The 1690s. The London stage, much like Britain itself, was in a state of flux and turmoil. The merry ways of the Restoration, along with its sex comedies, had changed. James II had died without an heir. Rebellions sprung up. A Dutch king was imported and local and foreign wars increased.
Meanwhile, the theatre in London’s mainstays were becoming less popular. While people are unsure of the reason (it could be that people’s tastes simply changed over a generation – how many people remember Kim Cattrall from Porky’s vs. that one show).
Carving out a living as a playwright was just as precarious as now, it seems. There were a few ways one could make a living as a playwright. One was to be the resident playwright with a yearly contract. John Dryden did this. Another was to get the elusive commission. Thomas Shadwell had a couple of these.
The other way was to simply submit the play to the theatre. This still didn’t guarantee payment, as the play had to run three performances before the writer got paid – from the profit of the third night. After the theatre’s expenses for that night had been cleared. In the beginning of the Restoration, they were paid ONLY on the third night. However, by the 1690s they had negotiated payment on every third night. One imagines they would’ve pressed their friends to go, kinda like when one’s playwright friends in New York send you a Facebook invite you to their play when you’re in, say, Bekasi.
After the play’s initial run, the play entered the theatre company’s repertory. Residuals and copyright fees were totally not a thing. All chances of making money from a new play died after the final curtain of the final performance. How depressing.
I should also mention that nearly all plays were written by dudes and the theatre, as with society, was dominated by men. True, women were allowed (gee, thanks) onstage after the Restoration, but their presence provoked more lurid rape scenes and of course the breeches role. Naturally, by the 21st Century everything is peachy in modern English-speaking theatre.
Mary Pix seemed to have the cards stacked against her simply by being born at that moment in history in 1666 in Buckinghamshire. As if living in a creepy, rapey, pre-electricity England wasn’t bad enough, her headmaster father died when she was “very young.” According to the gossip rag known as Wikipedia, she was courted by her dad’s successor, Thomas Dalby, at the school, but he left due to a smallpox epidemic one year after the schoolhouse mysteriously burned down. Slut-shaming Wikipedia was on the scene:
“Rumour had it that Mary and Dalby had been making love rather energetically and overturned a candle which set fire to the bedroom.” (You can seriously read the original here.)
Because, you know, banging dad’s replacement and burning down schools when you’re a teenaged girl go hand in hand.
I reckon she probably got pissed at creeper Tommy and burnt the damn thing down to be rid of him – or at least so he can’t have a work/creep-place.
Mary married (hehe) a merchant at age 18. She had a son who died young. The couple moved to London, had another son and BOOM Pix burst upon the literary scene in 1696 at the age of 30 when she published her only novel, The Inhumane Cardinal and two plays, Ibrahim, thirteenth Emperour of the Turks and The Spanish Wives.
Sadly, The Inhumane Cardinal isn’t an expose of birds committing war crimes.
But with success comes hatred, and for women, a particularly virulent, penis-having hatred. The success of these three ladies provoked a play, The Female Wits, which attacked them. Pix was portrayed as a fat, ignorant yet kind, oaf named Mrs. Wellfed. Things were less subtle back then. The play was written anonymously, because male bravery knows no bounds.
Pix was connected to The Theatre Royal (currently owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber) until that theatre produced The Female Wits, after which Pix took her talent to the theatre at Lincoln Inn Fields. She seems to have been mentored by the great William Congreve.
In 1697, Pix sent her play The Deceiver Deceiv’d to The Drury Lane Theatre run by rival playwright George Powell. Note to self: Do not send plays to rival playwrights. Second note to self: Find rival playwrights.
He rejected her play and totally produced a play with the same plot. Plagiarism, anyone? There was much “anonymous” letter writing to newspapers and a mini-scandal occurred. However, Pix’ reputation remained intact. But after that, she only attached her name to one other play, though we think she published seven more.
The first play we’ll review is the awesomely-titled Ibrahim, the thirteenth Emperour of the Turks.
Imitation Maltin summary: Spoiled brat/psychopath (and Ibrahim’s favorite mistress) Sheker crushes on stud-soldier Amurat who in turn loves winsome Morena. Sheker unleashes a wave of violence upon everyone in the story, including the titular Ibrahim.
You can also learn about the real Ibrahim. Never a good sign when historians dub you “the Mad.”
- Relatively well-written female characters for the era.
- Morena, despite being put upon a pedestal by Amurat, is more or less a fleshed out character, albeit a victim.
- Satanic spitfire Sheker is a consistently evil character with clear motivation – she has more depth than the infamous Iago in Othello. She loves and she hates. Almost like a real person. And she ruins people’s lives, almost like my old boss.
- Sheker’s slave (and apparently only friend) Mirva and Morena’s slave/buddy Zaida/Zada/Zayda (nobody used spell check back then) serve as brief foils to their mistresses – even they have a bit more depth than what one is used to seeing in the era.
- Dialogue and pacing
- In general, speech feels more natural than one would imagine. Much of the dialogue is effective – here is Amurat telling his friend Solyman how much he loves Morena, but also senses Sheker’s danger.
Oh Solyman! forgive the frailty of your Friend,
Forgive the follies that Imperious love creates,
Here the Mufti writes, that on earnest business
He craves my presence, if he hath discover’d
The Adoration that I pay his beauteous Daughter,
And then forbid it, how lost a thing is Amurat,
For I know well, though her poor Slave shou’d suffer
A thousand wracks, she’d tread the rigid paths of Duty,
And let me die, rather than forfeit her obedience.
Here is Sheker, all butthurt that Amurat has rejected her advances and left. Mirva is her slave and Achmet is Ibrahim’s eunuch.
Gone! O Devil!
Keep down, thou swelling Heart!
Or higher rise, that I may tear
Thee with my teeth! Mirva!
Break all the flattering Mirrors!
Let me ne’er behold this rejected Face again!
Have I seen Scepter’d Slaves kneeling
At my feet, forgetting they were Kings,
Forgetful of their Gods, calling alone on me;
Passing whole days and hours as if measur’d
With a Moments Sand, and now refus’d
By a Curst Beardless Boy! my Arms too
Open’d, all my Charms laid forth! (for
The Joys of Love are double, when our
Sex desires) heedless and cold he flew
From my Embrace; swift as I will do
To form his ruine—Achmet! I come!
‘Tis he must raise this raging Tempest higher,
Though cold to me, his Bosom’s sure on fire.
Finally, this is Solyman dishing it out to Ibrahim (who has done something terrible to Morena). Solyman truly is a great friend to Amurat. I love the simple stage direction at the end: “Fight.”
Traytors are ever loud—
And to colour their own detested sin
Rebellion; with impudence, and calumnies
Bespatter the Throne, they dare attack.
Was there a Slave throughout thy wide
Dominions, whom blind fate had cursed
With Wealth: His forfeit—Head
Pay’d for his crime: Whilst his extorted
Treasure fill’d thy coffers, and supply’d
New Luxury. Did vertue Reign in
Any Man, a life Austere; or active Valour
Like our great Progenitors: Strait you,
And your Minious thought, this lookt
With a Reflecting Eye on your Debauches:
Dispatch’d the pious Wretch, and sent him
To his Friends above; then Women
You monopoliz’d—let her be Wife
Or Virgin, fair as Heaven, or monstrous as Hell:
Witness your Armenian Mistress; all serv’d
As fuel to that consuming fire your Lust;
Nay, even the Relique of our late glorious
Emperour, was not free from your Attempt,
But that her Lion Resolution made your
Coward Heart shrink back.
Is there none to secure this Traitor?
I tell thee, Lost degenerate King,
There’s not a Soul will move a Tongue
Or Finger, in thy Defence; thou standst
Forsook by Heaven, and Human Aid—
Think now upon the fair Morena!
And if thy heart of Adamant unmov’d
Cou’d hear an Angel pray; if the angry Powers
So punish’d her spotless Innocence: What
Horrours must remain for thee; who bend’st
Beneath the weight of thousand thousand Ills?
Come on, thou Rebel!—
No Souldier sure thou art!
Thy Tongue’s thy sharpest Weapon—yet
If thou wer’t; and did thy acts excel the
Foremost of my Royal Race; thy Ignoble
Tomb must blush to hold thee, the name of Rebel
Wou’d blot out the H•ro, and leave thy Fame
Detest’d, to the honest World; as thou
Hast Represented mine!
My injur’d Friend, and that unhappy Beauty
Whom thy Lust hast ruin’d, gives Iustice to
My Javelin’s point, and sends it to thy heart!
Combined with well-placed dialogue, the action moves quickly.
- The characters express their emotions well. I was going to include examples here, but I feel the above dialogue examples work well. It is a very emotional piece.
Even though The Merchant of Venice continues to be produced, for better or for worse, Ibrahim is basically “old English people pretending to be Turks” and as such would rightly be deemed offensive by pretty much everyone. However, considering its dramatic, tragic and emotional strength as well as historical significance, there are at least two ways the production could be successful.
- Go all out on the Turkish/Islamic/Ottoman culture. Go find a cultural consultant and modify the Hell out of it to suit the 21st Century.
- Re-set it somewhere else, for example amongst Mormon polygamists. Note to self: totally write “Ibrahim, 13th Emperor of Utah.”
- The ending. The ending is harsh. It’s a tragedy and ends like a tragedy.
- The title. It makes me want to see 12 prequels and a possible sequel.
- There’s a weird song in the middle of the play, because. Just because.
The second play I planned to read was The Beau Defeated. This play was so impressive that the Royal Shakespeare Company thought it was the bee’s knees this year, so they renamed it and you know the rest. Except I tried to read The Beau Defeated and Bryan Defeated or The Blogger Defeated would be more apt titles. You know those plays that are just people talking? Yep, it’s one of those. I’m assuming they chose the play because it’s been regularly produced elsewhere and it is rather tame – it’s like if Quentin Tarantino wrote an episode of Murder, She Wrote and then everyone would just watch that episode instead of True Romance. Anyways, I couldn’t finish The Beau Defeated. It finished me.
But Mary Pix did write an awesome comedy entitled The Innocent Mistress. The plot is extremely convoluted – much more than Ibrahim. I’m leaving the plot synopsis to a smarter mind, that of Jose M. Yebra in his The Flourishing of Female Playwriting on the Augustan Stage:
The Innocent Mistress is a multiplot play with several interwoven love intrigues. Sir Charles is married to an older woman, Lady Beauclair, supposedly a widow, who is very different from the witty heroines of other Restoration plays. In fact, she is presented in the Dramatis Personae, together with her daughter Peggy, as “an ill-bred woman”. Her marriage to Sir Charles cannot work since it is just the product of socio-economic interests. Being Sir Charles a younger brother with no estate, and Lady Beauclair a wealthy woman, Sir Charles’ friends and family induce him to marry her. At the end of the play, we learn that the marriage is not valid for two reasons. Because it has not been consummated and because Lady Beauclair’s first husband, Mr Flywife, is alive and back to London after several years of voluntary exile in Jamaica. The re-encounter of Mr Flywife and Lady Beauclair makes Sir Charles free to marry Bellinda, his niece’s friend, whom he has been courting throughout the play. Bellinda, whose real name is Marianne, lives at Mrs Beauclair’s (Sir Charles’ niece) under an assumed name after having escaped from a forced marriage. Mrs Beauclair, presented in the dramatis personae as “an independent woman”, fulfils and updates, together with Sir Francis Wildlove, the “happy couple” stereotype of Restoration comedies. The plot turns around Mrs Beauclair’s attempts to reform Sir Francis from his initial rakishness to his final “faithfulness”. His reform process is slow. The rake only changes his attitude and reveals his true feelings for Mrs Beauclair when, due to a misunderstanding, he thinks she has married another man. Another couple is formed by Beaumont and Arabella. The former is, like Sir Charles, a character with an “incorruptible” morality, whom Bellinda’s father has sent to find her after her brother’s death. Arabella, her father thinks, has her fortune and person controlled by Lady Beauclair and her stupid brother Cheatall. Once Arabella is liberated with the help of Lady Beauclair’s servant Eugenia, she can marry Beaumont. There is yet another marrying couple at the end, Lady Beauclair’s “ill-bred” daughter, Peggy, and the social parasite Mr Spendall, who tricks both mother and daughter into believing he is a man of quality with a fortune to inherit. Once Mr Flywife comes back and Peggy’s fortune –the only reason for Spendall’s interest in marrying her– fades away, Peggy is punished with a lazy husband with no fortune. Likewise, Mr Spendall must deal with an ill-bred girl with no properties so far. Finally, even the servants Eugenia and Gentil marry just the way their “betters” do, thus following Roman comedy tradition. Only Mrs Flywife (the mistress of Mr Flywife while in Jamaica) is left outside the marriage fair. We learn that both have been living together, but Mr Flywife, after his first experience, prefers not to marry again. Thus, when they are back in London, the former has to live with Lady Beauclair again, and the second becomes the odd one out in the comedy happy ending.
- This play is beyond funny. It’s kinda like a 17th Century pervy sitcom taking satire pills. That is the beauty of this work – it comes on the heels of the anonymous attack on Pix, Trotter and Manley. A heck of a punchback against the misogyny of the theatre. In punching back, it cranks the hyperbole up to “atomic” and KA-Boom! The bombs fall.
- The dialogue carries the play. Especially put downs and what have you. Here are some examples of the dialogue.
This is a dialogue between Sir Francis Wildlove and Beaumont when they first meet up. Subtle it ain’t.
Get me some Small Beer, and dash a little Langoone in it; else ’twill go down my burning Stomach ten degrees colder than Ice: I should have met my old Friend and Collegian Beaumont,who came to Town last night, but Wine and Women drove it clear out of my Head.
Sir, he’s here.
Welcome dear Friend, I prithee pardon my omission, faith ’twas business that could not be left to other hands.
Women I suppose, and that excuse I know a Man of your kidney thinks almighty.
Even so well by my Life, I am heartily glad to see you, why thou hast been an age consin’d to barren Fields and senceless Groves, or Conversation stupid and dull as they: How canst thou waste thy Youth, happy Youth, the very Quintessence of Life from London,this dear Epitome of pleasure?
Because excess of drinking cloys my Stomach, and Impudence in Women absolutely turns it; then I hate the vanity of Dress and Fluttering, where eternal Noise and Nonsence reigns; this consider’d, what should I do here?
Not much in troth.
But you, my Friend, run the Career your appetite directs, taste all those pleasures I despise, you can inform me what humour’s most in fashion, what ruling whim, and how the Ladies are.
Why faith there’s no great alteration, the Money is indeed very much scarcer, yet what perhaps you’l think a wonder, dressing and debauchery increases; as for the Damosels, three sorts make a Bushel, and will be uppermost: First, there’s your common Jilts will oblige every body.
These are Monsters sure.
You may call it what you please, but they are very plentiful, I promise you: The next is your kept Mistress, she’s a degree modester, if not kind to each, appears in her dress like Quality, whilst her ogling eyes, and too frequent Debauches discovers her the younger Sister only to the first.
This I shou’d hate for Ingratitude.
The third is, not a Whore, but a brisk airy, noisy Coquette, that lives upon treating, one Spark has her to the Play, another to the Park, a third to Windsor,a fourth to some other place of Diversion; She has not the heart to grant ’em all favours, for that’s their design at the bottom of the Treats, and they have not the heart to marry her, for that’s her design too Poor Creature. So perhaps a year, or it may be two, the gaudy Butterfly slutters round the Kingdom, then if a foolish Citt does not take compassion, sneaks into a Corner, dies an Old Maid, despised and forgotten. The Men that sit those Ladies are your Rake, your Cully, and your Beaux.
Here’s another bit between husband and very unhappy wife:
Well, well, thou art a good Boy, prithee no more wrangling Fubby;I vow and swear to morrow I’ll be as great a Slattern as ever was, if that will please you, so I will.
Ay, and want to go out to day, for all the gazing Fops to ad∣mire, tho’ I have told you, I can’t appear till I have enquir’d into my affairs, then to morrow, if you stay at home with me, Sackcloth will serve turn.
Lord, you are so froppish, if I was your Wife, sure Fubby,you would not be so jealous.
My Wife quotha! no, no, I was once bewitch’d, but I found such a Plague, that—No more Wives, I say.
Well, I’ll be any thing to please Fubby;Will you go in? Our Breakfast will be cold.
Note: “Bottle of hay” seems to refer to a bushel. The phrase is used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well.
Finally, there’s this joyous bit of dialogue. Lady Beauclair is angry at Mrs. Peggy.
Ye ye, ye damn’d Quean, he is here,—ha!—and his Minion with him!—let me come at her—
Leaps, and catches hold of her.
Hell and Furies! my Wife!—Madam, why all this Rage? Don’t you see my Neice? the other is a Friend of hers, a Woman of Honour.
Your Neice is a Pimp, and she’s a Whore! I’ll mark her—Sirrah—Villain! Oh, oh my Fits! my Fits!
“Your niece is a pimp” really isn’t used so often these days.
If pervy humor and insults aren’t your bag, then I don’t recommend the play.
- Characterization and plot take a back seat to dialogue and humor – the plot seems to be a series of complicated situations thrown together to stir conflict and humor.
- There’s a mystery that’s bugging me. The play mentions an Indian woman who is variously named Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum – and who, it is implied, runs a brothel called the India House. To add to the confusion, one character has been away in “the Indies” for a long time. Now this usually referred to what is now Indonesia and thereabouts. And Banten is a city on Java. Where cute little bantam chickens come from.
Despite (or because of?) her notoriety, Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum NEVER appears. A sequel, focusing on the adventures of an Indian madam in 1690s London might be pretty cool.
I’d love to see a modern production of this complicated, yet hilarious play. Here’s a trailer from a modern production with Pachelbel, too!
Mary Pix succeeded in a world much more difficult than our own. She beat each and every odd to give us a strong canon of plays, poetry and a novel. She should be admired and remembered for her skill as a writer as well as her tenacity.
Her plays deserve to be remembered, studied and performed just like that one dude whose plays seem to have a stranglehold on English-language theatre four centuries after his death. Instead of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, maybe we can have the Utah Pix Festival. Ibrahim couldn’t be any worse than what they’re doing. (Note to Utah Shakes: It’s 2018 and the only play you figured you could produce is an anti-Semitic English play from a time when Jews weren’t even allowed in England? Cool story, bro. Check out Mary Pix, please).
What do you think of Mary Pix? Would you like to see more of her work?
Here is a link dump related to any and all things Mary Pix-related.
Ibrahim, the thirteenth Emperour of the Turks (1696), full online text.
The Spanish Wives (1696) full online text
The Innocent Mistress (1697) full online text
The Deceiver Deceived (1697) full online text
Queen Catharine; or, The Ruines of Love (1698) full online text
Interesting essay about said play.
The False Friend; or, the Fate of Disobedience (1699) full online text
The Beau Defeated; or, the Lucky Younger Brother (1700) full online text
The Double Distress (1701) for sale here
The Different Widows; or, Intrigue All-A-Mode (1703), attributed to Pix Plot summary and chart
Zelmane; or, the Corinthian Queen (1705), attributed to Pix (though some scholars still debate this attribution including here)
The Conquest of Spain (1705), attributed to Pix Discussion in a book
The Adventures in Madrid (1706) attributed to Pix. Print on demand!
The Female Wits (1697) the play written to mock her. Full text online