10 of the Best Plays by Women Dramatists

The best plays by women

The first named writer in world history was a woman, Enheduanna. Yet as Virginia Woolf pointed out in A Room of One’s Own, Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister Judith would have found it impossible to make it in the world of Elizabethan theatre. But in fact, ever since the time of Shakespeare, women have found a way to write for the English (or American) stage, and have changed the way we think about theatre. In this pick of 10 of the greatest plays by women writers, we’ve tried to include a representative chronological range, from the early years of female dramatists through to the present day.

Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland, The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry. This play is a notable first in English history, since it’s the first original play written in English by a woman under her own name. (There had been an earlier English female dramatist – a Tudor translator by the name of Joanna Lumley – but Cary’s is the first substantial dramatic work composed, rather than translated, by a woman.) Written in the early 1600s and first performed in 1613, The Tragedy of Mariam is about the second wife of Herod the Great, whose sister Salome convinces Herod that Mariam has been unfaithful to her husband.

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Five Fascinating Facts about Euripides

Interesting facts about a classical playwright

‘Have all the nations of the world since his time created a dramatist worthy to hand him his slippers?’ Such was Goethe’s assessment of Euripides. Even Shakespeare, it would seem, wasn’t worthy of such a slipper-carrying honour where Euripides was concerned. Here are five curious facts about the life and work of one of the great tragedians of antiquity.

1. Of the eighty or so plays Euripides is thought to have written, only eighteen have survived. Among the titles that we have lost – probably forever – are Aegeus, Antigone, Autolycus, Danae, Hippolytus Veiled, Ixion, Oedipus, Sciron, Theseus, and Thyestes.

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A Very Short Biography of George Bernard Shaw

The interesting life of the great playwright

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was a prolific writer of plays but also of essays justifying his plays: the two (double-columned) volumes of his Plays and Prefaces both stretch to over 1,000 pages. In this post, we’re going to attempt to distill his busy life into a very short biography – and, we hope, an interesting one – covering some of the most fascinating aspects of the man known variously as Bernard Shaw, George Bernard Shaw, or even just plain ‘GBS’.

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Five Fascinating Facts about Aphra Behn

Interesting facts about a groundbreaking writer

1. Aphra Behn wrote one of the first novels in English. However, which of her works qualifies for the title ‘early novel’ is a tricky issue. The mantle usually goes to Oroonoko, her 1689 ‘true history’ of a ‘Royal Slave’, about a prince from Africa who is sold into slavery in South America, organises an uprising against the slave-owners, and is defeated and executed. But Oroonoko is short – only around 70 pages – so is often excluded from the ranks of the ‘novel’ proper. However…

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Five Fascinating Facts about Aristophanes

Facts about classical literature’s greatest comic writer

1. We have eleven of Aristophanes’ plays, but he is thought to have written more than forty. Aristophanes is the earliest comic playwright, or at least the earliest whose work has survived so that we can read it. We are lucky to have The Knights, The Frogs, The WaspsLysistrata, Wealth, and the six other Aristophanes plays that have survived beyond antiquity, but in fact we have lost a host of others, including Seasons, Storks, Old Age, Centaur, and Merchant Ships, as well as the promisingly named Frying-Pan Men and Women in Tents. We can only guess at their contents (and how funny they were).

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