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 2

Wilkinson, Robert
1819-1825

Remarks upon the ancient Theatres of London: Introductory of Particular Descriptions.

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 English Stage rose later, and made slower advances towards mature refinement and classic elegance, than that of any other nation. With respect to the Theatres of Greece and Rome, 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 France or Germany have any reason to assume much pride in the superiority of their early Dramas: the histrionic rites of the Druids were common to the three countries; and certainly, in their ecstatic effusions, they came very near to the sublimity of tragedy. Their umbrageous groves, their natural scenery, solemn incantations, and all the dramatic machinery of their invocations, were transmitted to the Roman and Saxon historians; and, with many of their rites and customs, especially those whose impressions were tragic, adapted, and in some instances burlesqued, by the latter. That the profession of Actors, under the general appellation of Minstrels, flourished in very early times in England, we have every reason to believe: John of Salisbury, a monk of Canterbury, who wrote in the 12th century, in the 1st book of his treatise, entitled, Policraticus, de Nugis Curialium, chapters 6th, 7th, and 8th, particularly the latter, speaks De histrionibus et mimis, et præstigiatoribus (of Actors, Stagebuffoons, and Jugglers), which were unquestionably the players of common interludes, introduced by the Romans, in their Histriones and Mimi, continued by the Saxons in their Gleemen, and adopted by the Normans in their Iniquity; from whom lineally descended the Vice of the middle ages, whose first business it was to teize the devil; and the Punch of modern times, who, under the direction of PodPOD, a famous master of the motions, or player of common interludes, celebrated by Ben Jonson, in "Bartholomew Fair." and his descendants, had nearly the same occupation. But to return to our early Drama: William Stephanides, or Fitzstephen, who was also a monk of Canterbury, that wrote in the reign of HENRY II., and died in that of RICHARD I., 1191, in his Descriptio Nobilissimæ Civitatis Londinæ, thus characterized those scenes which, performed by Minstrels,Dugdale apud Percy, Sect. 4. used to exhilarate the spirits of our remote ancestors: "LONDON, instead of the common interludes belonging to the Theatres,By this passage we also learn that interludes were common in London in the 12th century, that Theatres were established, and Minstrels well known. 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 secular at least kept pace with those of the ecclesiastical actors; nay, it appears, from Stat. 4, of HENRY IV., that the opposition of professional performers was (in some places) considered of such importance, that it was necessary to arm the clergy 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 strong measures, they still found such encouragement from the people, that, in spite of the censures and fulminations of the clergy, they continued their exhibitions; which, during the triumphant reign of HENRY V. flourished so much, that the Monastic Companies, 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 common interludes, founded upon the Mimes and Atellanæ of the Romans, to relieve the gravity of their miracle plays. From this happy combination, which by profane dramatists had been termed Mysteries, arose a species of church exhibition, commonly, but most improperly, called MORALITIES.

The long wars of York and Lancaster 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 Pageants, were, from about the middle of the 15th century, in some degree suspended, and were not generally revived until during the reign of EDWARD IV., who, to please the citizens of London, &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 government, the revival of learning, and the expansion of the human mind, conduced to its nurture, and ultimately to its perfection.

But although the DRAMATIC GENIUS of our isle made some advances, yet still it appears to have struggled hard with monastic absurdities and vulgar ribaldry. MotionsPuppet-shows. and Miracle plays, in both of which, events recorded in the Holy ScripturesThe Deluge, Joseph and his Brethren, Jephtha's rash Vow, Nineve, which is recorded as a famous getpenny, Solomon, &c. were mingled with common interludes, and travestied with the vilest trash and the most obscene buffoonery, kept possession of Theatres, and even, profane as it may now seem, of CHURCHES, in the early part of the reign of HENRY VIII. The Reformation chased these scenic monsters from sacred places, and indeed formed a new era in the morals as well as in the religion of the country.

The first symptom of these dramatic improvements is to be observed in the comedies of John Heywood, of which, "THE PLAY OF THE WEATHER," is dated 1533; "THE FOUR P S," 1547, &c. "GAMMER GURTON S NEEDLE,"Written by JOHN STILL, M.A., afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells. stated but erroneously, to be the oldest of our dramatic pieces, is dated 1575, and is said to have been performed soon after the interludes, except those at the Red Bull, St. John Street, had been consigned to their proper station, BARTHOLOMEW FAIR.

In the reign of ELIZABETH legitimate TRAGEDY and COMEDY began to raise their heads: Creative forms, first started into view; Excursive SHAKESPEAR travail'd nature through, "Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new.

We have thought it necessary, as an introduction to our few remarks upon the views of Theatres, &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 Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger, we must lament that their temples, the Theatres, 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 first public Playhouses. The second (of which seventeen were erected in and adjacent to the metropolis, in the course of sixty 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 Rhodes, Malta, London, Paris, Milan, &c., written upon boards, and displayed upon blankets, served to mark the changes of place, were exhibited by daylight; a circumstance which, together with that last hinted, put all scenic delusion out of the question, and banished in a great degree the witchery of the Drama; in short, these Theatres were too much like bear-gardens in their external appearance, while internally they were equally deficient of propriety and property of scenery and decoration. The inconvenience of their forms appears conspicuous in the print of Shakespear's Theatre, the Globe, on the Bankside, Southwark; and the Swan, in its vicinity. The Hope and the Rose, that were situated in the neighbourhood, were, as appears also by their prints, in the same style.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.

The paucity of stage decorations will be contemplated with surprise in the scene at the Red Bull, in St. John Street, Clerkenwell, wherein Falstaff, Mrs. Quickly, Robert Cox, in the character of Simpleton, Clause, Changeling, &c., are introduced, we suppose to show the comic 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 Shakespear has left us a very lively literary description of dramatic shifts in the chorus to HENRY V. But pardon, gentles all, The flat unraised spirit, that hath dared On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth So great an object. Can this Cock-pit hold The vasty field of FRANCE? or may we cram, Within this wooden O, the very caskes That did affright the air at AGINCOURT?

From the reign of, at least, EDWARD VI., the north and the south environs of LONDON seem to have been dedicated to dramatic amusements, though mingled on the Bankside with the Bear-gardens, for there were two, the old and the new, the Bull-ring and the Stews; which, under the protection of the Bishop of Winchester,An attempt to suppress them in 1546 failed. had existed from the times of the Normans; while, on the north (with the exception of the Wrestling-ground in Moorfields, the Butts in Finsbury, and Rope-dancing, Legerdemain, and Grinning on the Scaffolds near the Windmill, opposite Old Bethlem, in the Holyday seasons), the Theatres were numerously attended.

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

130

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,"

1547

, &c. "GAMMER GURTON

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:

Creative forms, first started into view;

Excursive SHAKESPEAR travail'd nature through, "Exhausted worlds, and then imagin'd new.

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.

But pardon, gentles all,

The flat unraised spirit, that hath dared

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

So great an object. Can this Cock-pit hold

The vasty field of FRANCE? or may we cram,

Within this wooden O, the very caskes

That did affright the air at AGINCOURT?

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.

 
 
Footnotes:

[*] 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.

[*] Puppet-shows.

[*] 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.

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 Title Page
collapseCourts, Halls, and Public Buildings
collapseSchools
collapseAlms-Houses, Hospitals, &c.
collapsePlaces of Amusement
collapseMiscellaneous Objects of Antiquity
collapseAncient and Modern Theatres
collapseTheatres
The Bull and the Bear Baiting,
The Red Bull Playhouse, Clerkenwell.
Fortune Theatre
Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre
D'Avenant's Theatre Otherwise the Duke's Theatre, Little Lincoln's Inn Fields
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Destruction of Drury Lane Theatre by Fire
Opening of Drury Lane New Theatre
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden
The New Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.
Theatre Royal, Haymarket
New Theatre Royal, Haymarket
The King's Theatre, or the Italian Opera, Haymarket
Theatre in Goodman's Fields. The whole of Goodman's Fields was formerly a farm belonging to the Abbey of Nuns, of the Order of St. Clare, called the Minories or Minoresses, from certain poor ladies of that order; and so late as the time of Stow, when he wrote his Survey in 1598, was let out in gardens, and for grazing horses. One Trolop, and afterwards Goodman, were the farmers there. But Goodman's son being heir by his father's purchase, let the grounds in parcels, and lived like a gentleman on its produce. He lies buried in St. Botolph's church, Aldgate.
The Royalty Theatre, Wellclose Square
The Tennis Court Theatre, Bear Yard, Little Lincoln's Inn Fields
Olympic Theatre, Newcastle Street, Strand
Sadler's Wells.
The Pantheon Theatre, Oxford Street
Strand Theatre, the Sans Pareil
Astley's Amphitheatre, Westminster Road
The Regency Theatre. Tottenham Street Tottenham Court Road
The Cobourg Theatre
Royal Circus or Surrey Theatre
Lyceum Theatre, or English Opera, Strand.
Theatre in Tankard Street, Ipswich
Checks and Tickets of Admission to the public Theatres and other Places of Amusement.

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.

This object is in collection:
Edwin C. Bolles papers
Subjects
London (England)--Antiquities
London (England)--Description and Travel
Wilkinson, Robert, d. ca. 1825
Bolles, Edwin Courtlandt
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/53839
ID: tufts:MS004.002.057.001.00001
To Cite: DCA Citation Guide
Usage: Detailed Rights