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How Well Do You Know Your Historic Women Playwrights?

From Hildegard of Bingen and Aphra Behn to Sophie Treadwell and Zora Neale Hurston, amazing women throughout history have been paving the way for the stories we tell on stage today. Test your knowledge of historical women's plays and playwrights!

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  1. 1. How many plays did Rachel Crothers have on Broadway?

    Katharine Cornell, Francine Larrimore, and Tallulah Bankhead in NICE PEOPLE, 1921
    4
    9
    14
    28
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... 28!

    Rachel Crothers had 28 different plays produced on Broadway between 1910 and 1943, many of which she also directed herself.

    The answer is... 28!
    Via Mabel Taliaferro and Edith Taliaferro in YOUNG WISDOM, 1914
  2. 2. Which of the following characters does NOT appear in Adrienne Kennedy's play Funnyhouse of a Negro?

    Funnyhouse of a Negro, 1964
    Sarah
    Louis XIV
    Duchess of Hapsburg
    Jesus
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... Louis XIV!

    Funnyhouse tells the story of a young black woman named Sarah who lives in New York City. The play focuses on Sarah's internal struggle with her racial identity. She is grappling with her feelings about her mixed ancestry—she worships her white mother and despises her black father. Kennedy transforms the stage into a manifestation of Sarah's mind, and she uses various historical figures as representations of Sarah's black and white heritage. These character's are described as extensions of Sarah's self. The figures include Queen Victoria, the Duchess of Hapsburg, Patrice Lumumba, and Jesus Christ.

    The answer is... Louis XIV!
    Via FUNNYHOUSE OF A NEGRO, Signature Theatre, 2016
  3. 3. In addition to being a playwright, Aphra Behn held another remarkable job for a woman in the 1600's. She was also a...

    Aphra Behn by Sir Peter Lely
    Theater owner
    Spy
    Doctor
    Butcher
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... spy!

    Aphra Behn left London in 1665 for the Netherlands as a spy for the King and returned in 1666. During her time in the Netherlands, Behn warned King Charles about the impending Dutch attack on London, but her warning was ignored.

    The answer is... spy!
    Via Attack on the Medway, June 1667 by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest
  4. 4. Which playwright is pictured here?

    Mary Chase
    Sophie Treadwell
    Susan Glaspell
    Lillian Hellman
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... Sophie Treadwell!

    Best known for her play Machinal, Treadwell was an extremely prolific playwright, as well as a novelist and journalist. She was a suffragette and advocated throughout her career for author's rights.

    The answer is... Sophie Treadwell!
  5. 5. Throughout history, women playwrights have aligned themselves with issues of social justice including the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and civil rights. Which cause was championed by playwright Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz?

    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera
    Women's education
    Mexican independence
    Rights for indigenous peoples
    Religious freedom
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... women's education!

    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one of the most famous female scholars of the Latin American colonial period. She currently appears on Mexican currency and was an early advocate for a woman’s right to an education. She is credited as one of the first feminists of the New World.

    The answer is... women's education!
  6. 6. In the play Rachel by Angelina Weld Grimké, the title character is so upset by the plight of African Americans she swears that she will...

    Angelina Weld Grimké
    Leave the United States
    Commit suicide
    Abstain from having children
    Seek revenge on her community
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... abstain from having children!

    Rachel learns of the racism that American children of color suffer at school and resolves never to have her own children. In so doing, she must reject the love of the man who courts her: her brother's friend, John Strong.

    The answer is... abstain from having children!
    Via Angelina Weld Grimké
  7. 7. The Pulitzer Prize for drama has been awarded since the year 1918. Prior to 1960, how many women received the award?

    Joseph Pulitzer, age 34
    2
    3
    5
    8
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... 5!

    The following plays by women received the Pulitzer for Drama before 1960: Miss Lulu Bett by Zona Gale (1921), Alison's House by Susan Glaspell (1931), The Old Maid by Zoe Akins (1935), Harvey by Mary Chase (1945), and Looking Homeward, Angel by Ketti Frings (1958).

    The answer is... 5!
    Via Jo Van Fleet and Anthony Perkins in Look Homeward, Angel on Broadway, 1958
  8. 8. George Sand was a pseudonym used by the famous French writer born in 1804. Which of the following names was not a part of her full name?

    George Sand
    Aurore
    Amantine
    Dupin
    Delaborde
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... Delaborde!

    Sand's real name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. (Delaborde was the maiden name of her mother, Sophie-Victoire.) Sand often performed the plays she wrote in a small theater on her grandmother's estate in France.

    The answer is... Delaborde!
    Via George Sand, 1864
  9. 9. Though best known for her novels, some theatrical writings can be found in Jane Austen's juvenilia (or the collected writings of her youth). Which of the following is the title of one of her playlets?

    Jane, as drawn by her sister Cassandra
    The Mystery
    The Social Call
    Mr. Darcy
    A Divine Comedy
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... The Mystery!

    At only two pages long, The Mystery is a comic riff on the trope of stage secrets. Eight characters spend the short play winking and dropping abstract hints to the audience and to each other, but in the end, nothing material is revealed to anyone onstage or off. Austen's early writings reveal the same interest in social critique that would become the backbone of her novels.

    The answer is... The Mystery!
    Via The table of contents for Vol. 1 of the juvenilia
  10. 10. To whom do historian's credit the Latin comedy Dulcitius, in which an evil governor tries to rape three sisters in the middle of the night and, instead, accidentally flings himself onto a pile of pots and pans covered in soot?

    Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim
    Abbess Hildegard of Bingen
    Christine de Pizan
    Margaret of Beverley
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim!

    The 10th-century Saxon canoness Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim boldly translated her own name to mean ‘a clarion voice’. She is credited as the first medieval playwright, first female playwright, first female German poet, and first female German historian. Hrotsvitha was strongly aware that her gender made her less likely to be taken seriously in her contemporary society so she claimed that her writing was divinely inspired by God.

    The answer is... Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim!
    Via Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim
  11. 11. In Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, how much is the life insurance check the family receives?

    Lorraine Hansberry
    $500
    $5,000
    $10,000
    $20,000
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... $10,000!

    After receiving the check from the insurance company, Mama puts some of the money down on a new house, choosing an all-white neighborhood over a black one because it's cheaper. Later she relents and gives the rest of the money to her son Walter to invest, with the provision that he reserve $3,000 for her daughter Beneatha's education.

    The answer is... $10,000!
    Via Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier in the original 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun
  12. 12. During it's Broadway premier in 1934, what was considered the most controversial element by critics watching Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson's opera, Four Saints in Three Acts?

    Gertrude Stein at home
    John Houseman's direction
    The use of cellophane in the set design
    The singing of the stage directions
    The portrayal of the European saints by a choir of black performers
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... the portrayal of the saints by an all-black choir!

    Though all of the elements above featured in the groundbreaking production, there was no precedent in American history for an all-black cast. These unconventional elements led to a successful and well-received first production. While critics were divided, audiences accepted the fantasy world created by the singers, who vividly conveyed the words and melodies given to their saintly characters.

    The answer is... the portrayal of the saints by an all-black choir!
    Via The Broadway production of Four Saints in Three Acts
  13. 13. What caused 17th century playwright Mary Pix to stop putting her name on her plays, resulting in confusion around how many plays she wrote in the latter part of her life?

    A plagiarism scandal
    A desire to hide her gender from the public
    Her already significant fame made claiming the plays unimportant to her
    She went into hiding because of religious persecution
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... a plagiarism scandal!

    In the season of 1697–1698, Pix became involved in a plagiarism scandal with George Powell. Powell was a rival playwright and the manager of the Drury Lane theatrical company. Pix sent her play The Deceiver Deceived to Powell's company as a possible drama for them to perform. Powell rejected the play but kept the manuscript and then proceeded to write and perform a play called The Imposture Defeated, which had a plot and main character taken directly from The Deceiver Deceived.

    The answer is... a plagiarism scandal!
    Via Drury Lane
  14. 14. Susan Glaspell's play Alison's House was inspired by the life of which other woman of literature?

    Susan Glaspell
    Frances Hodgson Burnett
    Kate Chopin
    Jane Austen
    Emily Dickinson
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... Emily Dickinson!

    In Alison's House, It is the final day of the 19th century, and the last day the Stanhope family will spend in their home. While they are packing up their belongings, a reporter arrives inquiring about the late Alison Stanhope, a renowned poet. The family finds themselves thinking of Alison as they have not in years – how her fame affected the family’s reputation, and how they learned from her as an aunt and sister. Once again they are faced with the question of whether Alison truly belongs to them, or whether she belongs to the world. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1931.

    The answer is... Emily Dickinson!
    Via Eva Le Gallienne, Florida Friebus, and Donald Cameron in the original 1930 staging of Alison's House at New York City's Civic Repertory Theatre
  15. 15. The process co-authoring of a play called Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life resulted in the end of Zora Neale Hurston's friendship with which other prominent writer of the Harlem Renaissance?

    Zora Neale Hurston
    Langston Hughes
    Nella Larsen
    Claude McKay
    W.E.B Du Bois
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The answer is... Langston Hughes!

    Hughes and Hurston began writing Mule Bone in March 1930. They wanted to write a comedy about African-American life that didn't consist of racial stereotypes. The two writers dictated their work to Louise Thompson, who typed it. Their work was almost completed in June, when Hurston went away for the summer. She took her notes and said she would return in the fall, and they could finish the play. When Hurston came back, she would not return telephone calls from Hughes. She felt he wanted Thompson to be considered a third collaborator in the project, a proposal to which she strongly objected. In January 1931, Hughes found that a copy of Mule Bone had been sent to the Gilpin Players, an all-black theatre company in Cleveland, for their consideration—bearing only Hurston's name.The copy of Mule Bone in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale University has a hand-written notation by Hughes: "This play was never done because the authors fell out."

    The answer is... Langston Hughes!
    Via Jessie Fauset, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston at Tuskegee Institute, 1927

How Well Do You Know Your Historic Women Playwrights?

You're just getting started!

There are so many more plays by amazing women to read and get inspired by. Get cracking! You won't be disappointed!

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You've got some ladies in that brain!

You're well on your way to knowing these ladies backwards and forwards. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that the plays are as important as the groundbreaking women who wrote them!

You've got some ladies in that brain!
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You are a theater queen!

You are a lady playwright connoisseur! Keep the history alive and help us advocate for the inclusion of more historic plays by women in college classrooms and on stages!

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