SCEMS Early Modern Discussion Group - Cora James

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Thursday 11 November 2021
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‘A Rude, laughing, Clownish Hoyden’: The Patent Company and the Comedy of Susanna Verbruggen

About this event

During the theatre of the late seventeenth century, a player's part was their property. Such was the intimate relationship between actor and character at a time where a scarcity of performers and the limitations of patent theatre after 1660 required playwrights to write parts for actors rather than acquire actors for parts. In doing so, a proficient playwright would use an actor’s specific repertoire of skills to the best advantage of the play. For the popular comedian, Susannah Verbruggen, this included her remarkable versatility, a talent for mimicry, and a fondness for humour ‘in what low Part so ever to be found, that she would make no scruple of defacing her fair Form to come heartily into it’.

By tracking the increasing prominence of one such low character, Mary the Buxome, through the three parts of Thomas D’Urfey’s A Comicall History of Don Quixote (1694/5), this paper demonstrates that Verbruggen’s particular skills in coarse clowning were used by D’Urfey to form this original character and that her comic contributions to the Patent Company as a whole was vital to its survival following the creation of Thomas Betterton’s rival theatre following the Actor's Revolt of 1695. From a one-scene comic interlude in part one, Verbruggen’s character became one of the trilogy’s most enduringly popular figures. By examining Mary’s prominence and development through her increased stage time, songs, and paratexts, alongside Verbruggen’s generous contract, this paper will demonstrate that Verbruggen was not only an asset as an incredibly skilled performer but that her newfound prominence as a leading comedian was a necessary aspect of the Patent Company’s endurance through their challenging first year.

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