London, Volume 5

Knight, Charles
1843

CXVIII.--The Theatres of London.

CXVIII.--The Theatres of London.

 

 

Scarcely less surprising than the greatness of the drama of the Elizabethan era, is the suddenness of its growth, and the extraordinary contrast presented by it to all that had gone before: growth, indeed, seems hardly a fitting word to characterise so instantaneous and important and complete a change. Up to the year , and probably a little later, not a single dramatic writer or a single dramatic piece had appeared, the names of which now excite any interest beyond that of their position as links between the old moral plays and the modern drama; years elapse, and behold!-Munday, Chettle, Kyd, Lodge, Greene, Lyly, Nash, and Peele, are familiar names; Marlowe has written

Tamburlaine,

Dr. Faustus,

The Jew of Malta,

and

Edward II.;

above all, Shakspere has given to the world nearly half of his entire works. The fact is established, in the opinion of the writer of this article, in the recent pictorial edition of his works, that Shakspere, instead of being, as we have hitherto generally supposed, a follower in point of time of the Peeles and Greenes and Marlowes, and therefore deriving no inconsiderable advantage from their works and example, was really strictly contemporary with them. It has been shown in the work referred to, that whilst we know of the existence, in , of at least of Shakspere's plays, some of these, of high excellence, must have been produced considerably before , when Spenser, in the

Tears of the Muses,

laments the temporary withdrawal of some who had

the comic stage,

With season'd wit, and goodly pleasure, graced,

and describes the writer thus unmistakeably, as

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the man whom Nature self had made To mock herself, and Truth to imitate With kindly counter, under mimic shade: Our pleasant Willy, ah, is dead of late, &c.

Lastly, it is now known, through Mr. Collier's researches, that Shakspere, so early as , was a shareholder in the Blackfriars Theatre, with a of the other sharers below him on the proprietors' list. Now there is nothing in Shakspere's subsequent career as an actor to lead us to suppose he could have obtained such a position as this at the age of from the exercise of his talents that way; yet look at him as a writer, and the matter is at once explained. But then there is that odd idea of the older commentators, that every body rather than he began to write early. Few persons would suppose, from merely reading their speculations, that whilst the writers we have mentioned were all about Shakspere's own age, the greatest of them, Marlowe, is supposed to have been a year younger;[n.274.1]  and secondly, that after all, there is every reason to suppose they had done very little at the period when it is all but certain that Shakspere had done much: by Marlowe had written

Tamburiaine the Great,

and probably the

Massacre of Paris,

and Peele and Greene have each produced or pieces for the stage, as they are supposed to have connected themselves with it a year or before; but this is pretty well all that can be said for the precedence of these early contemporaries of Shakspere, and proves, in connexion with what has been previously advanced, to our mind, something very like the reverse. On the whole, then, it will be seen that Dryden knew perfectly well what he was about when he said, Shakspere

created the stage among us.

Up to the period we have referred to, , it was still, however, but the basis of the wonderful structure of the English national drama that had been laid; for the completion of the work we must look a few years further on,--to a time when Shakspere had closed his career, and when a host of other writers had arisen, imbued generally, though of course in a lower degree, with the same lofty spirit, and kindred talents. Many of these, indeed, for their own permanent popularity had better have appeared at any other time: a Shakspere only could have overshadowed them. Considering how little these writers are now generally read in comparison with their extraordinary excellence, cannot but remark how different would be the fate of almost any of them, could his lot have been cast in the instead of the century. What should not we think of a Ben Jonson, or a pair of Beaumonts and Fletchers, or a Massinger now? What might not be the effect of their writings on the present fortunes of the national theatres? Yet even these are but removed by the faintest possible lines of demarcation of rank from Ford, whom Lamb calls of

the

first

order of poets;

or Webster, with that

wild, solemn, preternatural cast of grief which bewilders us in the

Duchess of Malfy

of which the same critic speaks; or George Chapman, with his

full heightened style,

as his brother poet Webster calls it; or Heywood, the

prose Shakspere ;

or Dekker, or Rowley, or Middleton, or Daniel, or Shirley,--but there is no end to the list, and it is almost as idle to attempt now to familiarise them separately to the public, as to point out the stars of the milky way. Let us now turn our attention to an instructive

275

commentary upon all this amazing variety and height of intellectual power, the state of the theatres in London in which that power was exhibited.

Although the earliest public Theatres seem to have been established during the continuance of a pertinacious struggle between the players and play-lovers on the side, and the civic power on the other (who held the stage and everything connected with it in especial dislike), they had become very numerous by the time the great writers we have mentioned were prepared to raise them into their true importance and value. For their success in this struggle, the players were evidently indebted to the court favour they enjoyed, which, in , was signalised by Elizabeth's choosing, from among the different companies accustomed to perform before her, of the best actors, and forming them into a company, under her own especial patronage. The chief London theatres at that period were these :--The Theatre, especially so called, in , and the Curtain close by; , , chiefly used as a Bear

Garden, but also for the performance of plays, as Dekker, in his satire upon Jonson, makes the latter say he had played Zulziman there; the Blackfriars, Whitefriars, , Rose, Hope, Swan, , Red Bull, and Cockpit or Phoenix in . Various places of minor importance were also dignified by the name of Theatre, as the Inn Yard of the

Bel Savage,

remarkable, according to Prynne,

for the visible apparition of the Devil upon the stage,

on occasion, during Elizabeth's reign. We learn what was the number of actors at the same time in the metropolis, from a letter to Secretary Walsingham, in , which, after referring to the different companies, as the Queen's, Lord Leicester's, Lord Oxford's, Lord Nottingham's, and other noblemen's then performing, states the number of players as not less than . Of these theatres, the Blackfriars is the that most deeply interests us: it was there, in all probability, Shakspere made his appearance both as

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actor and writer; it was there, certainly, that he established his reputation. The Blackfriars (and, it is supposed, others also of those we have mentioned, as the Curtain) were erected immediately after-and in consequence of the entire expulsion of players from the limits of the City by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen in ; who, however, gained little more by the movement than the exhibition of a kind of successful contempt of their authority, in the erection of such houses as the Theatre in the Blackfriars, under their very noses, but, owing to the old monastic privileges, beyond their jurisdiction. companies, it appears, had the right of playing at this house, the that Shakspere belonged to (the Lord Chamberlain's) and that of the Children of the Chapel, afterwards (on James's accession) known as the Children of her Majesty's Revels, who played regular pieces the same as their older rivals; as, for instance, Ben Jonson's in , and his in . The proprietor of the Blackfriars, in fee, was Richard Burbage; and he probably let the theatre to the Children of the Revels, in the summer season, whilst he and his brother shareholders acted at the Globe. The noticeable passage in

Hamlet

refers to them, and to the neglect experienced by the players at some particular period, through the overweening admiration of the public for these tiny representatives of the drama; who, it should seem, also, had been accustomed to injure the regular theatres by more direct modes of attack.

There is, sir,

says Rosencrantz,

an aiery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for 't: these are now the fashion; and so berattle the common stages (so they call them), that many, wearing rapiers, are afraid of goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither.

And in the kindly and thoughtful spirit of Hamlet's reply there is evidence that the complaint may have been made in no selfish spirit:--

Will they pursue the quality no longer than they can sing?

he asks.

Will they not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players (as it is like most, if their means are no better), their writers do them wrong, to make them exclaim against their own succession?

The Blackfriars was of those theatres distinguished by the title of private, and which were entirely roofed over, instead of, as in those which were public, merely the stage portion; which had a pit instead of a mere enclosed yard; in which performances took place by candle light; and where the visitors, being altogether of a higher class, enjoyed especial accommodations; among which, the right to sit on the stage during the progress of the play was the feature most peculiar to the time. In the public theatres this last-mentioned custom also prevailed; influential persons no doubt being permitted to do so without comment, and impudent ones taking permission in order to show their impudence, or to display their new dresses to the audience in all their bravery. The stools used by such persons were hired at sixpence each. The Blackfriars was probably pulled down soon after the permanent close of the Theatres, during the Commonwealth, by the Puritans; the locality is still marked by the name , near .

The other Theatre which Shakspere has bound so closely up with his own history, and to which, therefore, a similar kind of interest is attached, was the Globe, erected about ; and, it is highly probable, in consequence of the growing prosperity of the Lord Chamberlain's servants, who desired a roomier house, a more public field for exertion. This was the largest and best of the

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theatres yet raised; as is clear from the care of Alleyn and Henslowe, in the erection of the Fortune, soon after, on a still larger scale, to imitate all its arrangements, excepting the shape. Yet what the Globe was, Shakspere himself has told us in the preliminary chorus to

Henry the

Fifth

:

--

Pardon, gentles all,

The flat unraised spirit, that hath dared

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

So great an object: Can this cockpit hold

The vasty fields of France? or may we cram

Within this wooden 0 the very casques

That did affright the air at Agincourt?

What then?

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts,

is the bidding of the poet; and he spoke to an audience who could do even better than that, who could forget them altogether, in their apprehension of the spiritual grandeur and magnificence that then with them in the cockpit.
There is something, it must be owned, occasionally amusing as well as delightful in the simplicity of the old stage: in Greene's

Pinner of Wakefield

parties are quarrelling, and of them says,

Come, sir, will you come to the town's end, now?

in order to fight.

Aye, sir, come,

answers the other; and both then, we presume, move a few feet across the stage to another part, but evidently that is all, for in the next line the same speaker continues,

Now we are at the town's end-what shall we say now?

But if the audiences of the century were by no means critical about the appliances of the drama, the case was very different as to the drama itself. Jonson gives us a pleasant peep into the interior of a theatre of the time on the night of a new piece:

But the sport is at a new play to observe the sway and variety of opinion that passeth it. A man shall have such a confused mixture of judgment poured out in the throng there, as ridiculous as laughter itself.

One

says he likes not the writing, another likes not the plot, another not the playing; and sometimes a fellow that comes not there past once in

five

years, at a Parliament time or so, will be as deep mixed in censuring as the best, and swear by God's foot he would never stir his

foot to see a

hundred

such as that is.

[n.278.1]  Then, as now, it seems, managers, in bringing out new pieces, were not insensible to the advantages of accompanying them with novel or greatly improved theatrical effects. It was possibly of these that led to the catastrophe at the Globe Theatre in , on an important occasion of this kind, when there was no doubt an unusually brilliant audience assembled. Jonson was among them, as we learn from his

Execration of Vulcan

for his doings in the affair; which are thus described by Sir Henry Wotton, in a letter to his nephew, dated the :

Now, to let matters of state sleep, I will entertain you at present with what hath happened this week at the

Bankside

. The King's players had a new play, called

All is True,

representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry VIII., which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage; the knights of the order with their Georges and garters, the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like; sufficient, in truth, within a while, to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now King Henry, making a mask at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff wherewith

one

of them was stopped did light on the thatch, where, being thought at

first

but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming, within less than an hour, the whole house to the very grounds. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabric, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw and a few forsaken cloaks; only

one

man had his breeches set on fire, that perhaps had broiled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle ale.

This play, there is little doubt, was Shakspere's

Henry VIII.,

having perhaps

All is True

for a title; for not only does the prologue contain various passages illustrative of the idea the author desired to impress of the of the story, but another recorder of the event, Thomas Lorkin, in a letter to Sir Thomas Puckering, expressly calls it

Henry VIII.

; and, lastly, we read in the original stage directions of Shakspere's play, Act I., Scene ,

drums and trumpets, chambers discharged

,

under the precise circumstances described by Sir Henry Wotton. The Globe was rebuilt next year, when Taylor, the water-poet, noticing it, says-

where before it had a thatched hide

Now to a stately theatre is turn'd.

Like the Blackfriars, it was most probably pulled down during the Commonwealth.

The Fortune Theatre, built about , proved truly a fortune to its chief owner, Alleyn, the actor and founder of Dulwich College. Here the Lord Admiral's servants performed. From the indenture between Alleyn and Henslowe, his co-partner, on the side, and the builder, Street, on the other, we learn that the house had tiers, consisting of boxes, rooms, and galleries; that there were

two

-penny rooms,

and

gentlemen's ;

that the width of the stage was feet, and the depth and a half, including, however, we should presume, the 'tiring house at the back. In connexion with these particulars, the view of the old stage we have given, with that important and most useful portion of it, the balcony, copied from an engraving in the title-page of

Roxana,

a

279

Latin play, by William Alabaster, , may not be unacceptable. The balcony appears to have been so managed, that when not in use by the players, it might be occupied by some of the audience. We see at a glance in this design, the means by which many of the old stage directions were fulfilled, as

Enter Romeo and Juliet at the window.

In the balcony, too, would sit the Court in

Hamlet

during the performance of the play, and in similar cases of a play within a play. It has been supposed that the names of the theatres were borrowed from their respective signs, or, at least, that they had signs exhibited without of the nature indicated by their titles. This was certainly the case as regards Alleyn's theatre, as Heywood speaks of-

the picture of dame Fortune

Before the Fortune playhouse.

There was, however, a much more useful and characteristic sign of the theatres. As the time of performance approaches, about in the afternoon,

each playhouse advanceth his flags in the air, whither quickly, at the waving thereof, are summoned whole troops of men, women, and children.

To the particulars already incidentally given, we may now add a few others. And as to actors, many of whom, we need hardly remind our readers, were poets also, like their great exemplar, Shakspere; and were generally, there is every reason to believe, worthy of the dramas they represented. The chief men of note, besides Shakspere himself, whose names have been preserved in connexion with his plays. were Burbage, the original Richard the ; Heminge and Condell, Shakspere's friends and literary executors, who,

without ambition either of self-profit or fame-only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakspere,

published the edition of his collected works; Taylor, the original Hamlet; Kemp; Sly; Lowin; Field, &c. Actors

William Parkes'

Curtain Drawn of the World,

.

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of this rank generally participated in the profits of the company to which they belonged, as whole sharers, -quarter sharers, or half-sharers; whilst the remaining performers were either hired at regular weekly salaries ( seems to have been an ordinary rate of payment), or were apprenticed to particular members of the company.--The emoluments of the sharers were, no doubt, considerable, as, in addition to their ordinary public business, they were frequently called upon to play before the Court, for which the usual payment, at time, was ; and at the mansions of the nobility on extraordinary cases of state, at christenings, and at marriages. The price of admission seems to have varied not only at the different theatres, but at different times in the same theatre. Ben Jonson has told us in an amusing passage what they were in , when his

Bartholomew Fair

was acted at the Hope. In the Induction he says,

It shall be lawful for any man to judge his

six

-pennyworth, his

twelve

-pennyworth, so to his eighteenpence,

two shillings

, half-a-crown, to the value of his place, provided always his place get not above his wit.

But Dekker speaks of your groundling and gallery commoner buying his sport for a penny; and other writers also of the

penny bench theatres,

referring most likely to theatres of a lower grade than any we have enumerated. Of moveable painted scenes, the theatres of the Shaksperian era were not entirely deficient; but in the earliest period we had

Thebes written in great letters on an old door,

when the audience were desired to understand the scene lay in that place, and which Sir Philip Sidney ridicules. Hence the briefest, but most significant of stage directions in

Selimus, Emperor of the Turks,

published in , where, when the hero is conveying his father's dead body in solemn state to the Temple of Mahomet, all parties are quietly told to

suppose the Temple of Mahomet

.

A great many difficulties might be got rid of by this principle, which, however, was not stretched too far. Our forefathers were not required to suppose the descent of the cauldron in

Macbeth,

as there were trap-doors; nay, upon occasion, still more difficult feats of ingenuity were accomplished. In the directions to Greene's we read,

after you have sounded thrice, let Venus be let down from the top of the stage, and when she is down, say ;

again, in another part,

Exit Venus.

Or

, if you can conveniently, let a chair come down from the top of the stage, and draw her up.

But in dresses and properties the stage of the Shaksperian era seems to have been rich enough to compare with the stage of the present day; nay, it is probable, that in comparison with the size of its theatres, and the number of its actors, it surpassed ours in the splendour and value of the wardrobe. In Henslowe's

Inventory,

we find, among other and still more expensive items of dress, of a

Robe for to go invisible,

which, with a gown, cost of the money of the century. The daylight performances, it is to be observed, would make it indispensable to have articles of a better quality than now. As to properties, though they had not attained the completeness of Covent Garden in these matters, where the property-man tells us he has almost everything in creationfrom the fly to the whale--under his charge; yet it will be seen in the following mock heroic account of an adventure in the theatre, by R. Brome, in

The Antipodes,

, that their possessions were far from contemptible. Bye-play is speaking of Peregrine :--

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He has got into our tiring-house amongst us,

And ta'en a strict survey of all our properties,

Our statues and our images of gods,

Our planets and our constellations,

Our giants, monsters, furies, beasts, and bugbears,

Our helmets, shields, and vizors, hair, and beards,

Our pasteboard marchpanes and our wooden pies.

Whether he thought 'twas some enchanted castle,

Or temple hung and pil'd with monuments

Of uncouth and of various aspects,

I dive not to his thoughts: wonder he did

Awhile, it seem'd, but yet undaunted stood;

When on the sudden, with thrice knightly force,

And thrice thrice puissant arm, he snatcheth down

The sword and shield that I played Bevis with,

Rusheth amongst the foresaid properties,

Kills monster after monster, takes the puppets

Prisoners, knocks down the Cyclops, tumbles all

Our jigamobobs and trinkets to the wall.

Spying at last the crown and royal robes

I' th' upper wardrobe, next to which by chance

The devil's vizors hung, and their flame-painted

Skin-coats, these he remov'd with greater fury,

And (having cut the infernal ugly faces

All into mammocks) with a reverend hand,

He takes the imperial diadem, and crowns

Himself King of the Antipodes, and believes

He has justly gained the kingdom by his conquest.

When these lines were written, enemies of a more real kind were preparing for an onslaught into the strongholds of the profession; the players were to gather soon for the support of a

crown and royal robes,

which should be no mimic toys of the 'tiring-room, but the symbols of a mighty power round which, both in attack and defence, armies of Englishmen would congregate, and where they would find what of their number had in another sense desired-

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

In appeared an ordinance of the Long Parliament, commanding the cessation of plays, on the ground that

public sports do not well agree with public calamities, nor public stage-plays with the seasons of humiliation, this being an exercise of sad and pious solemnity, and the other being spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levity.

For a time the ordinance was obeyed, though of course a cruel to the actors, whose means of existence were annihilated; but gradually theatres opened again, in quarter and then in another, and by the ordinance seems to have been almost forgotten. A then appeared, dealing in a more summary mode with all offenders, directing the governing powers and magistracy of London and adjoining counties to enter houses where performances were taking place, arrest the players, and commit them for trial at the next sessions, there to be

punished as rogues according to law.

Even this being found insufficient, the Lords and Commons met and debated the matter warmly, and at last an Act was passed on the , which, after denouncing stage-plays, interludes, and common plays as

the occasion of many and sundry great vices and disorders, tending to the high provocation of God's wrath and displeasure, which lies heavy upon this

kingdom,

ordained the demolition of all stage galleries, seats and boxes used for performances, and the punishment of convicted players with open and public whipping for the offence, and with still severer penalties for a . No wonder we hear of so many of the players joining the ranks of the Cavaliers during the Civil War, where, it may be added, they are understood to have honourably distinguished themselves. Some few actors, however, appear to have kept together, and acted occasionally in private at the residences of noblemen and others in the vicinity of London without interruption: Holland House was of these places. Under Cromwell there was still greater toleration, as Sir William D'Avenant gave

entertainments of declamation and music, after the manner of the ancients, at Rutland House,

Charter House

Square,

in , and in re-opened the Cockpit in , where he performed without molestation until the Restoration. A new era then opened for the drama.

Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the restored English theatre was its extraordinary facility for extracting the evil out of everything it touched. The Elizabethan drama was not forgotten-far from it; there is scarcely a grossness in those old writers which the new ones did not now imitate and greatly improve upon; they only forgot the truth and vividness of character and life that accompanied them-their high sentiment, their noble passions, their wonderful ever-gushing fount of poetry. So again with the French drama, which they so much admired: they borrowed from it an air of conventional stiffness and formality which did not sit altogether ungracefully on a truly great poet like Corneille, whose spirit was cast in the antique mould; but that air they mistook for him. Lastly, when they began to turn their eyes homewards, and inquire what materials for an English play English society might afford, nothing can be more perfect than the tact with which, in their comedies for instance, they avoided whatever was solid, or permanent, or productive of true genial humour and universal wit. Their wit, for no can deny the brilliancy of their repartee, was conventional. has only to ask where we should look for the greatest amount of conjoined frivolity, and profligacy, and sensuality, during the reign which was as a perfect hotbed to these vices, and there we shall find the greatest dramatic writers of the latter part of the century, from Dryden and Wycherley to Congreve and Vanbrugh. They have had their reward. or solitary plays (the

Provoked Husband

) of all the dramatic writings of these men, who were so well calculated by nature to support the reputation of a national drama, alone, we believe, remains upon the stage. But in the precise proportion that they are neglected now, were they read, and acted, and enjoyed then. Universal popularity among playgoers was theirs-unbounded the royal admiration and approval of their works. Theatres filled--in opposition to the puritan spirit it became a proof of loyalty to attend them-managers smiled, there was no stirring in society but they met the echoes of their own wit. D'Avenant was the to profit by so cheering a state of things, both as manager and author, and was certainly well fitted for his position. His residence in France had brought his tastes into a state of proper harmony with those of his sovereign; and the personal favours he enjoyed with Charles II. offered peculiar opportunities for the diffusion of those tastes. He obtained a licence (the origin of the existing Covent Garden patent right, as the licence granted at the same period to Killigrew is of that of ) and built a theatre in , , where,

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instead of the old half-lighted houses, wax-candles shed a brilliant blaze around, moveable painted scenes were introduced-music, operas, and an orchestra. But these novelties were as nothing compared to that of the appearance of actresses on the stage, as a part of the regular company; a feature so amazingly relished by Charles and his courtiers (and, indeed, it had its peculiar advantages for them, as we learn from the list of their female favourites) that certain pieces-we need not describe them--were occasionally played by females alone. It is pleasant to turn for a moment from these reminiscences to some of a purer character. Shakspere's plays, or at least so much of them as met the approval of D'Avenant, were played in a style of high excellence. Many of the actors were men of the old school, the remnants of the former companies; and of them, Betterton, has, from all we can learn, never been surpassed in the performance of some of the grandest of the Shaksperian creations. And he has been fortunate in having had critics at once capable of appreciating his excellence, and enabling posterity to appreciate it too.

Hamlet

was of D'Avenant's early revivals, and the story goes that the manager taught Betterton how Taylor, whom he remembered, had acted the part from Shakspere's own instructions; but such acting as that described by Cibber in a well-known passage is learnt from within, not from without; though in the general apprehension of a character like Hamlet's, the smallest hint, no matter by what medium it came, from the poet himself, would be of incalculable value.

Such a man was of course little fitted for the rhyming and eminently

mouthing

tragedies Dryden now poured forth in rapid succession, as if to show his contempt for his own early avowed admiration for Shakspere, or, as we would rather suggest, as if to give us unconsciously a proof of the high nobility of his own spirit, by a public renunciation in his latter days of the entire principles and practices of his dramatic career,--of his public return to the only true school, from which he had unwisely or recklessly departed. There are few things in literary history more instructive than this part of Dryden's life-nothing in all his works, excellent as they are when not dramatic, that more elevates or endears to us the memory of

glorious John.

The rise of the school of

genteel comedy,

as it has been called, is another interesting feature of the same reign, for, impure as it was in the hands of its founders, it gradually lost that impurity, whilst improving at the same time in excellences of a more positive character, as it passed, step by step, from Congreve to Sheridan, who, whilst almost rivalling the former writer in his own especial excellence, wit, has, in addition, plot, and varied character, and moral purpose in his satires to which Congreve could lay no claim. The English opera, too, must not be forgotten in reckoning the demands of the era in question upon our attention. In appeared Shadwell's

Psyche,

with music by Matthew Lock; and some years later Dryden's, or rather Purcell's,

King Arthur,

for the only. valuable portion of the work is the composer's. Those who availed themselves of the recent opportunity of enjoying its music will not soon forget such passages as the frost scene,--such duets as that of

Two

daughters of this aged stream are we.

Other works by the same composer followed; then came Arne, and Jackson, and Linley, and Dibdin, and Shield, and Storace, and gave us that school of genuine national music which we know so well how to-forget.

We have now noticed the most characteristic periods in the history of our

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national drama, which is, in the best sense of the word, the history of our metropolitan theatres; and, long as is the period that has elapsed since the latest of them, we can add no . The fact is that, with here and there a few exceptions to the general current of theatrical literature, such as must arise in every art from the peculiar characters of individuals, and which have given us such genuine plays, even in the most unpromising of times, as Otway's

Venice Preserved,

or as some of the productions of an actor-dramatist of the present day, our dramatic history may be summed up in words: we have grown as correct in everything as spiritless (

Cato,

and the plays of the Cato in the Anglo-French school, may be looked on as mere emanations of this feeling of propriety, as far as their dramatic excellence is concerned); we have imported --and subsequently worked hard at the same manufacture at home till we were wearied of it--the Kotzebue-German productions of the

Pizarro

and

Stranger

classes; we have established a melo-drama, which may yet rise into respectability, with a few more well-intentioned mistakes on the parts of certain authors, in thinking they are all the while writing plays. The dramatic-poem writers, who so carefully disclaim all connexion with the theatre, of course may be here disclaimed in return.

The Italian Opera, as something exotic in its origin, and still needing the shelter of the aristocratic conservatory in which it was planted, for its due support, demands separate notice. The building in the was erected by Vanbrugh at the beginning of the last century, the funds having been provided by a numerous body of subscribers, among whom were the chief members of the Kit-Cat Club. A rival house to , then enjoying a career of remarkable prosperity, was the object of the builder, whose scheme for its attainment was altogether a bold ; namely, that of joining himself and Congreve as writers and managers to such a company as Betterton and his companions, then playing at the Tennis Court, in , as actors. All parties were sanguine as to success; the players, it appears, fancying the reputation of their literary allies, and the grandeur of the new house, would cause the whole town to be attracted.

In this golden dream they however found themselves miserably deceived and disappointed, as on the opening of this grand and superb structure it was immnediately discovered that almost every quality and convenience of a good theatre had been sacrificed and neglected, to show the spectator a vast triumphal piece of architecture; and that the best play was less capable of delighting the auditor here than it would be in the plain and unadorned house they had just come from; for what with their vast columns, their gilded cornices, and immoderately high roof, scarce

one

word in

ten

could be distinctly heard. The extraordinary and superfluous space occasioned such an undulation from the voice of every actor, that, generally, what they said sounded like the gabbling of so many people in the lofty aisles of a cathedral. The tone of a trumpet, or the swell of a musical voice, might be sweetened by it; but the articulate sounds of a speaking voice were drowned by the hollow reverberations of

one

word upon another. 'Tis true, the spectators were struck with surprise and wonder at the magnificent appearance the house displayed in every way they turned their eyes. The ceiling over the orchestra was a semi-oval arch, that sprung

fifteen

feet higher from above the cornice. The ceiling over the pit, too, was still more raised; being

one

level line from the highest back part of the upper gallery to the front

of the stage. The front boxes were a continued semicircle to the bare walls of the house on each side, and the effect altogether was truly surprising. In the course of

two

or

three

years the ceilings over both orchestra and pit were lowered; and instead of the semi-oval arch, that over the orchestra was made a flat, which greatly improved the hearing.

[n.285.1]  The very defects of the house, however, helped to promote certain schemes of Vanbrugh's in a new quarter. In , interludes and musical entertainments of singing and dancing had been given in Italian at . years after, a regular dramatic Italian piece, with the narrative and dialogue in recitative, but translated, and performed by English actors and singers, was brought out at . Such were the cautious steps by which the Italian Opera stole into this country. Vanbrugh, in the same year, , opened the new theatre, when, in addition to the English play by Betterton's company, there was presented

Signor Giacomo Greber's

Loves of Ergosto,

set to Italian music.

But the house failed the very season, not even the attraction, towards its close, so characteristic of the managers, of the performance of

Love for Love,

by women, serving to draw sufficient audiences for above nights. Betterton and his company returned to . The Italian Opera was more and more assiduously cultivated in succeeding seasons, to prevent the utter ruin of the house from the continuous failure of the English performances; in , Operas were played in which Italian and native singers were mingled; and, in , the Italian Opera was introduced entire at last,

Almahide

having been performed that year in the foreign language, by foreign performers. The popularity which the Opera, or rather the singers--who we suspect were much better appreciated than the composers whose strains they warbled-soon obtained, may be illustrated by the well-known expression of a very enthusiastic lady,

One

God,

one

Farinelli!

On the individual histories of the theatres that are alone licensed to play the regular drama we cannot attempt to enter, but a few dates may be useful. When D'Avenant obtained his licence, and formed his company under the title of the Duke's Servants (the King's brother being their patron), Killigrew, as we have before stated, obtained similar powers for the formation and employment of a company at the old Cockpit in : these were to be the King's servants. At the close of the century both patents had fallen into the same hands, those of Rich, the pantomimist; who, by his parsimony, excited so much disgust, that was taken from him, and the licence granted to another party. Steele's name was subsequently entered in the patent; but it was not till the advent upon the London stage of the most perfect actor, perhaps, the world has yet seen, Garrick, that it obtained its highest state of repute and prosperity. In Garrick and Lacy purchased the theatre, enlarged the house, and opened it with Johnson's well-known prologue. This was a new era of acting, if not of writing; and can very well understand the great Shaksperian services of Garrick, if we consider that it was not alone the harmony resulting from the greatest of actors representing the characters of the greatest of poets, but that he appears to have been distinguished at the same time, like the poet, by the naturalness of his style. In Sheridan became part-proprietor, and it was during his government that the Theatre was destroyed by fire in . The

286

present edifice was built by B. Wyatt, Esq. owes its rise to the loss of by Rich, as before stated.

The Beggars' Opera

having made

Rich gay, and Gay rich,

the former grew more magnificent in his ideas, and exerted himself to get a theatre erected in Covent Garden, which he opened in , Hogarth making memorable his transit from by an amusing satirical print. This building was burnt in , then rebuilt by Smirke (after the model of the grand Doric Temple of Minerva at Athens), adorned with statues and some beautiful basso-relievos by Flaxman, and re-opened in . It was here that Kemble carried on the work of stage-reformation which Garrick had begun--here that for so many years with his sister, the illustrious Siddons, he played the Shaksperian drama, as we must scarcely hope ever again to see it played-and here, it must be added, that he experienced, with an indignation that might lessen, but could not prevent, the anguish of a high nature exposed to the most gross insults, what it is to be an actor, if, under all circumstances, you will also be a man. It was the rise of prices consequent on the opening of the new Theatre, under his management, that brought on the notorious . P. riots. The

Little Theatre in the

Haymarket

(as all its managers seem to call it, with a sort of affectionate patronising air, perhaps because, generally speaking, it seems to have been the means of a very satisfactory kind of patronage of them) was erected about . Here, in , Henry Fielding opened the season with the

Great Mogul's Company,

and acted his own Pasquin for nights, when he was obliged to shut up the house in consequence of the Licensing Act of . And subsequently Foote, to avoid a similar conclusion, gave

tea,

and made it of the most popular places of amusement in London by his own great but sadly misdirected talents. Lastly, we may observe that the owes its present privileges to nothing more nor less than Foote's leg, which the comedian happening to break at a hunting party of fashionables, when the Duke of York was present, obtained a licence for life for the as a summer theatre by way of compensation, and which was subsequently made permanent: such are the considerations by which we decide in England whether --or -theatres shall represent Shakspere! The remaining places of dramatic entertainment in the metropolis are the Lyceum or English Opera House, the , , the Olympic, the Princess's in , a very beautiful little house of recent erection, the Prince's in , the Royal Fitzroy or Queen's in , , the City of London at , Sadler's Wells, the Pavilion in Whitechapel, and the Garrick in Goodman's Fields-all on the City side of the water; whilst on the other are the Surrey, the Victoria, and Astley's, the latter, however, chiefly used for equestrian exhibitions. Here is ample room for the expansion of a growing drama, whenever the legislature shall become convinced that the people who attend all these minor theatres would really be no worse if plays were substituted for burlettas,

Love in a Village

for

My Poll and my Partner Joe,

Shakspere for Van Amburgh. Of course the patentees of the principal theatres must be perfectly indifferent by this time on the matter. It would be too good a jest now to urge the possibility of injury to the properties in their present state by any course that might be determined upon with respect to the lesser houses, always excepting that a reversal of the former state of

287

things could be settled by law: the regular drama to the minors, and the burlettas, and nautical pieces, and the lions to the majors--that were something for both parties; as equitable and suitable an adjustment perhaps as could be devised. We commend it to the attention of those who have been very naturally surprised and irritated at the late aspect of affairs, in which they have so deep an interest; who have seen the habitual course of these theatres interrupted,their best friends alienated, friends at least who had stood by these theatres in their poverty and degradation, and were willing to stand by them apparently through even worse stages of both,--their very character blackened by pretended necessities of reformation; who, in short, had lived to see the preposterous attempt made to preserve to their theatres these privileges by proving they were deserved, and who of course, therefore, nipped the mischief in its bud: and if in so doing they have lost their rents, who shall say they have not preserved at least what appears to have been their consistent principles? But seriously, it must now be evident to all reflecting persons, that these patent rights must be abolished, before the drama can be re-invigorated by the only certain cure--the creation of a new

288

literature, appealing to, and reflecting the feelings, ideas, and character of the age; before a new, and, as a body, higher race of actors can arise to do justice to such a literature; before we shall be able to sit down in a house small enough to enable us at once to see and to hear, and at the representation of a piece worthy of a sensible man or woman's thoughtful attention. For all this there needs only, we believe, a single and easy remedy, namely,

That,

in the words of an article on this long-debated question, written so far back as ,[n.288.1] 

the theatres of the Metropolis should be licensed for the enactment of the English drama without distinction or limit.

 
 
 
Footnotes:

[n.274.1] He was born, according to Malone, ill 1565.

[n.278.1] Case is Altered, Act ii. Sc. 4.

[n.285.1] Wilkinson's Londina Illustrata.

[n.288.1] In Knight's Quarterly Magazine, vol. i. p. 433.