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Llousy looks but forgiven; at this time only a kinder.from LONDON THEATER PEOPLE--1660-1800
by Noel Scott
Elizabeth Barry, born 1658, was the daughter of Royalist soldier Robert Barry. Her family lost their wealth and so she was taken up and educated by the Davenants, who were friends of her father's. She played Draxilla in Alcibiades, by Thomas Otway. This was her first stage role. She did so poorly that Otway removed her from the Company. Following this poor performance the Earl of Rochester vowed to help Barry improve her stage abilities. He helped her "live" the character she was to play. Barry returned to the stage in the role of Isabella, the Hungarian Queen, in Orrery's Mustapha. She excelled in the tragic technique of harmonizing expressions, tones of voice, and emotions. She was not pretty (PICTURE), but was so good that spectators forgot her looks. Otway was fascinated by her and gave her a leading role in his play, The Rise and Fall of Caius Marius in 1679. She played the heroine Lavinia. Otway truly made her famous, though, in his play The Orphan. Here she played a desirable orphan. Barry played numerous leading roles until her retirement in 1710. She is known for her creation of roles in the "she-tragedies." She died in 1713, having never been married, survived by no immediate relatives.
Barry, Elizabeth, 1658-1713, English actress. She gained entrance to the stage
through the patronage of the earl of Rochester.
NPG D5114; Elizabeth Barry. ... Artist associated with 945 portraits, Sitter
associated with 16 portraits. Charles Knight (1743-1827?). ...
From Grammont's footnotes
Mrs. Barry was introduced to the stage by Lord Rochester, with whom she had an intrigue, the fruit of which was a daughter, who lived to the age of thirteen years, and is often mentioned in his collection of love-letters, printed in his works, which were written to Mrs. Barry. On her first theatrical attempts, so little hopes were entertained of her, that she was, as Cibber declares, discharged the company at the end of the first year, among others that were thought to be a useless expense to it. She was well born; being daughter of Robert Barry, Esq., barrister-at-law; a gentleman of an ancient family and good estate, who hurt his fortune by his attachment to Charles I.; for whom he raised a regiment at his own expense. Tony Aston, in his "Supplement to Cibber's Apology," says, she was woman to Lady Shelton, of Norfolk, who might have belonged to the court. Curl, however, says, she was early taken under the patronage of Lady Davenant. Both these accounts may be true. The time of her appearance on the stage was probably not much earlier than 1671; in which year she performed in Tom Essence, and was, it may be conjectured, about the age of nineteen. Curl mentions the great pains taken by Lord Rochester in instructing her; which were repaid by the rapid progress she daily made in her profession. She at last eclipsed all her competitors, and in the part of Monimia established her reputation. From her performance in this character, in that of Belvidera, and of Isabella, in the Fatal Marriage, Downes says she acquired the name of the famous Mrs. Barry, both at court and in the city. "Mrs. Barry," says Dryden, in his Preface to Cleomenes, "always excellent, has in this tragedy excelled herself, and gained a reputation beyond any woman I have ever seen on the theatre." "In characters of greatness," says Cibber, "Mrs. Barry had a presence of elevated dignity; her mien and motion superb, and gracefully majestic; her voice full, clear, and strong; so that no violence of passion could be too much for her; and when distress or tenderness possessed her, she subsided into the most affecting melody and softness. In the art of exciting pity, she had a power beyond all the actresses I have yet seen, or what your imagination can conceive. In scenes of anger, defiance, or resentment, while she was impetuous and terrible, she poured out the sentiment with an enchanting harmony; and it was this particular excellence for which Dryden made her the above-recited compliment, upon her acting Cassandra in his Cleomenes. She was the first person whose merit was distinguished by the indulgence of having an annual benefit play, which was granted to her alone in King James's time, and which did not become common to others till the division of this company, after the death of King William and Queen Mary." -- Cibber's Apology, 1750, p. 133. Tony Aston says, "She was not handsome; her mouth opening most on the right side, which she strove to draw t'other way; and at times composing her face, as if sitting for her picture: she was," he adds, "middle-sized; had darkish hair, light eyes, and was indifferently plump. In tragedy, she was solemn and august; in comedy, alert, easy, and genteel; pleasant in her face and action; filling the stage with variety of gesture. She could neither sing nor dance; no, not in a country dance." -- Supplement to Cibber, p. 7. The printed letters in Otway's works are generally supposed to have been addressed to her. She adhered to Betterton in all the revolutions of the theatre, which she quitted about 1708, on account of her health. The last new character, of any consequence, which she performed, seems to have been Phædra, in Mr. Smith's tragedy. She returned, however, for one night, with Mrs. Bracegirdle, April 7, 1709; and performed Mrs. Frail, in Love for Love, for Mr. Betterton's benefit; and afterwards spoke an occasional epilogue, written by Mr. Rowe. She died 7th November, 1713, and was buried at Acton. The inscription over her remains says she was fifty-five years of age.
http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/grammont/note… see note 138
Mrs. Barry had so bad an Ear, tho' a good Voice, that they thought it would be impossible to make her fit for the meanest part: And so difficult did they find it to teach her, that she was three Times rejected. Sir William Davenant, by the Interest of some of his Friends, was again persuaded to try her, but with so little Success, that several Persons of Wit and Quality being at the Play, and observing how ill she performed, positively gave their Opinion she never would be capable of any tolerable part. But the Earl of Rochester, to shew them he had a superior Judgment, entered into a Wager, that in six Months he would make her the finest Actress on the Stage.
The Earl was opposed by them all, and tho' they knew him to be a Person of good Knowledge in theatrical Affairs, yet they thought, on this Subject, he had started beyond the Bounds of his Judgment; and so many poignant Things were said to him on this Occasion, that they piqued him into a Resolution of taking such pains with Mrs. Barry, as to convince them he was not mistaken.
From the Moment he had this Dispute, he became intimately acquainted with her, but to the World he kept it private, especially from those he had argued with about her. He soon, by talking with her, found her Mistress of exquisite Charms; and it was thought that he never lov'd any Person so sincerely he did Mrs. Barry.
---The History of the Stage. C. Cibber, 1742
"The Libertine," a 2004 film starring Johnny Depp as the Earl of Rochester depicts the Earl undertaking this wager and helping Elizabeth Barry become a fine actress. (John Malkovich plays King Charles II and a quite good film it is!) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0375920/