Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 2Wilkinson, Robert
Remarks upon the ancient Theatres of London: Introductory of Particular Descriptions.
It is, or rather, until the subject was more accurately invested, it was, the general opinion, that the rose later, and made slower advances towards and , than that of any other nation. With respect to the Theatres of and , we must, in contravention of this proposition, state, that the origin of these was unquestionably as humble, and their progress to perfection as slow, as that of the English Stage; nor do we think, in times comparatively modern, that either or have any reason to assume much pride in the superiority of their early Dramas: the of the were common to the countries; and certainly, in their , they came very near to the sublimity of Their umbrageous groves, their natural scenery, solemn incantations, and all the dramatic machinery of their invocations, were transmitted to the and historians; and, with many of their and , especially those whose impressions were , adapted, and in some instances , by the latter. That the profession of , under the general appellation of , flourished in very early times in , we have every reason to believe: of , a monk of , who wrote in the , in the book of his treatise, entitled, , chapters , , and , particularly the latter, speaks (of , and ), which were unquestionably the players of , introduced by the , in their and , continued by the in their , and adopted by the in their from whom lineally descended the of the middle ages, whose business it was to and the of modern times, who, under the direction of [*] and his descendants, had nearly the same occupation. But to return to our early Drama: , or , who was also a monk of , that wrote in the reign of HENRY II., and died in that of RICHARD I., , in his , thus characterized those scenes which, performed by ,[*] used to exhilarate the spirits of our remote ancestors: "LONDON, instead of the belonging to the ,[*] has plays of a more holy subject; representations of those miracles which the holy confessors wrought, or of the sufferings, wherein the glorious constancy of the martyrs did appear." Still, however, we find that the efforts of the at least kept pace with those of the nay, it appears, from , of HENRY IV., that the opposition of professional performers was (in some places) considered of such , that it was necessary to arm the with the strongest powers for its repression. Accordingly their performances were interdicted, their persons proscribed, their morals condemned, and their manners anathematized: yet, notwithstanding these , they still found such encouragement from the people, that, in spite of the censures and fulminations of the , they continued their exhibitions; which, during the triumphant reign of HENRY V. flourished so much, that the , as they may be entitled, found, that, instead of launching execrations which were laughed at, it would be rather to their interest to imitate those that they had so severely reprobated, and by the introduction of , founded upon the and of the , to relieve the gravity of their From this happy combination, which by had been termed , arose a species of exhibition, commonly, but most improperly, called MORALITIES.
The long wars of and entirely banished domestic hilarity, and repressed, in a great degree, religious festivity; the plays usually performed in churches, or displayed with long trains of processional pomp and show, virgins and youths, saints, monarchs and popes, angels and devils, on stages erected upon wheels, whence their appellation , were, from about the middle of the , in some degree suspended, and were not generally revived until during the reign of EDWARD IV., who, to please the citizens of , &c., favoured their reappearance. The stern system of RICHARD III. affrighted dramatic genius, if that species of spectacle to which we have alluded, may be so termed, once more from the land; but the peaceable time of HENRY VII., the settlement of the , the revival of , and the expansion of the , conduced to its , and to its
But although the DRAMATIC GENIUS of our made some advances, yet still it appears to have struggled hard with and [*] and , in both of which, events recorded in
|the [*] were with , and with the and the most , kept possession of , and even, profane as it may now seem, of CHURCHES, in the early part of the reign of HENRY VIII. The chased these scenic monsters from sacred places, and indeed formed a new era in the as well as in the of the country.|
The symptom of these dramatic improvements is to be observed in the comedies of , of which, "THE PLAY OF THE WEATHER," is dated ; "THE P
S NEEDLE,"[*] stated but erroneously, to be the oldest of our dramatic pieces, is dated , and is said to have been performed soon after the , except those at the , had been consigned to their proper station, BARTHOLOMEW FAIR.
In the reign of ELIZABETH legitimate TRAGEDY and COMEDY began to raise their heads:
We have thought it necessary, as an introduction to our few remarks upon the views of , &c., exhibited in this work, briefly, and consequently slightly, to state the progress of our Drama, from its lowest state of barbarity and rudeness, to its highest flight of elegance and sublimity; but, alas! when we contemplate the works of our immortal bard, and also those of , and , we must lament that their temples, the , were by no means adequate to the powers of those divinities that were therein worshipped: to confess the truth, they were mean buildings, barns, rooms, or yards at inns; undecorated, unilluminated, ill-contrived, and totally improper for scenic representations. Such were our The (of which were erected in and adjacent to the , in the course of years): with respect to these, they certainly were built upon a regular plan, and were much more convenient, but they were still open at the top, of consequence exposed to the weather; and their plays, in which , &c., written , and displayed , served to mark the , were exhibited by a circumstance which, together with that last hinted, put all scenic delusion out of the question, and banished in a great degree the of the in short, these Theatres were too much like in their external appearance, while internally they were equally deficient of and of and The inconvenience of their forms appears conspicuous in the print of , the , on the and the , in its vicinity. The and the , that were situated in the neighbourhood, were, as appears also by their prints, in the same style.[*]
The paucity of stage decorations will be contemplated with surprise in the scene at the , in , wherein , in the character of , &c., are introduced, we suppose to show the strength of the company. The want of ornament, the funereal appearance of the interior of the house, which seems to shade with solemnity the most humorous characters, display in the strongest point of view the poverty of our ancient Theatres, of the representation of which this is perhaps the only sketch extant, though has left us a very lively literary description of in the to HENRY V.
From the reign of, at least, EDWARD VI., the and the environs of LONDON seem to have been dedicated to dramatic amusements, though mingled on the with the , for there were , the and the , the and the which, under the protection of the ,[*] had existed from the times of the Normans; while, on the north (with the exception of the in , the in , and , and on the near the , opposite , in the ), the Theatres were numerously attended.
[*] POD, a famous master of the motions, or player of common interludes, celebrated by Ben Jonson, in "Bartholomew Fair."
[*] Dugdale apud Percy, Sect. 4.
[*] By this passage we also learn that interludes were common in London in the 12th century, that Theatres were established, and Minstrels well known.
[*] The Deluge, Joseph and his Brethren, Jephtha's rash Vow, Nineve, which is recorded as a famous getpenny, Solomon, &c.
[*] Written by JOHN STILL, M.A., afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells.
[*] Turning to the view of London, &c., as they appeared in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it will be seen that there were four Theatres in Southwark, octagonal in their forms, open or half covered at their tops, and with a flag displayed on each, as was the custom, during their performances. The Theatres on the north side of London, viz., The Curtain, The Fortune, The Red Bull, and Rutland House, were built in a more domestic style. The scaffolds and booths in Moorfields used to display flags in holyday times, but we believe not at any other period.
[*] An attempt to suppress them in 1546 failed.
Title page of Vol. 2 reads: Theatrum illustrata. Graphic and historic memorials of ancient playhouses, modern theatres and other places of public amusement in the cities and suburbs of London & Westminster with scenic and incidental illustrations from the time of Shakspear to the present period.