Alison Findlay, Stephanie Hodgson-Wright and Gweno Williams, Women Dramatists 1550-1670: Plays in Performance. Lancaster University Television, 1999. 85 mins.
Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

Hopkins, Lisa. "Review of Alison Findlay, Stephanie Hodgson-Wright and Gweno Williams, Women Dramatists 1550-1670: Plays in Performance." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.3 (January, 2001): 11.1-3 <URL:

  1. This teaching video introduces and discusses extracts from four plays by early modern women: Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedy of Mariam, directed and discussed by Stephanie Hodgson-Wright; Lady Jane Cavendish and Lady Elizabeth Brackley's The Concealed Fancies, directed by Alison Findlay and Jane Milling and discussed by Alison Findlay; Margaret Cavendish's The Convent of Pleasure, directed by Bill Pinner and discussed by Gweno Williams; and Lady Jane Lumley's Iphigenia at Aulis, directed and discussed by Stephanie Hodgson-Wright. It is based on full-length theatrical productions of all of the plays except The Convent of Pleasure, of which only the central scenes were produced, and its central aim is announced as being to contest the idea that plays by early modern women were "unperformed, not intended for performance and unperformable."

  2. I do not think it really does this--the fact that performances have been mounted proves nothing about original intentions, which here seem even more irrecoverable than usual--but equally I do not think it matters. In the first place, these extracts and the original productions from which they were taken are abundant testimony that whatever their original status, these plays can certainly be performed now, and in the second, they provide, invaluably, permanent records of such performances, as well as useful critical insight into not only these particular performances but the plays themselves.

  3. As the presenters themselves readily concede, the video cannot recreate more than a small portion of those original productions, not only because these are merely extracts but also because they allow so little of the atmosphere and of the full picture afforded by the staging as a whole to be conveyed. The limited financial resources which prevented a production of the whole of The Convent of Pleasure have made themselves felt in other ways as well; this project is stronger intellectually than it is technologically. Nevertheless, despite fixed camera positions and occasionally woolly sound, what is apparent throughout the extracts, and also emerges strongly from the presenters' commentary, is the profound interest and engagement of the original student actors, which clearly shows that all of these plays amply repay critical and theatrical investigation. Moreover, since, as Alison Findlay points out, the original authors themselves would have envisaged a household production with limited resources, the presence of similar constraints on these modern recreations is actually fitting. This is, then, a useful and engaging teaching tool, not least for the simple reason that, rather than encouraging students to be passive consumers of information, as one might fear of videos in general, it demonstrates so powerfully what they themselves can bring to the study of an early modern performance text.


The video is available in PAL, NTSC and SECAM formats (VHS only) from Dr Stephanie Hodgson-Wright, School of English, Cheltenham and Gloucester CHE, PO Box 220, Dunholme Building, The Park Campus, Cheltenham GL52 2BE, United Kingdom. Tel 01242 543481; fax 01242 532725. The email address is shodgsonwright@chelt.ac.uk

Price (including postage and packaging) £25 US$50 CAN $65 AUS$65

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)