The Belle's Stratagem

A Masterful Mouse and a Wise Woman: The Female Figure of Wit in Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem and Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s The Mouse’s Petition to Doctor Priestley Found in the Trap where he had been confined all Night College

"[Wit] means something pithy, penetrating, profound, aptly and forcefully expressed (and by extension, someone who is apt to speak in this way)" (Palmer 136). The female figure of wit was widely unaccepted in 18th and 19th century Britain. It was considered impolite or improper in these times for females to express witty sentiments in their writing. Despite this, "more and more poetry was written to be [...] a display of wit, social grace, or accomplishment" (Backscheider 3). Anna Laetitia Barbauld demonstrates her wit in her poem "The Mouse’s Petition to Doctor Priestley Found in the Trap where he had been confined all Night" with her use of intellectual discourse and allegorical content in which the mouse is “especially adaptable to women's concerns and their critique of masculine values" (Kraft 70). She appeals to Dr. Priestley and readers on a number of levels, proving herself to be extremely persuading regardless of the audience. On the other hand, in her play The Belle’s Stratagem, Hannah Cowley casts her main female character, Letitia, as a female figure of wit. Letitia’s crafty plan to persuade Doricourt to fall for her makes for a very successful representation of female wit and...

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