Pix, Mary Griffith (1666–1709)

views updated

Pix, Mary Griffith (1666–1709)

English playwright. Born Mary Griffith in 1666, in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, England; died in May 1709 (some sources cite 1720), in London, England; daughter of Roger Griffith (a vicar) and Lucy (Berriman) Griffith; married George Pix (a merchant-tailor), on July 25, 1684; children: at least one (d. 1690).

Selected writings:

Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperour of the Turks (1696); The Spanish Wives (1696); The Innocent Mistress (1697); The Deceiver Deceived (1697); Queen Catherine; or, The Ruins of Love (1698); The False Friend; or, The Fate of Disobedience (1699); The Beau Defeated; or, The Lucky Younger Brother (1700); The Double Distress (1701); The Czar of Muscovy (1701); The Different Widows; or, Intrigue à la Mode (1703); Zelmane; or, The Corinthian Queen (1704); The Conquest of Spain (1705); The Adventures in Madrid (1705).

Inspired by the work of Aphra Behn , the first professional woman playwright and one of the most prolific dramatists of the Restoration, Mary Griffith Pix was one of three women playwrights—the others being Mary de la Rivière Manley and Catherine Trotter Cockburn —whose works premiered during the London theatrical season of 1695–96. She was the only one of the three to sustain an active career in the theater, and over the course of the next ten years she wrote six comedies and seven tragedies that were produced in London.

Little is known of Pix's early life, though she was born in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, in 1666, the daughter of Lucy Berriman Griffith and local vicar Roger Griffith. She married George Pix, a merchant-tailor, in London on July 25, 1684, when she was 18, and they had at least one child, about whom nothing is known except that she or he was buried at Hawkhurst in 1690. Most of what is known about her personality comes from a play produced at the Drury Lane in 1696, The Female Wits, that satirized her, Manley and Trotter. The Female Wits presented a caricature of Pix as Mrs. Wellfed, described in the anonymous playwright's stage notes as "a fat Female Author, a good, sociable, well-natur'd Companion, that will not suffer Martyrdom rather than take off three Bumpers in a hand." Pix fares far better than either Manley or Trotter; while the satire mocks their inflated egos, it celebrates Mrs. Wellfed's willingness to poke some fun at herself, much as Pix had done in the dedications of some of her plays. The caricature hints that Mrs. Wellfed may be somewhat ignorant, but this view is disputed by evidence from Pix's own work that points to a fairly comprehensive education for a woman of the day. The satire also indicates that Mrs. Wellfed is friendly and giving, fond of food and drink and her actor companions. If this is an appropriate characterization of Pix as well, her good nature may be part of the reason that she was not the subject of much slander or public opprobrium (as was often the case with women who attempted public careers), although she did not completely escape condescension from mostly male writers.

The first play Pix brought to the London stage was a tragedy, Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperour of the Turks, which opened in the spring of 1696. Although records are not clear about the length of its original run, it was very popular with the public; revivals were staged in 1702, 1714, and 1715. This was followed by a farce, The Spanish Wives (based loosely on The Pilgrim, the English translation of a novel by Frenchman Gabriel de Bremond), that debuted in August 1696 and was revived in 1705 and 1711. Pix wrote a novel that attracted little interest, The Inhumane Cardinal, before returning to the stage with The Innocent Mistress, a comedy first produced in 1697. A year later came a historical tragedy, Queen Catherine; or, The Ruins of Love, featuring (without much regard for actual facts) Queen Catherine of Valois and the future King Edward IV at the time of the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1461. She next wrote another tragedy, The False Friend, produced in 1699, and The Beau Defeated; or, The Lucky Younger Brother, a satire that drew on French dramatic influences, including Molière's Les Precieuses ridicules, and was first produced in London in 1700. Her 1701 play The Double Distress, a blend of tragedy and comedy, was considered her best by some critics. While The Double Distress was the last dramatic work to which Pix formally affixed her name, a number of other plays have been attributed to her, including the tragedies The Czar of Muscovy (produced in 1701), Zelmane; or, The Corinthian Queen (produced in 1704), and The Conquest of Spain (1705), as well as the comedies The Different Widows; or, Intrigue à la Mode (1703) and The Adventures in Madrid (1706). Based on a single mention in a contemporary London paper, Pix is believed to have died in the spring of 1709, although according to some sources she died around 1720.

Mary Pix wrote most of her plays in blank verse, and they were performed by some of the best actors of the day, including Anne Bracegirdle , Thomas Betterton, and Elizabeth Barry . Modern-day critics tend to agree that her tragedies are not very good (The Concise Dictionary of National Biography calls them "insufferable"), and that English theater might have been better served if she had confined her writing to comedy, for which she showed a real flair despite some contrived plots. However, both her tragedies and her comedies were popular at a time when there was no shortage of playwrights attempting to cater to an eager theatergoing public that demanded a steady stream of new plays, and her work remains valuable for its reflections on society as the Restoration era drew to a close.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Goreau, Angeline. The Whole Duty of a Woman: Female Writers in Seventeenth Century England. Garden City, NY: The Dial Press, 1985.

Payne, Linda R. "Mary Pix," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 80: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists. Edited by Paula Backscheider. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1989.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania