's Inn Fields, rather than the Theatre Royal, because they were more innovative and, well, just professional, at first under Sir William Davenant (a taskmaster, unlike KIlligrew, who insisted on high standards), and then under Betterton - golly, another overlooked actor, I think. Everyone has heard of Garrick, but Betterton was also a Giant, and possibly, along with Davenant, partly responsible for ensuring that the works of Shakespeare didn't entirely sink without trace.
I am glad to hear some approving voices for story ideas set in the theatre.
Seeing 'Stage Beauty' without knowing any background probably means that you can enjoy it, if you can believe Billy Crudup as the 'beautiful woman' Samuel Pepys thought Kynaston was, but I couldn't buy him. I agree that the interaction between theatre and court showed well, but I think the story would have been just as good without the 'howlers' (e.g. a middle aged Thomas Betterton, who, in fact, was still in his twenties and not running a theatre, especially not the one Kynaston worked in, the King's, he was with Davenant at the Duke's, where admittedly he built a very good reputation very quickly, or, almost worse a middle aged, somewhat camp, Charles II, when he was only in his very early thirties and still in good trim, still Rupert Everett likes a nice camp part).
I was disappointed that Richard Eyre had directed the film because I have great respect for him, and I think he could have done much better.
OOh, picking at other people's work! Naughty, but nice!
Keep plugging away at revealing some of the fascinating stories 'behind the scenes', as someone who spent 20 years behind the scenes I know the best stories are often there - the performance is really the tip of the iceberg.

Linda Banche

I have nothing against stories set in the theater--I like a good story that is historically accurate. I don't like reading about prima donnas of either sex, but then, they do make good villains.


No, you didn't sound condemnatory. I truly welcome your points and heartily agree about Betterton. And all the rest of it!

Did you see Simon Callow's turn as Charles II in England, My England? (Film about composer Henry Purcell, interspersed with a strange modern day actor's struggles).

Interesting (to me) that the Merry Monarch has so often been played by gay actors! Casting directors seem to harbour the notion that a certain camp quality is required!

Are you perchance in London? When I'm there later this year, perhaps we can meet!

I do realise I'm here to discuss theatre. But as it's June, the month for roses, I cannot help mentioning that another (of many) passions is garden history. I grow a variety of 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century roses.

On my blog I'm featuring one or more of my collection nearly every day. So if anyone cares to see what a "real" historic rose looked like, please come over and find out!

Margaret Dean

A very interesting article, Margaret, thank you!

One thing I've often wondered is, not where actors and actresses went (as in marrying peers, etc.), but where they came from. That is, what sections of society tended to produce them? Presumably talent can show up anywhere, but....

Crystal B.

Hi Margaret. Great post. I have read some great books that featured the theatre and actors and actresses.


Actors and actresses came from all walks of life, as they do today.

And like today, many players came from families of players. The parents of Sarah Siddons and John Kemble were actors, and their siblings followed the trade. Joseph Grimaldi is another example--his father was a performer. So was his son.

The children of stagehands and other theatre personnel often went onto the stage.

Elizabeth Simpson, better known as Mrs. Inchbald, actress, playwright, novelist, was a country girl from a Suffolk farming family. Her brother had no interest in farming as a young man and went on the stage. His wife was an actress. As a stage-struck girl, Elizabeth secretly ran off to Norwich to ask her secret crush, the manager there, to hire her. He wouldn't. (She had a stammer.) Later, in London, she met Mr. Inchbald, an older actor. There's a theory that she agreed to marry him if he would teach her to be an actress. He did. And then he died. And eventually, with her pen (her talent was negligible, her beauty significant) she became one of the most famous literary figures of her age.

Thanks for asking, Margaret. (Nice name!)

I must leave my computer for an afternoon picnic. When I return, I'll continue this response. And I look forward to more of these fantastic questions and comments!

Karen Hore

Thanks Margaret
Nice to hear about roses too, I'm just contemplating sneaking a couple in to the 'landscaped' area outside my flat, make some relief from the swathe of monotone 'municipal' planting. I had some Rosa Mundi at a former 'residence'.
I don't live in London, did once, but am now located near Cambridge, because I have access to the University Library, where they have Highfill, The London Stage, and needless to say just about every other work published on this (or any other) topic. (I also own the complete works of William Congreve edited by Montague Summers back in the 1920s, The Rev. Monty is pretty good value).
I do get to London occasionally, last time, new year, for a production of The Country Wife at the Haymarket, which - rocked, plus a real play in the West End, Lawks a Mussy! not a musical... My next expedition might be to The Revenger's Tragedy at the National (I do love a bit of dark).
I also read some Sheridan at school (School for Scandal) back in the Dark Ages, which I loved, along with the Shakespeare, I loved that too - I think the girl bound for the theatre must have been brewing then.
I must read something about Mrs Siddons, I am always more interested in the 'serious' actresses/actors rather than the glamour pusses, plus I love Gainsborough's portrait of her.
Any recommendations?


Thanks for the information on the regency reportoire.

In the past year, I read a really good biography of Hannah More. I was surprised by her connection to the theater world - as an author of plays and through friendships. That book gave the impression that connection to the world of theater was not necessarily scandalous.

Kalen Hughes

Thanks so much for the candle info!!!

Susan Scott

Margaret -- As attached as I became to Nell, I don't think even she would have claimed to have been a great Actress, with a capital A. She excelled in comic roles with lots of slapstick and physical humor, but from all reports was not successful in dramatic parts -- the ones that cemented an actress's artistic reputation. Probably Elizabeth Barry, Mary Betterton, and Anne Bracegirdle were all more adept than Nell at the deeper roles.

And why IS it that poor Charles II is always played as such an arch buffon in movies? I haven't seen the Simon Callow interpretation, but Rupert Everett (in "Stage Beauty") certainly did camp it up, and John Malkovitch (with a Halloween-fake nose between his crossed eyes) in "The Libertine" was pretty dreadful, too. For a king who was supposed to exude so much sedeuctive charm that he was pretty much irresistable to women, it does seem curious that he's often played by gay actors, and never one who's the right physical type. Strange!

Blue Angel

Very interesting post. I had no idea that actresses actually married into the nobility! Any information about how well they were accepted?

IMO, the all time BEST movie about the theater in the past is "Shakespeare in Love," a total delight! If you haven't seen it, oh, what a good time you have in store for you!

Karen Hore

Susan commented on the dearth of he-men portraying Charles II (oh, how I agree about John Malkovitch in The Libertine, or any other period role, as for the badly lit fake nose, I shudder! I totter!).
The BBC TV series, Charles II, that aired a few years ago erred rather in the other direction by casting Rufus Sewell, whose sex appeal is fairly undeniable but so are his good looks. Charles II was one Ugly Boy, but he seems to have had oodles of charm, and obviously enjoyed the earthy pleasures of life, con gusto, con brio! Part of the difficulty is his combination of charm, psychological impenetrability, sexuality and ugliness, it makes him almost impossible to cast - although a younger Jim Carter might have had a creditable stab at it: tall, dark, plain rather than ugly, but with plenty of soul. He is a stalwart of the English stage and screen and is married to the diminutive but equally stalwart, Imelda Staunton (the nurse in Shakespeare in Love).

People often have the most simplistic ideas about actresses, which some of them have done nothing to dispel. One thing that Margaret will no doubt concur with is that they had to be literate, Nell Gwyn, almost a virtual illiterate, was an exception that proved the rule. They would have found learning their parts difficult without being able to read, obviously some of them managed, but being literate was an advantage. Rehearsal practices meant that full company rehearsals were rare during rehearsal time, most 'conned' their parts privately for most of the time, or perhaps they worked with the others in a scene for a time. I many ways the theatre world then was completely unlike now, but in other ways nothing seems to have changed at all.


From MJP:

For obvious reasons, I'm letting Margaret field all the theatrical comments, but I couldn't resist weighing in since there's so much cool stuff being said.

Liz, I clicked on your name, and that's quite a tale you have to tell! You look fine bald.

Like you, I don't like arrogant characters with a vast sense of entitlement, but I don't particularly associate them with theatre stories. (Probably more Regency heroes are depicted that way. :) )

I did write one theatre book, and did my best to show the actor characters as devoted to their craft and perhaps more dramatic in their daily lives than most, but tolerant, accepting, and working hard to make a living.

Whoever mentioned SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE---YESSSSS! I love that movie--it's an old English major's delight. :) And a lot of the creative process quips were equally funny to writers.

I haven't seen enough cinematic Charles the II's to have strong opinions--didn't know he was usually played as campy. Maybe it's because all that most people know about him is that he couldn't keep it zipped, which is a comic premise.

But if one is doing casting--well, Rufus Sewell may be too good looking, but the "hot" part certainly works!


I like them, though I haven't read very many of them so far.

Kalen Hughes


And the costumes are fab. Most of the men's costumes were based on extant garments detailed in Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women 1560-1620". I was especially amused by Burbages' pludderhosen (the pants with the baggy spill). Those were a Germanic/Swiss garment and were decades out of style by the time of the film (but they looked great, LOL!).

Kalen Hughes

***But if one is doing casting--well, Rufus Sewell may be too good looking, but the "hot" part certainly works!***

They did a great job with all the men having shaved heads and wearing wigs too!


Margaret, what a neat article!! Thanks!

Loved it and what I learned from it. - But kindly don't tell a soul there's so much I didn't know! ;-)

As for Charles Second, he's one of my all time favs. But I think Rupert Everett is hot - my suspension of disbelief factor is very high. I haven't seen the Rufus Sewell portrayal: there's something else to add to my must-see list.

Susan Scott

I can't suggest an actor who'd make a good Charles –– I'm not very good at remembering movie stars' names –– but since in Charles's portraits he looked a good deal more Medici than Stuart, I always imagined an Italian or French actor with dark hair and eyes, and the required strong features. Though splendid to gaze upon, the Ruperts are a bit too pretty and English. *g*

And wherever this unknown Italian actor may be hiding, he should be signed up also to play Loretta's Dain, from "Lord of Scoundrels." I always imagined Charles and Dain to be cut from the same cloth -- not conventionally handsome, yet devastatingly attractive to women.


Lots of catching up here!

Susan S--re: Nell, I said the "best known" not the best! I concur with what you've said. She had a charm and a sauciness and a flair for the comic, most definitely. That goes a long way--then, as now, in ensuring a performer's popularity. Dramatic skill often isn't even a requirement for a successful career!

Karen--I almost saw the Haymarket's The Country Wife at year's end but my social/research schedule didn't permit. Been kicking myself ever since. Also saw the Charles II series Over There--several parts of it, perhaps not the whole. Then, as usual, I was so pleased to see the era on telly (or film, when that applies) that I can be fairly forgiving. Admittedly, there were aspects about that production that were difficult to forgive...

MJP--I thoroughly enjoyed your theatre book, One Perfect Rose, and heartily recommend it as a well done depiction of a travelling theatre company during the Regency.

re: Shakespeare in Love. For a long time I avoided seeing it a second time simply because I liked it so very much the first time. (I can be weird that way.) A few weeks ago I caught a re-run on television and got nothing else done for the remainder of the afternoon. Unfortunately I tuned in part of the way through. I'm now very impatient to sit down again and see it start to finish. It captures the riskiness of both the writing and the acting professions, the joie de vivre of stage life, and the ever-present danger of forming passionate attachments with company members! And yes, the costumes are a delight!

Michelle--A connection to the theatre was not necessarily scandalous at all. Sarah Siddons had a royal appointment as Reader to the Queen (Queen Charlotte, wife of George III). She was respectably married and a devoted mother, which helped with her social acceptance. She tended to behave with grandeur off stage as well as on. The most "scandalous" thing about her was that she demanded large fees and negotiated devilishly well with the management. A tiny scandal about another man attached itself to her when she was older but on a most flimsy foundation. As I mentioned in the blogpost, her brother was courted and received by the highest and noblest members of society.

Blue Angel--One of the interesting facts about actresses who married into the nobility is that the vast majority were *second* wives. Meaning the heir, and possibly the spare, were already secure, and there was little danger of a player's spawn inheriting the title. Acceptance in society depended entirely on the actress's reputation prior to her marriage. Several of them had a mother who acted as duenna, or even a father, to help preserve their reputation. (Not necessarily their virtue, but their reputation for virtue!)

Elizabeth Farren, Countess of Derby, is an interesting case. The 12th Earl of Derby married her as his second wife within days of his first wife's death. (They lived apart because she'd had an affair.) For years his lordship was at Elizabeth's side--his 3 primary interests were the theatre (he performed in amateur theatricals) and horse racing (he bestowed his name on the Derby) and politics (he was a staunch Whig).

After her elevation to the peerage, Elizabeth became the greatest snob in the aristocracy (and was mocked for it). She pretended that she had never trod the boards at all, when in fact she was the daughter of an actor and gave up a highly successful acting career. Noted for her "fine lady" roles, she was rumoured to have slept with various noblemen prior to accepting Derby as her--well, her whatever he was.

Elizabeth is a major character in Emma Donohue's novel Life Mask, which depicts the ways in which her reputation was damaged by her extremely close friendship with the sculptress Anne Damer.


Thanks Margaret for a very interesting post. I love history which would be why I majored in it. I enjoy any romance with great characters. I like the theatre too.

Take care and thanks for sharing!


Thanks for the info Margaret! Much appreciated.


liz m

MJP - Indeed I do, it's been a lot of tales this year. I'm currently a fuzzy chick and I joke I was working the bald better, but fuzzy works.

I read OPR and I don't recall it as anything but positive, so it must have worked. And Susan's Nell book did too. When I think 'theater books' I tend to think of the ones where a gaggle of actors move into his home and won't leave, no matter how much they disrupt everything and the homeowners very valid complaints are pished and toshed, or one I read last year with a runaway who puts herself and her siblings in serious danger repeatedly to pursue her dreams. For some reason, Regency + theater seems to breed this more than other combos.

Edith - because Rupert Everett IS hot, no suspension of disbelief required. It's like Robert Downey Jr - hot. Very hot. Personal life his own business. Harold Lloyd. Hot. I could go on.

Susan Scott

Margaret wrote: "re: Nell, I said the "best known" not the best!"

Oh, Margaret, I'm sorry -- so much for my reading comprehension! *g* At least Nell would be laughing at me, too.

I second your recommendation of Emma Donoghue's "Life Mask", a fascinating book that brings many aspects of 18th century society together. I always think of that lovely Lawrence portrait of Elizabeth Farren at the Met in NYC, but her personality doesn't seem to have been quite so beguiling.

And your roses are BEAUTIFUL!!


Thanks, Margaret, for the enlightening post! Whether or not I like *any* story depends on how well the characters suck me into it. I've read some rather improbable premises and enjoyed them only because the characters themselves were so strong, they could have been living under a rock and I'd have enjoyed their story.

That said, though I haven't really read any set in the theater that I can recall, you have given a wealth of information that makes for great research! After all, authors whose characters visit the theater in their story still need to have their information straight. Whether the story centers around the theater or not, I love the research, the learning of new things and figuring out how they can be incorporated into one of my own stories so...

Thank you! Loved the article, the information was great and I appreciate the time you spent enlightening us all :)


I'm glad if the information provided--such a small portion of info--was interesting or useful to visitors at Word Wenches.

Fiction authors have a lot of latitude in how they depict the era and their approach to matters theatrical. We do, after all, have licence to make things up! But in doing so, most of us strive for the highest achieveable dress of accuracy.

On occasion I've placed my characters in fictional theatres, in which the norms are based on real theatres.

In a couple of my works--Regency and historical--I've placed my fictional characters in actual theatres, interacting with actual players and managers, participating in real productions and being involved in actual events within that theatre. I'm not alone in doing this, either--other authors have also. I make that choice because--and I stress this--it ties in with and assists my plot and primary conflict.

Once I've committed to that much reality, I feel compelled to give a truthful account. This means being certain of dates and performers in specific plays. It's not that difficult to do, the facts are out there. And it means reading memoirs and letters and biographies to learn about the 18th century or 19th century person's experience of working in the theatre. These primary sources do exist.

I know perfectly well that the average reader isn't as conscious of the factual framework of my theatrical romances as I was. The reader is seeking a solid and involving tale. For those who do care, I always include a historical note at the end to explain where fact and fiction meet.

There was a progression the way I crafted my theatre-set books, culminating with my opera singer historical, in which the heroine and the hero were practically the *only* fictional people (except for servants) in the entire novel.

Very clearly I was headed for the type of historical fiction I'm now pursuing: novels in which the protagonists are also real people. It's not a theatre story. I'm starting to suspect the one after, which will also be historical biographical fiction, might be!


I haven't read that many stories that included actors and the theatre but in general I do like them. I think the theatre is an interesting topic to begin with and the people working there can be passionate.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Margaret, as a former professional actress and theater history lover, I very much enjoyed your post. A few year ago, I saw a wonderful exhibit at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles on Sarah Siddons. I love reading books set in the theater but I'm very picky about them.

Ciji Ware wrote a wonderful book about a female playwright in the 18th Century. And of course, the wonderful Jean Plaidy novels about Dorothy Jordan and Mary Robinson. The Gunning Sisters from Ireland were also two actresses who managed to marry aristocrats.

And I saw the production of The Country Wife at the Haymarket and enjoyed it thoroughly and I agree with everyone who enjoyed Rufus Sewell as Charles II. He certainly had the sensuous lips of the King!

Karen Hore

Before it's time to sign off from this gathering, thanks Margaret, it's been nice to 'talk' with a fellow theatre researcher, and some interesting new information on the later periods. I so rarely meet anyone who is interested in my favourite period of theatre history (uhm, that's the Restoration in case I was unclear about it...), although I still have some theatre contact by doing some occasional voluntary work for the Cambridge Arts Theatre, and once in a blue moon bump into a like-minded Cambridge academic.
Also glad to hear someone else saw The Country Wife at the Haymarket, excellent cast, fab stage and costume design (a modern take on period dress and setting), pity about the Spanish Inquisition seating that mars an otherwise exquisite theatre (when I first came to London, 30 years ago, you could still get afternoon tea brought to your seat during the matinee interval at the Haymarket, sigh, and they still had call boys instead of a tannoy system - great legs every one of them...)
Very glad also to hear there is an audience out there for tales of theatre folk.
Thanks Margaret, let me know when you are in London.


Elizabeth: I've read the Plaidy novels you mention, long ago. I enjoyed the Ciji Ware enough to overlook some errors--historical more than theatrical. Amanda Elyot recently produced a novel about Mary "Perdita" Robinson, All for Love.

Karen: Would be very pleased indeed to meet you! I'm overdue for a visit to Cambridge--and the Fitzwilliam--so you never know when I might turn up there. In the past we've stopped there on my way to exploring familial connections in Essex and Suffolk. (And to research that back-burner fictional bio project to which I alluded.) Email me your contact info and I'll definitely be in touch!

Anybody who would like a clarification or seeks information, (or who wants to meet up in London!) do please get in touch. I can be contacted via

"mep" followed by "at" plus "margaretevansporter" plus "dotcom". Fit the elements together in the usual fashion.

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