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BULL SESSION 

THE WOMAN HATER

Thursday, January 28, 2021
LIVESTREAM RECORDING

An interactive discussion of the play and its themes with director Everett Quinton, scholar Tara K. Menon, and members of the company,

THE PANEL

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ABOUT THE PANEL

TARA K. MENON is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She will begin as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University in the fall of 2021. Her research and teaching interests include the nineteenth-century novel, narrative theory, Victorian literature, and Romanticism. She is currently working on her book manuscript, Spoken Words: Direct Speech in Nineteenth-Century British Novels which combines large-scale data analysis and formal close readings to reveal the ways direct speech shapes our understanding of, and affective responses to, literary characters. 

EVERETT QUINTON is an actor, director, and playwright and was a longtime member of Charles Ludlam's RIDICULOUS THEATRICAL COMPANY where he was an actor, director, and costume designer. While there he appeared in over 75 productions including CAMILLE; BLUEBEARD; EXQUISITE TORTURE; TURDS IN HELL; CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE; UTOPIA, INC.; THE BELLS; MOVIELAND; GALAS, SALAMMBO; A TALE OF TWO CITIES (OBIE AWARD); THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP (OBIE AND DRAMA DESK AWARDS); LINDA; DER RING GOTT FARBLONJET, to name a few.

 

Most recently, he starred,  Off-Broadway in the hit, DROP DEAD PERFECT produced by the Penguin Rep and directed by Joe Brancato and in ANTONY & CLEOPATRA at the McCarter Theatre Center.  Everett directed the beautiful revival of Charles Ludlam's THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Red Bull Theater  He has appeared as Duncan and Hecate in The Shelter Group's production of MACBETH and  Felipe Ossa's SABRINA LA CAPRICHIOSA at Dixon Place, TRAVESTIES at McCarter Theater Center; O, DAD, POOR DAD at CSU Summer Stages; TWELFTH NIGHT at The Arizona Theater Company, SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD (HELEN HAYES AWARD) at Arena Stage in D.C., WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN (CALLOWAY AWARD) and THE WITCH OF EDMONTON at Red Bull Theater,  The National Tour of CINDERELLA with Eartha Kitt (CARBONELLE AWARD); THE ETIQUETTE OF DEATH at LaMama, Tennessee William's and NOW THE CAT'S WITH JEWELED CLAWS at The William's Festival in Provincetown and as part of LaMama's 50th Anniversary Season. 

 

Everett has starred in his own one-person show's BITCH SLAPPED BY GOD at London's Drill Hall; TWISTED OLIVIA at The Zachary Scott Theater in Austin (AUSTIN CRITIC'S TABLE AWARD) and the Empty Space in Seattle; PHREADRE at Theater for the New City.

 

Other stage credits include Georg Osterman's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. and BROTHER TRUCKERS (Bessie Award); Richard and Michael Simon's MURDER AT MINSIGN MANOR (Drama League Award); as well as in his own plays: Carmen, Linda, Movieland, A TALE OF TWO CITIES  (Obie Award), and CALL ME SARAH BERNHARDT. Quinton has directed revivals of Charles Ludlam's BIG HOTEL, CAMILLE, DER RING GOTT FARBLONJET, and HOW TO WRITE A PLAY. He also directed BROTHER TRUCKERS (in New York, London, and as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), CARMEN, Sebastian Stewart's UNDER THE KEROSENE MOON, as well as THE BEAUX STRATAGEMATA at the Yale Rep and TREASURE ISLAND at the Omaha Theatre for Young People.

ABOUT THE PLAY

Frances Burney wrote The Woman Hater between 1796 and 1801. Although the play was never performed in public, Burney drew a cast list of prominent actors from Drury Lane, including Sarah Siddons, the best-known tragedienne of the day, as Eleonora. The play shares its title with the 1607 play by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, which also lampoons misogyny. Burney’s play first came to light in 1945 when the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library acquired a collection of her writing. Her plays were published for the first time in 1995. 

 

The Woman Hater is best characterized as a sentimental comedy, but it contains elements of several other genres including gothic drama, farce, and comedy of manners. The play shares many stylistic similarities with Burney’s earliest attempt at drama, the satirical comedy The Witlings, as well as plot similarities with her acclaimed novel Evelina. Lady Smatter, the pretentious woman whose constant misquoting of famous authors is the source of much of the play’s humor, is a caricature of the intellectual women of the day, and is most likely a veiled portrait of famous bluestocking Elizabeth Montagu.  However, while The Witlings was almost entirely a stinging satire of the pretensions of literary ladies, The Woman Hater shifts focus and castigates misogyny. In addition to being more sentimental, the later play is also arguably more nuanced. Characters that initially appear despicable or preposterous are, on closer inspection, often also victims of some kind. 
 

Much has happened before the curtains open on The Woman Hater. Seventeen years earlier, Sir Roderick and his sister Eleonora were set to marry another pair of siblings, Wilmot, and his sister. Just before their wedding, Miss Wilmot abandons Sir Roderick and marries Lord Smatter, a man who won her heart by courting her in verse. This betrayal by his beloved fiancée transforms Sir Roderick into the woman hater of the title. Despite Sir Roderick’s vows to disinherit her, faithful Eleonora marries Wilmot and the couple flee to the West Indies. However, soon after they arrive, a jealous Wilmot accuses his new wife of succumbing to the advances of a sea captain. Eleonora, distressed, leaves her husband, taking their only daughter with her. Wilmot is kept in the dark about his child’s absence by the nurse who replaces Sophia with her own child. The action of the play begins with a contrite Wilmot’s return to England where he is hoping to leave the girl he knows as his daughter (Miss Wilmot) with his sister (Lady Smatter) so that he can search for his wife and seek forgiveness now that he believes her innocent. Also on the scene is young Jack Waverley (and his father) whom Sir Roderick, in his woman-hating rage, has made promise to remain a bachelor at the risk of being disinherited.

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT

FRANCES BURNEY (1752-1840) was an English novelist, diarist, and playwright. She was the third of six children of the musicologist Dr Charles Burney. Although she did not learn her alphabet until she was eight years old, she made up for this late start by reading voraciously and by the age of ten had begun writing in a variety of fictional genres. 


Published anonymously in 1778, Burney’s first novel Evelina was an instant success. After her identity as the author was revealed, Burney was embraced by London’s literary elite and won the admiration of many, including Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick. Although her novel brought her fame and critical approval, Burney, an ardent lover of theatre and opera, yearned to write for the stage. Her first attempt, a satirical comedy about pseudo-intellectual women called The Witlings, was read to a private audience in 1779. Despite being appreciated by those in attendance, both her father and a close family friend, Samuel Crisp, were astonished by the sharpness of the satire. Also anxious that writing for the stage could ruin her reputation, the two men resolved that the play would not find a public audience. 
 

After this disappointment, Burney suspended her playwriting ambitions and focussed on writing novels and detailed journals—genres that were at the time more conventionally female. Her novels were social satires, headlined by strong female protagonists. They influenced many early nineteenth-century authors, including Jane Austen. Despite the genre, these works exhibit Burney’s theatrical inclinations; the scenes are highly dramatic and the dialogue, which often reads like a script, reveals a talent for capturing dialect and the nuances of individual speakers. 

 

Burney tried her hand at drama again later in life, but of the eight plays she wrote only one, a blank verse tragedy called Edwy and Elgiva, was performed during her lifetime. Put on at Drury Lane in March of 1795, the play closed after a single night. Although Burney’s fame continues to rest on her significant achievements as a novelist, several scholars maintain that, if not for the interference of her father and his friend, Burney could have also found great success as a writer for the stage.

TARA MENON

Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows