X. The English Theatre, 1642-1800
The years between 1642 and 1660 (also known as the Interregnum, or period between kings) saw very little theatrical activity in England as the Puritans worked to drive out "sinful" theatre. A law was passed in 1642 that suspended performances for five years. After the law expired, Oliver Cromwell's government passed another law declaring that all actors were to be considered rogues. Many theatres were even dismantled during these eighteen years of stasis.
In 1660 Charles II returned to England from his exile in France, restoring the monarchy. This period, known as the Restoration, was a time of renewal for British theatre . The flamboyant Charles II was a huge patron of theatre and helped breathe new life into British drama. A patent was even issued for two new theatre companies. Led by William Davenant, the Duke's Men was for younger performers, while older, more experienced actors were in The King's Company, led by Thomas Killigrew . While the two companies created new opportunities theatrically, their monopoly on performances hampered the growth of British theatre.
Many scenic innovations developed during the Restoration. One of the most innovative and influential designers of the 18th century was Philip Jacques de Loutherbourg. He was the first designer to break up floor space with pieces of scenery, giving more depth and dimension to the stage. Other designers experimented with lighting by using candles and large chandeliers which hung over the floor of the stage.
Usually the playwright was the director of a play, and he held rehearsals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. When it was the actor's turn to speak, he or she would step forward into a star and speak his or her lines. Actors got paid on how popular they were, and they usually played the same type of roles; for instance, tragic actors always played tragic roles. The female was known as the ingenue and the male was known as the juvenile. Playwrights got the proceeds from the third night's performance and also the sixth night's performance, but only for the original run of the show. Pantomimes would also perform before and after a play.
A theatre of note between 1642 and 1800 was The Haymarket Theatre, operated by Samuel Foote. (Foote was given special license to operate in the summertime because of sympathy after he had a freak horsing accident while trying to prove that he wasn't effeminate.) Two eighteenth century writers of comedy were Sheridan who wrote The Rivals and Oliver Goldsmith who wrote She Stoops to Conquer. John Gay authored the popular The Beggar's Opera, updated in the twentieth-century playwright by Bertolt Brecht in The Threepenny Opera.
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