Female Playwrights and Eighteenth-Century Comedy: Negotiating Marriage on the London Stage

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Aphra Behn, Susannah Centlivre, Hannah Cowley, and Elizabeth Inchbald were the only four female playwrights in England with multiple comic successes from 1670-1800. Behn's interest in the body, Centlivre's fascination with written contracts, Cowley's nationalism, and Inchbald's discussion of divorce emerge in the comic events that are animated by the psychological mechanisms of humor. Attending to the dialogue between these comic events and the plays' more predictable comic endings illuminates the philosophical, political, and legal arguments about women and marriage that fascinated both female playwrights and the theatergoing public.