Anne Oldfield

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Anne Oldfield
Anne Oldfield from NPG.jpg
Anne Oldfield, by an unknown artist, held by the National Portrait Gallery
Born 1683
London, England
Died 23 October 1730(1730-10-23) (aged 47)
Grosvenor Street, London, England
Occupation Actress

Anne Oldfield (1683 – 23 October 1730), English actress, was born in London, to Anne Gourlaw and William Oldfield, a soldier.

Early Life and Discovery[edit]

Despite her rough economic background, Oldfield must have had a basic education because her biographers recount that she read plays voraciously throughout her youth.[1] In 1699, she attracted George Farquhar's attention when he overheard her reciting lines from Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s play The Scornful Lady (1616) in a back room of her tavern. Soon after, she was hired by Christopher Rich to join the cast of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.[2]

Career[edit]

It took nearly a year before she landed her first small role as Candiope in John Dryden’s Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen (1667). After her success in a minor role, she was given the lead in John Fletcher’s The Pilgrim (1647).[3] However, Oldfield wasn't truly noticed until the summer of 1703 when Susanna Verbruggen's contract was terminated before the company traveled to Bath to perform for Queen Anne and her court.[4]

Oldfield became one of Drury Lane's leading actresses. Colley Cibber acknowledged that she had as much as he to do with the success of his The Careless Husband (1704), in which she created the part of Lady Modish. Of her portrayal of Lady Townly in his The Provok'd Husband (1728), Cibber was to say, "that here she outdid her usual Outdoing." She also played the title role in Ben Jonson's Epicoene, and Celia in his Volpone. In tragedy, too, she won laurels, and the list of her parts, many of them original, is a long and varied one.

London gossip believed there to be rivalries between Oldfield, Anne Bracegirdle, Jane Rogers and Susannah Centlivre, all of whom were supposedly vying for the best roles.[5] In 1706 Oldfield entered a conflict with the Drury Lane's management over benefits and salary she believed she had been promised, but which the theater refused to provide. Oldfield left and joined the competing acting company at Haymarket Theatre before returning to Drury Lane shortly after with a fresh contract and a new position as joint-sharer of the Drury Lane Theater.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Anne Oldfield began a decade-long relationship with Whig politician Arthur Maynwaring sometime around 1700. Despite the fact that previous generations of actresses relied heavily on the patronage of their lovers, Oldfield remained financially independent from Maynwaring.[7] He supported her career by helping her work through new roles and by writing more than a dozen prologues and epilogues for her to perform.[8] When she became pregnant with their son, Arthur, Oldfield kept acting until she was physically unable, an unusual decision in a time when most actresses were pressured to take a leave of absence throughout the duration of their pregnancy. She went back to work just three months after the birth.[9]

When Maynwaring died in 1712, Oldfield was tortured with rumors that he had died from a venereal disease that she had given to him. In order to clear both their names, she ordered an official autopsy to be performed on her former lover's body, which revealed that he had, in fact, died of tuberculosis.[10] Oldfield was three months pregnant at the time, but her child is not believed to have survived the birth.[11]

Several years after Maynwaring's death, Oldfield began a relationship with Charles Churchill. The two lived together for many years and had a son, Charles. However, during this pregnancy, Olfield had many negative side effects and was forced to leave the theater for several months. She never fully recovered her health.[12]

Throughout her last theatrical season she suffered from chronic pain in her abdomen. She retired from the stage in April of 1730 and died from cancer in her reproductive organs a few months later.[13]

Memorial[edit]

Anne Oldfield was the theatrical idol of her day. Her exquisite acting and ladylike carriage were the delight of her contemporaries, and her beauty and generosity found innumerable eulogists, as well as sneering detractors. Alexander Pope, in his Sober Advice from Horace, wrote of her "Engaging Oldfield, who, with grace and ease, Could join the arts to ruin and to please." It was to her that he alluded as the lady who detested being buried in woollen, who said to her maid "No, let a charming chintz and Brussels lace Wrap my cold limbs and shade my lifeless face; One would not, sure, be frightful when one's dead, And Betty give this cheek a little red."[14]

Oldfield was forty-seven when she died on 23 October 1730 at 60 Grosvenor Street, London.[15] She divided her property, for that time a large one, between her two sons. Oldfield was buried in Westminster Abbey, beneath the monument to Congreve. Her partner, Churchill, applied for permission to erect a monument there to her memory, but the dean of Westminster refused it.[16]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Robert Gore-Browne, Gay was the Pit: the Life and Times of Anne Oldfield, Actress (1683-1730) (London: Max Reinhardt, 1957), p.16.
  2. ^ Robert Gore-Browne, Gay was the Pit: the Life and Times of Anne Oldfield, Actress (1683-1730) (London: Max Reinhardt, 1957), 18-9.
  3. ^ Joanne Lafler, The Celebrated Mrs. Oldfield: the Life and Art of an Augustan Actress (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), 16-7.
  4. ^ Joanne Lafler, The Celebrated Mrs. Oldfield: the Life and Art of an Augustan Actress (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), 25.
  5. ^ Lewis Melville, Stage Favourites of the Eighteenth Century (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Doran & Company, Inc., 1929), 19-21
  6. ^ Felicity Nussbaum, Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 51.
  7. ^ Joanne Lafler, The Celebrated Mrs. Oldfield: the Life and Art of an Augustan Actress (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), 27-31.
  8. ^ Nicola Parsons, “Mrs. Oldfield," Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803). Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part III. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 10, vol. 10, 30-3, editorial notes, 548-51, on 550.
  9. ^ Laura Engel and Elaine M. McGirr, eds, Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660-1830 (Lenham, Maryland: Bucknell University Press, 2014), p. 45-6.
  10. ^ Laura Engel and Elaine M. McGirr, eds, Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660-1830 (Lenham, Maryland: Bucknell University Press, 2014), p. 48.
  11. ^ Nicola Parsons, “Mrs. Oldfield," Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803). Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part III. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 10, vol. 10, 30-3, editorial notes, 548-51, on 550.
  12. ^ Laura Engel and Elaine M. McGirr, eds, Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660-1830 (Lenham, Maryland: Bucknell University Press, 2014), p. 53-4.
  13. ^ Joanne Lafler, The Celebrated Mrs. Oldfield: the Life and Art of an Augustan Actress (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), p. 162.
  14. ^  "Oldfield, Anne". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  15. ^ English Heritage plaque for Oldfield at plaquesoflondon.co.uk
  16. ^ Nicola Parsons, “Mrs. Oldfield," Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803). Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part III. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 10, vol. 10, 30-3, editorial notes, 548-51, on 551.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anonymous. Authentick Memoirs of the Life of that Celebrated Actress, Mrs. Ann Oldfield, Containing a Genuine Account of Her Transactions from Her Infancy to the Time of Her Decease, 4th edition. London: no publisher, 1730.
  • Egerton, William. Faithful Memoirs of the Life, Amours and Performances of that justly Celebrated, and most Eminent Actress of her Time, Mrs. Anne Oldfield. Interspersed with Several Other Dramatic Memoirs. London: no publisher, 1731.
  • Engel, Laura and Elaine M. McGirr, eds. Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660-1830. Lenham, Maryland: Bucknell University Press, 2014.
  • Gore-Browne, Robert. Gay was the Pit: the Life and Times of Anne Oldfield, Actress (1683-1730). London: Max Reinhardt, 1957.
  • Hays, Mary. “Mrs. Oldfield.” Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries (6 volumes). London: R. Phillips, 1803, vol. 6, 28-31.
  • Lafler, Joanne. The Celebrated Mrs. Oldfield: the Life and Art of an Augustan Actress. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.
  • Melville, Lewis. Stage Favourites of the Eighteenth Century. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Doran & Company, Inc., 1929.
  • Nussbaum, Felicity. Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
  • Parsons, Nicola. “Mrs. Oldfield." Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803). Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part III. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 10, 30-3, editorial notes, 548-51.
  • Project Continua - at ProjectContinua.org
  • Ritchie, Fiona. Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
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