The Busie Body (1709)

The Busie Body (1709)

The Busie Body (1709)

The Busie Body (1709)

Excerpt

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 P erjur'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; is it 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 . . .

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