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The Government could suppress the public theatres, but they could not suppress the taste for dramatic representations, and clandestine performances became of frequent occurrence during the Protectorate. In Lord Hatton, of Scotland Yard, the poor actors found a kindly patron; and not less generous was the Countess of Holland, who erected a private stage at her mansion, Holland House, Kensington. It was necessary that these performances should take place with the greatest precautions, and we are told that William Goffe, “ the womanactor," was employed as “the jackal ” to give notice of the different “fixtures,” and communicate between actors and audience. At the close of the play a collection was made for the benefit of the actors, whose share was carefully proportioned to their respective merits.
To increase their funds the players resorted to the practice of publishing the plays, which had hitherto been jealously kept in manuscript, and in one year no fewer than fifty were thus given to the public. Many of these have undoubtedly perished, for though the titles are recorded, the plays themselves are not known. And, in 1653, John Cotgrave issued a remarkable collection of the most and best of our English Dramatic Poems” under the title of “The English Treasury of Wit and Language." In his preface he complains that “the Dramatic Poem had been too much slighted ;” and he adds that some, not wanting in wit themselves, had, through this unfortunate neglect, “lost the benefit of many rich and useful observations; not duly considering, or believing, that the framers of them were the most fluent and redundant wits that this age, or I think any other, ever knew."
But with the overthrow of “the Rumps,” and the entrance into London of prudent George Monk and his regiments, brighter days dawned for the poor players. Bustling old Rhodes, who had been prompter at the Blackfriars Theatre, and afterwards sold books and pamphlets in a shop at Charing Cross, hastened to the camp in Hyde Park, and wheedled out of the General permission to revive the drama at the Cockpit, in Drury Lane (June, 1660). A similar license was granted to Beeston, who about the same time opened the Salisbury Court Theatre. That Monk's tastes were theatrical we opine from the fact that, when he and the Council of State were entertained by the London Guilds, dramatic representations were always included in the programme, with “ dancing and singing, many shapes and ghosts, and the like; and all to please his Excellency the Lord General.”
At first the revival of the drama was attended with a good deal of irregular competition; but in 1662 the King took the matter in hand, and settled all disputes by issuing patents for two theatres only—one to Thomas Killigrew, who opened in Drury Lane at the head of the King's Company; and the other to Sir William Davenant and the Duke of York's Company, in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street. The latter afterwards removed to the old Tennis Court in Portugal Row, on the south side of Lincoln's Inn Fields. In 1671, after the death of Davenant, the Duke's comedians betook themselves to the new theatre in Dorset Gardens, built by Sir Christopher Wren, and decorated by Grinling Gibbons. Meanwhile, the King's Company, burnt out of Drury Lane in 1672, found shelter in Lincoln's Inn Fields until Wren provided
them with a new house in 1674. Eight years later, on Killigrew's death, the two companies united, and started at the New Drury Lane Theatre, also built by Wren, on the 16th of November, 1682.
Before we put together a few biographical and critical notes respecting the Actors and Actresses of the Restoration, we must say a word or two in description of the theatres in which, and of the audience before which, they donned the sock and buskin. The usual hour of performance, at least in Charles II.'s early years, was three in the afternoon. The house was lighted, partly by the light of heaven, which the open roof—for the pit was not covered over*—freely admitted, and partly by flaring candles, which were trimmed by regular “snuffers.” Two rows of boxes † accommodated the King and his courtiers, the nobles, and the wealthier gentry; but the company in the pit was frequently among the best, and thither resorted the wit and the critic, on whose fiat the fate of play and players depended. Thither, too, went the gay gallants of the period, dividing their attention between the fair actresses on the stage and the beauties in the boxes, with a ready glance for a pretty face among the orange girls, who pushed the sale of their costly fruit. When, in February, 1668, Sir George Etherege's comedy, “She Would if She Could,” was produced at the Duke's House, the pit was crowded with a brilliant company, including Buckingham, and Dorset, and Sedley, which incontinently condemned the play, much to the dissatisfaction of its author. Our wonder that ladies could attend the performance of so indecent a drama is not much lessened by the fact that they could, if they chose, appear in masks; * but from the comments of Pepys on the charming faces he saw, and so loved to see, we infer that the number who made even this slight concession to decorum must have been
* Pepys records, on one occasion, the inconvenience caused by a storm of hail.
+ The prices of admission to the boxes seem to have ranged from 48. to 18d. On the first night of a new piece the prices were sometimes doubled. (See Pepys, Dec. 16th, 1661.)
small. The patronage of the Court was extended to the Stage during Charles's reign on a more liberal scale than ever before or since. The saturnine King, so falsely called “The Merry Monarch,” went to the theatre, almost every night, to escape for awhile from the ennui which consumed him, and of course was followed by everybody who breathed the atmosphere of the Court. I think the “auditorium” must often have presented a more interesting, and certainly a more entertaining spectacle than the stage. As, for example, on the 20th of April, 1661, when Mr. Pepys at the Cockpit saw the King, and the Duke of York and his recently-wedded Duchess. The play was Fletcher's “Humorous Lieutenant,” not very well acted ; but Mr. Pepys found great pleasure in seeing “so many great beauties, especially Mrs. Palmer (in due time to be known as Lady Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland), with whom the King did discover a great deal of familiarity.” Again, on October 2nd, 1662, when Catherine of Braganza made her first public appearance :-“I did go thither,” says Pepys, “and by very great fortune did follow four or five gentlemen who were carried to a little private door in the wall, and so crept through a narrow
*" I remember,” says Colley Cibber, “ the ladies were then observed to be decently afraid of venturing bare-faced to a new comedy, till they had been assured they might do it without insult to their modesty ; or if their curiosity were too strong for their patience, they took care at least to save appearances, and rarely came in the first days of acting, but in masks, which custom, however, had so many ill consequences attending it, that it has been abolished these many years."
place, and come into one of the boxes next the King's, but so as I could not see the King or Queen, but many of the fine ladies, who yet are really not so handsome generally as I used to take them to be, but that they are finely dressed. There we saw “The Cardinal' [by James Shirley], a tragedy I had never seen before, nor is there any great matter in it. The company that come with me into the box were all Frenchmen, that could speak no English; but Lord! what sport they made to ask a pretty lady that they got among them, that understood both French and English, to make her tell them what the actors said.”
On the 21st of November Mr. Pepys took his wife to the Cockpit, and they had excellent places, and saw the King, and Queen, and the boy-Duke of Monmouth, and my Lady Castlemaine, and all the fine ladies.
He was there again on the 1st of December-he was always making vows not to go to the theatre for a certain period, and always breaking these vows—and saw acted a translation of Corneille's “Cid”_"a play,” he says, “I have read with great delight, but is a most dull thing acted, which I never understood before, there being no pleasure in it, though done by Betterton, and by Ianthe [Mrs. Betterton), and by another fine wench [Mrs. Norton] that is now in the room of Roxalana [Mrs. Davenport] ; nor did the King or Queen once smile all the whole play, nor any of the whole company seem to take any pleasure, but what was in the greatness and gallantry of the company.
We fear our dear friend Pepys had a touch of snobbishness or flunkeyism in his character, for when he went to the Duke's Theatre, on December 27th, to see the “ Siege of Rhodes,” he expresses himself as not pleased with the