The Provoked Wife
The Provoked Wife is the second original comedy written by John Vanbrugh
John Vanbrugh
Sir John Vanbrugh  – 26 March 1726) was an English architect and dramatist, perhaps best known as the designer of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. He wrote two argumentative and outspoken Restoration comedies, The Relapse and The Provoked Wife , which have become enduring stage favourites...

. The often-repeated claim that Vanbrugh wrote part of his comedy The Provoked Wife in the Bastille
The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. It played an important role in the internal conflicts of France and for most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The Bastille was built in response to the English threat to the city of...

 is based on allusions in a couple of much later memoirs, but is regarded with some doubt by modern scholars (see McCormick). It is different in tone from his first play, the largely farcical The Relapse
The Relapse
The Relapse, or, Virtue in Danger is a Restoration comedy from 1696 written by John Vanbrugh. The play is a sequel to Colley Cibber's Love's Last Shift, or, Virtue Rewarded....

, and adapted to the greater acting skills of the new company of actors chosen for its premiere, who walked out not long before in a disupute with management. The actors' cooperative boasted the established star performers of the age, and Vanbrugh tailored The Provoked Wife to their specialties. While The Relapse had been robustly phrased to be suitable for amateurs and minor acting talents, he could count on versatile professionals like Thomas Betterton
Thomas Betterton
Thomas Patrick Betterton , English actor, son of an under-cook to King Charles I, was born in London.-Apprentice and actor:...

, Elizabeth Barry
Elizabeth Barry
Elizabeth Barry was an English actress of the Restoration period.She worked in big, prestigious London theatre companies throughout her successful career: from 1675 in the Duke's Company, 1682 – 1695 in the monopoly United Company, and from 1695 onwards as a member of the actors' cooperative...

, and the rising young star Anne Bracegirdle
Anne Bracegirdle
Anne Bracegirdle was an English actress.Little is known of Bracegirdle's early life. Her precise date of birth is a source of great dispute due to conflicting records of her life. She was baptised in Northampton on 15 November 1671, although her tombstone says that she died at the age of 85...

 to do justice to characters of depth and nuance.

The Provoked Wife is a comedy, but Elizabeth Barry who played the abused wife was especially famous as a tragic actress, and for her power of "moving the passions", i.e., moving an audience to pity and tears. Barry and the younger Bracegirdle had often worked together as a tragic/comic heroine pair to bring audiences the typically tragic/comic rollercoaster experience of Restoration plays. Vanbrugh takes advantage of this schema and these actresses to deepen audience sympathy for the unhappily married Lady Brute, even as she fires off her witty ripostes. In the intimate conversational dialogue between Lady Brute and her niece Bellinda (Bracegirdle), and especially in the star part of Sir John Brute the brutish husband (Betterton), which was hailed as one of the peaks of Thomas Betterton's remarkable career, The Provoked Wife is something as unusual as a Restoration problem play
Problem play
The problem play is a form of drama that emerged during the 19th century as part of the wider movement of realism in the arts. It deals with contentious social issues through debates between the characters on stage, who typically represent conflicting points of view within a realistic social...

. The premise of the plot, that a wife trapped in an abusive marriage might consider either leaving it or taking a lover, outraged some sections of Restoration society.
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