Playwrights

Joanna Baillie

A prolific playwright, Baillie began publishing a series of works in 1798 in collections she entitled Plays on the Passions. The most famous of these plays, De Montfort, premiered at Drury Land in 1800 with John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons in the leading roles. Though the play was not initially a great success, Edmund Kean revived it at Drury Lane to much acclaim in 1821. Sir Walter Scott greatly admired Baillie’s play The Family Legend, which was produced in Edinburgh in 1810 and at Drury Lane in 1815.

Lord Byron

The only play Byron wrote that was performed during his lifetime was Marino Faliero, which premiered in 1821 at Drury Lane, in a heavily cut version starring Robert William Elliston. His other plays include Cain, The Two Foscari, and Manfred, which was later staged by Samuel Phelps. In 1843, Drury Lane performed Sardanapalus, one of Byron’s greatest plays, with William Charles Macready and Ellen Tree in the starring roles.

George Colman the Younger

The son of the dramatist who penned The Jealous Wife and other hits, Colman the Younger wrote a number of plays for the Haymarket that remained popular throughout the Regency period. He often adapted the works of others, as with The Iron Chest based on William Godwin’s novel Caleb Williams, and his play The Heir at Law borrowed the character of Dr. Pangloss from Candide’s Voltaire. His most successful play was probably the 1803 comedy John Bull, or an Englishman’s Fireside.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Though Coleridge wrote his verse tragedy Osorio in 1797, the play was rejected by Drury Lane. That same theatre premiered a revised version of the play, titled Remorse, in 1813. The play was a hit that year, running 21 performances and being brought back twice the following year. Coleridge also helped bring the German playwright Friedrich Schiller to the attention of the English-speaking world, translating The Piccolomini and Wallenstein’s Death into beautifully rendered verse.

Edward Fitzball

Not active as a playwright until the end of the Regency, Fitzball enjoyed his first success in 1820 with The Innkeeper of Abbeville. Three years later, the Royal Coburg Theatre performed his adaptation of Thomas Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer, which brought a female vampire onto the stage. His later plays The Flying Dutchman and The Devil’s Elixir also featured supernatural elements.

Thomas Holcroft

First gaining fame with his 1792 play The Road to Ruin, Holcroft later wrote Deaf and Dumb, as well as A Tale of Mystery, the first play in English to be labeled a melodrama. The play was actually an adaptation of Guilbert Pixerecourt’s French melodrama CoelinaA Tale of Mystery premiered at Covent Garden in 1802, and though Holcroft died seven years later, his introduction of “Melo-Drame” to the English stage had a profound impact on the theatre of the Regency and beyond.

Matthew G. Lewis

Best known today for his gothic novel The Monk, Lewis created a sensation in 1797 when his play The Castle Spectre opened at Drury Lane. He followed that up with more plays, including Alfonso, King of Castile. In 1803, Covent Garden presented Lewis’s monodrama The Captive, a lengthy verse monologue about a woman wrongfully imprisoned in an asylum. The play shocked audiences, causing two people to go into hysterics during the performance.

Charles Robert Maturin

A friend and associate of Lord Byron, Maturin’s most famous play was Bertram, which in many ways resembles Byron’s own Manfred. The play was a hit at Drury Lane, where it starred Edmund Kean in the title role. Maturin’s subsequent plays included Manuel and Fredolfo.

William Thomas Moncrieff

First gaining fame with the equestrian drama The Dandy Family at Astley’s Circus, Moncrieff brought an infamous naval disaster to the stage with his semi-documentary play The Shipwreck of Medusa. He later brought another real-life tragedy into the theatre with The Gamblers, a play that dramatized a sensational murder that had taken place only weeks before. His 1820 play The Vampire was inspired in part by the famous vampire tale of John Polidori.

Isaac Pocock

Originally a painter, Pocock began writing for the stage with the musical farce Yes or No? which opened in 1808 at the Haymarket. In addition to other farces (such as the 1810 smash Hit or Miss! with Charles Mathews), Pocock wrote numerous melodramas, the most famous being The Miller and His Men, which featured music by Henry Bishop. Later, Pocock penned operatic dramas adapted from the novels of Sir Walter Scott. His adaptation of Rob Roy Macgregor opened in 1818 at Covent Garden with William Charles Macready in the title role.

Jane Scott

While managing the Sans Pareil Theatre with her father John, Scott wrote more than 50 plays, including melodramas, burlettas, farces, and pantomimes. Though most of her dramas were not considered serious, her 1816 play The Old Oak Chest, was published and subsequently performed in numerous adaptations. Also a talented performer, Scott frequently acted the lead in her plays, as she did with her 1817 melodrama Camilla the Amazon. In 1819, she retired from the stage, marrying John Davies Middleton.

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