Women Behaving Badly: Three Plays in which Women Behave in an Unexpected Way

114 TUTOR: Fleur Lloyd

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, The Circle by Somerset Maughan and Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward

Tragedy and tragicomedy - in unequal measure. These plays written between 1879 and 1945 are a sharp portrayal of secrets, lies, seduction, betrayal, and power. We will read the plays together and watch varied screenings of scenes. Exploring these together with biographical details of the playwrights will generate comparison and discussion of changing social mores and sexual politics, themes which are a staple of modern drama.

1 PM
PM course

Course Notes

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, The Circle by Somerset Maughan and Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward.

NB Marlborough Summer School will be providing copies of all three texts.

The following blurb deliberately does not contain any spoilers.

Three very different plays that examine the controversial theme of women responding to female repression in male dominated societies. If this sounds rather heavy or too polemical I can promise the plays are not only thought provoking, tragic in part, but also often comedic.

A Doll's House(Danish and Bokmål: Et dukkehjem; also translated as A Doll House) is a three-act play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 21 December 1879, having been published earlier that month. The play is set in a Norwegian town circa 1879.

The play concerns the fate of a married woman, who at the time in Norway lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfilment in a male-dominated world, even though Ibsen denied it was his intent to write a feminist play. It was a great sensation at the time and caused a "storm of outraged controversy" that went beyond the theatre to the world of newspapers and society. One of the play's critics, James Huneker noted of the original ending that it "reverberated across the roof of the world." Consequently, it is not only considered by some as the greatest play since Shakespeare, but also the most performed outside of his plays.

The Circlea Comedy in Three Acts is a play by W. Somerset Maugham. It was first produced at the Haymarket Theatre, London on 3 March 1921, and has been revived several times in the West End and on Broadway. The play, which caused some outrage among a small minority of playgoers at the time of the premiere, takes place over a single day at Aston-Adey, Arnold Champion-Cheney's country house in Dorset.

The Circle was "the first of Maugham's plays to be booed". As The Times put it, "It is, of course, a bold ending - too bold, apparently, for some orthodox moralists in the gallery last night - but approved, we think, by the more mundane majority in the house

The writer Robert Bechtold describes the play as a comedy of manners - "a rewrite of Lady Windermere's Fan a quarter of a century later in a post World War I atmosphere." The critic of The Times took a different view: The "bold" ending is surely frivolity's rather wistful salute to sincerity.

Blithe Spiritis a comic play by Noël Coward, described by the author as "an improbable farce in three acts". The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book.

The play was first seen in the West End in 1941 and ran for 1,997 performances, a new record for a non-musical play in London. It also did well on Broadway later that year, running for 657 performances. The play was adapted for the cinema in 1945; a second film version followed in 2020. Coward directed a musical adaptation, High Spirits, seen on Broadway and in the West End in 1964. Radio and television presentations of the play have been broadcast in Britain and the US from 1944 onwards. It continues to be revived in the West End, on Broadway and elsewhere.

Course Tutor

Fleur Lloyd

About Fleur


Fleur Lloyd Tutor has worked in the theatre as well as teaching both literature, drama and creative writing in schools, colleges and universities. She has taught creative writing and Literature courses at Marlborough Summer School for 17 years and in 2022, she gave a lecture on Desert Island Poems and her book "Just Write” was published. Last year her lecture was on Poetry for all Seasons.




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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

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