Today in Theatre History: A WOMAN PLAYWRIGHT ON THE RESTORATION STAGE–September 20, 1670

Mrs. Behn at the height of her career as playwright and poet.

Mrs. Behn at the height of her career as playwright and poet.

On the evening of September 20, 1670, at Sir William Davenant’s theatre at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a new play by a new playwright premiered.  It was called The Forc’d Marriage and it was written by Mrs. Aphra Behn–a woman.  While she was not the first female playwright in England, Behn would certainly become the most successful of her era.  Born in Kent and raised in obscurity, she emerged after the Restoration as the apparent widow of a wealthy German grocer named Johan Behn, though none of this information can be confirmed.  She won favor at court as a spy in Antwerp.  But her espionage and her widowhood left her destitute and she spent time in a debtor’s prison until 1669.  To make ends meet, she began working as a scribe for Thomas Killigrew’s Kings Company at the theatre on Bridges Street, Drury Lane.  There she met John Dryden who encouraged her writing and her work in the theatre–where women had only recently been allowed to perform on stage.  In this new age for women, Behn was offered a chance to show her stuff–and on this very evening in theatre history, her first play was performed to great acclaim.  For the next 19 years, until her death in 1689, she wrote a steady and prolific stream of plays, poems and pamphlets, establishing herself as one of the greatest writers of the age.

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