“Loves Adventures” by Mad Madge
“There is an old saying, that opinion travels without a Passe-port…”
-Mrs. Reformer, Loves Adventures (1662)
The deeper I read into 17th century British theatre history, particularly the Restoration, the more fascinated I am by the literary (and other) figures who populated these eras and, of course, also by the works that have survived them. Little that occurs on- or off-stage these days is any more contentious, obscene, provocative, or suggestive than theatre and life in England during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685).
I have written before on Drama, Daily about the wonderfully enigmatic female dramatist, Aphra Behn. Now I’m starting to investigate further one of her senior contemporaries, Margaret Lucas Cavendish (1623-1673), the duchess of Newcastle, aka Mad Madge–a nickname which alludes to her noted eccentricity because (1) she dressed flamboyantly, and often masculinely and (2) she ventured into the male and public domain of published writing. The diarist, Samuel Pepys, compared her to the cross-dressing Queen Kristina of Sweden (whom you are more likely to know from Greta Garbo’s reincarnation of her than from Swedish history, I’m guessing. That’s certainly the case for me.) And yet, Margaret considered herself extremely shy and claimed to prefer voluntary seclusion.
Margaret led a fairly privileged life for the times. In 1643, at age 20, she became a maid of honor to Queen Henrietta Maria, whom she accompanied into exile in Paris in 1644. While there she met her future husband–a man 30 years her elder–William Cavendish, whom she married in December 1645. Margaret never had any children of her own, but she did have several step-children from William’s previous marriage. Many scholars have speculated on the extent of her love for William, given not only their decades of difference in age, but also how frequently she wrote discouragingly about marriage. Nonetheless, the two were married 28 years at the time of her death–William (1593-1676) outlived her by three years, making it to age 83!!!
A prolific writer, Margaret wrote in several genres, including biography, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, and drama. She wrote and published 19 plays, though none was produced during her lifetime. Her first play, Loves Adventures (Playes, 1662), is a rather sprawling work that contains two 5-Act parts. The 1st part calls for a cast of 18: 8 male, 10 female. With the addition of minor roles, the 2nd part calls for an even larger cast. Generically speaking, the play is an heroic romance, though its many scenes bristling with wit and banter are in keeping with conventions of Restoration comedy as are the names of characters, such as Lady Bashful, Foster Trusty, Lady Amorous, and Sir Dumb, to name a few. As Cavendish makes plain via a ‘Chorus,’ the play does not adhere to the unities of time and place. It’s multiple plotlines give it an episodic feel that verges on tedious at moments, but this is a fault more of the genre than of Cavendish.
Here in brief is what happens in the first part of Loves Adventures: Lord Fatherly urges his son, Lord Singularity to consider marriage. His son resists, fearing he’d be cuckolded and instead joining the military. Foster Trusty and his foster daughter and heiress, Lady Orphant, disguise themselves first as beggars and then as soldiers (yes, she dons breeches and cross-dresses as a boy) so that she can gain the attention of Lord Singularity, the man she hopes to wed in fulfillment of her dead father’s wishes–her plan to gain Singularity’s interest at camp works, but to what end exactly is not made clear until part two. Lady Wagtaile, Lady Amorous, Sir Humphry Bolde, and Sir Roger Exception pay a visit to another young heiress, Lady Basfull. Mrs. Reformer tries to help Lady Bashfull overcome being, well, bashful, and so urges her to consider the courtship of the noble but mute, Sir Dumb. Finally, Lady Ignorant wishes her husband, Sir Peaceable Studious, would accompany her to more women’s gatherings, but when he does and goes so far as to offer affections to other women, she quickly changes her mind. Issues explored include courtship practices, marriage, gender roles, social decorum, gallantry, poverty, fame and reputation, wit, and the topoi of chastity and modesty. If you’re not bored to death yet, look for a future post on part two of this play. Good stuff. I’m serious. I’m kidding. No, I’m serious.
“I am now Mistriss of my self, and fortunes, and have a free liberty; and who that is free, if they be wise, will make themselves slaves, subjecting themselves to anothers humour, unless they were fools, or mad, and knew not how to choose the best and happiest life.”
–Lady Bashfull, Part 1 of Loves Adventures