When I first started this blog, it was in response to a study done by Princeton student Emily Glassberg Sands which revealed that less than 20% of plays produced professionally in the United States were written by women. (To read the New York Times article click here.) The goal of my blog is to celebrate women playwrights and to increase awareness of what they are writing, in the hopes of encouraging an increase in production of their excellent work.
In my research I have discovered just how unaware I am of the history of women playwrights. One of my goals for the playwright spotlight is to feature signficant female playwrights who I am unable to interview. For the new year I thought, why not start at the beginning? That is why I’d like to introduce you to Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim.
Hrotsvitha is considered by many to be the “mother” of women playwrights. She is widely recognized as the first female dramatist, as well as a feminist, poet, and nun. A canoness of Gandersheim Abbey in Germany, she was encouraged by the abbess to write plays on Christian themes. Though I have not had the opportunity to read any of her plays – parts of which have been lost to time – sources concur that Hrotsvitha’s work challenged typical portrayals of women. Rather than writing women as weak, emotional creatures as per usual, she presented human beings of strength and character in the midst of great trial and temptation.
We contemporary dramachicks may not think we have a lot in common with a nun who lived over a thousand years ago (930-1002), but she fought the same battle that women playwrights face today; not only to write plays that received notice (most of her plays went undiscovered until the 1500s) but to write believable female characters who escaped the stereotypes of the time. The Guerilla Girls On Tour, a contemporary feminist drama group, offers a Hrotsvitha Challenge encouraging theatre companies to look beyond the canon of Greek plays written by men and produce plays by Hrotsvitha more often. A thousand years later and the battle is still being fought with Hrotsvitha on the front lines.
Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim was a pioneer, the mother hen to us dramachicks. May we all find her same courage to write about the things that are important to us and to challenge the norms of our society through what we create.