Wonder! A Woman Keeps a Secret

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A: Susannah Centlivre Pf: 1714, London Pb: 1714 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: Lisbon, 1714 C: 10m, 4f, extrasThe War of Spanish Succession has just ended. Don Lopez, a Grandee of Portugal, has two children. His son Don Felix is in hiding, since he has wounded a rival in a duel. His daughter Isabella is confined to the house awaiting enforced marriage to an elderly but rich suitor. In desperation Isabella leaps from her window and is carried by a passer-by, Colonel Briton, to the home of Violante, the beloved of Felix. Violante promises to conceal Isabella in her home. Felix visits Violante, but is disturbed to find Colonel Briton at the window, pleading entry to the woman he has fallen in love with. Violante, faithful to her promise, cannot reveal Isabella's whereabouts, and so Felix storms off in a jealous rage. Don Lopez calls in the police to search for Isabella and unwittingly reveals the presence of his son. A bribe is paid to save Felix from arrest. Felix and Violante are reconciled, and after further misunderstandings and narrow escapes, Felix is married to Violante, Colonel Briton to Isabella. Despite everything, Violante has managed to keep her friend's secret, so proving ‘That man has no advantage but the name.’

A: Susannah Centlivre Pf: 1714, London Pb: 1714 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: Lisbon, 1714 C: 10m, 4f, extras

Centlivre was immensely popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries –second only to Shakespeare. The Wonder! was performed at least 250 times by 1800, often with David Garrick in the role of Don Felix, a part he chose again for his farewell performance. Centlivre's achievement was to write tightly constructed pieces with clever sources of misunderstandings, a range of parts of essentially decent characters, and witty, sometimes even bawdy, dialogue. Her portrayal of the resourcefulness and ingenuity of women, reflected in the ironical title, should encourage revivals of her plays in today's theatre.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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