Elizabeth Barry

Definition

Theater

  • (1658 - 1713) British actress, generally considered thefirst English woman to achieve excellence in the profession. She entered theRestoration theater as a protégée of the Earl of Rochester(whose child she later bore), making her debut in 1673 in a revivalof Lord Orrery's heroic drama Mustapha. Mrs Barry excelledin tragedy, having a strong voice and statuesque figure, and oftenappeared opposite Thomas Betterton. She was known for herhard character, miserly ways, and fiery temper; during a productionof Nathaniel Lee's The Rival Queens she allegedly stabbed andwounded a rival actress on stage. Her lovers were supposedly legion."Should you lie with her all night," complained one TomBrown, "she would not know you next morning unless you had anotherfive pounds at her service."

    Mrs Barry created more than 100 roles, including two of ThomasOtway's heroines, Monimia in The Orphan (1680) and Belviderain Venice Preserv'd (1682). She was also Zara in Congreve'sonly tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697). She retired in 1710.Her death three years later was apparently the result of a bite fromher favourite lapdog who, unknown to her, had become rabid.

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