‘The Celebrated Hannah Cowley’: Experiments in Dramatic Genre, 1776-1794
Hannah Cowley (1743–1809) was a successful dramatist, and something of an
eighteenth-century celebrity. In her heyday, Cowley’s plays were put on
across Europe and America, and the most celebrated actresses of the period – Sarah
Siddons, Dora Jordan, Mary Robinson – all acted in them, as did fellow dramatist
and actress Elizabeth Inchbald. She was even portrayed disparagingly by Charlotte
Smith in two of her novels.
New critical interest in the drama of this period has meant a resurgence of interest
in Cowley’s writing and in the performance of her plays. This is the first substantial
monograph study to examine Cowley’s life and work. It examines her comedy – the
genre in which she made her name – and traces the path of her experimentation
with tragedy and alternative ‘illegitimate’ forms. Escott questions how a woman
was able to overcome the obstacles of her gender to use existing (and mould developing) genres for her purpose.