Monday, December 8, 2014

Restoraton (for Restoration*)

On December 8, 1660, the first British actress took the stage in a production of Shakespeare's Othello. Previously, female roles were played by boys or men. The idea of a woman participating in such an ignoble pursuit as acting was unacceptable. England's relationship with theatre was troubled enough to begin with: theatre was banned under the Puritans, and made legal again with the Restoration of King Charles.

So when Thomas Killigrew made the decision to have an actress join his company’s performance, it was a big deal. He commissioned an opening monologue from poet Thomas Jordan to set the scene. An actor played a backstage spy who had discovered this news, and was now letting the audience in on the "secret":
I come unknown to any of the rest
To tell you news; I saw the Lady drest;
The Woman plays to day: mistake me not
No Man in Gown, or Page in Petty-Coat.
- Thomas Jordan
Unfortunately, though the actress taking the stage was an important development in British theatre, her name wasn't actually recorded. Speculation centres around Anne Marshall or Margaret Hughes (pictured here) as the ground-breaking lady.

Restoraton* occurs 52 times in Worldcat, making it a low probability typo. I was surprised at the infrequency of this one – it took me three tries to type “Restoration” properly.

Leanne Olson
(Portrait of Margaret Hughes by Peter Lely is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

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