ABSTRACT

Cowley was celebrated for her dramatic comedy and associated iconically with the genre. She was identi ed with alia, the comic muse, in a portrait entitled COMEDY unveiling to MRS COWLEY (1783), painted by Richard Cosway and published as an engraved print by Mr Heath (see Figure 1.1). And she was also associated with alia by a ‘Gentleman of acknowledged genius’ in the prologue to Which is the Man? (1782): ‘Call’d forth alia’s standard to display, / And here maintain her sov’reign comic sway’. Cowley is one of the most celebrated gures of the period in comedy.3 Performance records indicate that she achieved remarkable commercial success with her works. Stratagem is listed among the twelve most frequently acted mainpieces between 1776 and 1800, only ve of which were new plays.4 It was rst staged at the eatre Royal Covent Garden in 1780, with Elizabeth Inchbald as Lady Touchwood and the successful comic actress Elizabeth Younge in the principal role of Letitia (see Figure 1.2). As Anna Seward said, ‘there were few better comedies than hers’.5 Her comedies Bold Stroke and Which is the Man? were received with great applause, as recorded in the Lady’s Magazine, and the same magazine noted her high productivity over a short time: her ‘Proli c muse has given birth to a large number of dramatic o spring, within the same length of time, than any dramatic author of the present century’.6