Catherine "Kitty" Clive (née Raftor; 5 November 1711 – 6 December 1785) was a well-known English actress and occasional singer on the stages of London. She created the role of Dalila in Handel's 1743 oratorio Samson.
Kitty Raftor was probably born in London, but her father, William Raftor, was an Irishman and a former officer in the French army under Louis XIV. According to her biographers, she worked as a girl as a servant in the homes of wealthy London families. At the age of 17, she was discovered by the theatre community, when she was overheard singing while cleaning the front steps of a home near a tavern that actors and playwrights regularly patronized. She was recommended to Colley Cibber, manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, who hired her.
Her first role at Drury Lane was as the page boy Immenea in Nathaniel Lee's tragedy Mithridates, King of Pontus. Throughout the 1730s she played many further roles with much success, becoming Drury Lane's leading comedy actress. In 1747 she became one of the founding members of David Garrick's acting company. A soprano, she would occasionally sing on the stage, notably when portraying Emma and Venus in the world première of Thomas Arne's masque Alfred in 1740. She also created the role of Dalila in Handel's 1743 oratorio Samson.
Around 1732, Kitty Raftor married George Clive, a barrister brother of Baron Clive. The marriage was not a success and the two separated, though never officially divorced, and Kitty Clive remained economically independent. Because she never openly took on lovers, Clive was able to keep her marriage vows and preserve her public reputation. Her good standing with the public helped to strengthen the reputations of actresses in general, who were often looked down upon as morally lax.
Clive rose to become one of the highest paid actresses of her time and may have even earned more than many male performers, who were traditionally paid more their female counterparts. Her career on stage spanned over forty years, and according to K. A. Crouch, "[h]er pay places her among the very best actresses of her generation."  Kitty Clive became a household name along with other theatre greats of the time such as Lavinia Fenton and Susannah Cibber, and brought her earning power and fame to play as an open supporter of actors' rights. In particular, she published a pamphlet in 1744, The Case of Mrs. Clive, in which she publicly shamed the managers Christopher Rich and Charles Fleetwood for conspiring to pay actors less than their due. She also challenged the public's habit of associating actors with beggars and prostitutes.
Clive tried her hand at writing farces, with some success. She wrote several satirical sketches with feminist undertones including The Rehearsal, or Boys in Petticoats (1750); Every Woman in her Humour (1760); and Sketches of a Fine Lady’s Return from a Rout (1763). In these pieces she used humour to criticize the challenges that female performers and playwrights faced.
Kitty Clive retired in 1769 to a villa in Twickenham, which had been a gift from her friend Horace Walpole, and died there in 1785. She was buried at St Mary's, Twickenham, where there is a memorial to her in the north-east corner of the church, inscribed with a poem that praises her generosity.
A pair of Bow figures of Clive and Henry Woodward as "the Fine Lady" and "the Fine Gentleman" in David Garrick's mythological burlesque Lethe, 1750–52, may be "the earliest full-length portrait figures in English porcelain".
References and sources
- Lewis Melville, Stage Favourites of the Eighteenth Century (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Doran & Company, Inc., 1929), pp. 54–56.
- Berta Joncus, "Catherine Clive," 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 II (Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013), vol. 7, pp. 401–404, editorial notes, pp. 473–74, on p. 473.
- Tanya Caldwell, Popular Plays by Women in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century (Peterborough, Canada: Broadview Press, 2011), p. 28 ff.
- Fiona Ritchie, Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 43 ff.
- Felicity Nussbaum, Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), p. 51.
- Crouch, K. A.. "Clive , Catherine (1711–1785)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 30 November 2006.
- Felicity Nussbaum, Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), pp. 163–64 ff.
- Lynn F. Pearson, Discovering Famous Graves (2008, ISBN 0747806195), p. 82.
- J. V. G. Mallet: Rococo: Art and Design in Hogarth's England (London: Victorian and Albert Museum) 1984 (exhibition catalogue) O14, p. 248.
- Caldwell, Tanya, ed. Popular Plays by Women in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 2011.
- Clive, Catherine. The Case of Mrs. Clive Submitted to the Public. London: B. DOD at the Bible and Key, 1744. Accessed Feb 28, 2015.
- Crouch, K. A.. "Clive , Catherine (1711–1785)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 30 November 2006.
- Engel, Laura and Elaine M. McGirr, eds. Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater, 1660–1830. Lenham, Maryland: Bucknell University Press, 2014.
- Joncus, Berta. "Catherine Clive." 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 II. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 7, pp. 401–404, editorial notes, pp. 473–74.
- Hays, Mary. "Catherine Clive." Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries (6 volumes). London: R. Phillips, 1803, vol. 3, 399–402.
- 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.
- Perry, Gill. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011.
- Ritchie, Fiona. Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
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