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Susanna Centlivre, The Basset-table

Nancy Copeland on Susanna Centlivre:


Susanna Centlivre was one of the leading playwrights of her time, who wrote many popular comedies between 1700 and 1723. Her comedy The Basset-table is named after a card game, basset, which was popular with gamblers at the time the play was first performed in 1705. In The Basset-table, Centlivre deals with two important women’s issues of her day: female gamblers and women’s education.  Her leading female characters are Lady Reveller, an aristocratic gambler, and her young cousin, Valeria, an amateur scientist. Lady Reveller represents many of the contemporary concerns about female gamblers: she disrupts her family by entertaining other gamblers at her house day and night; she mixes with people below her class, like the merchant’s wife, Mrs. Sago, because she can win money from them; and she exposes herself to unwanted sexual advances when she loses.


Valeria is also a topical character. Her interest in biology is an example of the popularization of scientific knowledge in the early eighteenth century, but, like other learned women of the time, she is satirized for being more interested in pursuing her education than in getting married and having children. Both characters achieve a degree of independence through their unconventional obsessions, but, in the end, each is domesticated by being tricked into marriage to a devoted male admirer.  Both Lady Reveller and Valeria are shown in characteristic settings: in one scene we see Lady Reveller playing basset with characters she hopes to “strip” of their money, and the violent reactions of the losers; in another we see Valeria in her laboratory, examining a live fish under a microscope. These colorful scenes, and Valeria, whose scientific aspirations strike a chord with twenty-first-century audiences, have helped make The Basset-table popular today.




Nancy Copeland is Associate Professor of Drama in the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies and the Department of English and Drama, University of Toronto Mississauga, where she is also Director of Theatre, Drama, and Performance Studies and Associate Chair. Her publications include an edition of Susanna Centlivre’s A Bold Stroke for a  Wife (Broadview,1995); Staging Gender in Behn and Centlivre: Women’s Comedy and the Theatre(Ashgate, 2004); and “Aphra Behn in the Contemporary Theatre” in Teaching British Women Playwrights of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century, ed. Bonnie Nelson and Catherine Burrows. (MLA, 2010).            



Case 12 -- Anne Finch >>>

Susanna Centlivre. The Basset-Table. London, 1706


Nancy Copeland on Susanna Centlivre

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See Folger Theatre's The Gaming Table
An adaptation of Susanna Centlivre's The Basset-table

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