Portrait of Susanna Centlivre

Portrait of Susanna Centlivre

The playwright Susannah Centlivre was a contemporary of the female wits and wrote her first play in 1700. She was successful during her lifetime and her works were regularly performed for the next two centuries.

Centlivre is best known for her comedies, many of which were adapted from French and Spanish works. Her plays were in the style of Restoration comedy, with immoral characters and risqué jokes. Often, however, it is the resourceful woman who comes out on top, rather than the leading man. Her prologues often express an active feminism and challenge male prejudice against women writers. Little is known about her personal life. Rumour has it that she came from a puritan family, but joined a troupe of strolling players after her parents’ death. She apparently lived for some months disguised as a man. This was not as uncommon as it sounds, a woman alone was at risk, and this was a means to protect oneself. She was married three times, first to an actor, then to an army officer and lastly to a cook in the royal household.