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The Busie Body   By: (1667?-1723)

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First Page:

The Augustan Reprint Society


With an Introduction by Jess Byrd

Publication Number 19 (Series V, No. 3)

Los Angeles William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California 1949


H. RICHARD ARCHER, Clark Memorial Library RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan EDWARD NILES HOOKER, University of California, Los Angeles H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


W. EARL BRITTON, University of Michigan


EMMETT L. AVERY, State College of Washington BENJAMIN BOYCE, University of Nebraska LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, University of Michigan CLEANTH BROOKS, Yale University JAMES L. CLIFFORD, Columbia University ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, University of Chicago SAMUEL H. MONK, University of Minnesota ERNEST MOSSNER, University of Texas JAMES SUTHERLAND, Queen Mary College, London


Susanna Centlivre (1667? 1723) in The Busie Body (1709) contributed to the stage one of the most successful comedies of intrigue of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This play, written when there was a decided trend in England toward sentimental drama, shows Mrs. Centlivre a strong supporter of laughing comedy. She had turned for a time to sentimental comedy and with one of her three sentimental plays, The Gamester (1704), had achieved a great success. But her true bent seems to have been toward realistic comedies, chiefly of intrigue: of her nineteen plays written from 1700 to 1723, ten are realistic comedies. Three of these proved very popular in her time and enjoyed a long stage history: The Busie Body (1709); The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret (1714); and A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1717). The Busie Body best illustrates Mrs. Centlivre's preference for laughing comedy with an improved moral tone. The characters and the plot are amusing but inoffensive, and, compared to those of Restoration drama, satisfy the desire of the growing eighteenth century middle class audience for respectability on the stage.

The theory of comedy on which The Busie Body rests is a traditional one, but Mrs. Centlivre's simple pronouncements on the virtues of realistic over sentimental comedy are interesting because of the controversy on this subject among critics and writers at this time. In the preface to her first play, The Perjur'd Husband (1700), she takes issue with Jeremy Collier on the charge of immorality in realistic plays. The stage, she believes, should present characters as they are; it is unreasonable to expect a "Person, whose inclinations are always forming Projects to the Dishonor of her Husband, should deliver her Commands to her Confident in the Words of a Psalm." In a letter written in 1700 she says: "I think the main design of Comedy is to make us laugh." (Abel Boyer, Letters of Wit, Politicks, and Morality , London, 1701, p. 362). But, she adds, since Collier has taught religion to the "Rhiming Trade, the Comick Muse in Tragick Posture sat" until she discovered Farquhar, whose language is amusing but decorous and whose plots are virtuous. This insistence on decorum and virtue indicates a concession to Collier and to the public. Thus in the preface to Love's Contrivance (1703), she reiterates her belief that comedy should amuse but adds that she strove for a "modest stile" which might not "disoblige the nicest ear." This modest style, not practiced in early plays, is achieved admirably in The Busie Body . Yet, as she says in the epilogue, she has not followed the critics who balk the pleasure of the audience to refine their taste; her play will with "good humour, pleasure crown the Night... Continue reading book >>

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