Tag Archives: theatre

Restoration Drama in England (1600–1800)

Restoration Drama in England (1600–1800)

Drama during Puritan Commonwealth

Despite a decree of the Parliament in 1642 that outlawed dramatic performances, the stage did not completely disappear from English life during the English Civil Wars and the subsequent Commonwealth. In the years between 1640 and 1660, English Puritans tried to refashion many elements of English life, government, and politics. Since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the Puritans had battled against the theater, and the movement’s most outspoken critics of the stage had long judged London’s playhouses to be haunts of Satan. Puritan opposition to the theater arose, in part, from an astute understanding of the role that the medieval church had played in the development of drama, and the many figures that attacked the theater in the period realized that the custom of staging plays had arisen from the mystery and morality plays that had been common in the country before the rise of the Reformation.

The exterior of the Drury Lane Theater, London. MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY.

The exterior of the Drury Lane Theater, London. MARY EVANS

At the same time, Puritans shared an abiding distrust for all ritualized and theatrical displays, and they believed that evil lay at the heart of the pomp and magnificence of the stage as well as in the elaborate rituals of kingship and the Church of England. But while the parliamentary ordinances enacted in 1642 against the theater were clear, several loopholes in the law still allowed some minor forms of drama to flourish. During the period of the Puritan Commonwealth (1649–1660), it became a common custom for England’s great noble families—many of whom had sided with the royalist cause—to stage plays and operas in their homes. Some of these productions were actually staged by professionals and performed for paying audiences.

Short dramas, too, were sometimes performed furtively at fairs or in small towns on holidays; and the rise of drolls or traveling wits that toured the country entertaining crowds with short skits was yet another way in which theater survived in England during the 1650s. In the country’s great public schools, institutions that had served to educate sons of nobles and gentlemen since the later Middle Ages, dramas continued to be used, as they were in Catholic Europe, to teach Latin and Greek as well as to expose students to ancient rhetoric and style. At the same time, while regulations against the theater were sometimes ignored, circumvented, or relaxed by the government during the Puritan period, the age was nevertheless a definitive break from the vigorous tradition of public drama that had flourished in England since the last quarter of the sixteenth century.

Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I had each thrown their support squarely behind the theater and had opposed Puritan efforts to rid the country of drama. As a result, most of London’s actors, playwrights, and theater owners had been royalist supporters during the Civil War, and when their side was defeated, many were consequently forced into exile. Many of those who stayed in England took up other occupations. Very few who were active on the London stage in the years before 1642 lived to see the Restoration of the monarchy and the revival of the theater after 1660. Thus when Charles II returned to assume the throne in that year and permitted theatrical performances, the London theater by and large had to be created anew. Read the rest of this entry

Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn


Nell GwynWhen she was just a child, Eleanor Gwyn lost her father, who likely died in a debtor’s prison. The future great actress of the Restoration stage therefore grew up under the care of her mother, who ran a house of prostitution near Covent Garden, then in the western end of the city of London. In her childhood years she was a barmaid in her mother’s establishment before becoming a fruit seller at the nearby Drury Lane Theater. She came to the attention of the theater’s major actor, Charles Hart, and although only fifteen at the time she became his lover. Hart saw to it that she was given roles in productions and she continued in the company until 1669 when she became pregnant by the king. She returned to the theater for one production after the birth, but then soon retired to devote herself to her love, King Charles II. In the years that she had performed at the Drury Lane Theater, Gwyn premiered a number of roles in plays by John Dryden and James Howard.

Although she acted in dramas, it was in comic roles that her talents were most evident. Observers noted that she had a quick and ready wit, and althoug hilliterate, was able to charm even the most educated by the intelligence of her conversation. She was also considered to be an excellent singer and dancer, and she was admired for her abilities to recite the poetic prologues and epilogues that were common in the theater of the day. In her retirement the king granted her a house, where she entertained Charles and members of the aristocracy. She was twice coaxed back onto the stage during the 1670s, the first time to play the female lead in Aphra Behn’s comedy of manners, The Rover (1677) and again in a role in the author’s Sir Patient Fancy a year later. These productions were staged, not at her former establishment the Drury Lane Theater, but at the Dorset Gardens, the house belonging to the troupe known as “The King’s Men.”

In the years after she became the king’s lover, she devoted almost all of her energies to entertaining Charles and members of his court and to tending to her mother and children. Since she had the royal ear, she frequently became involved in intrigues at court, although she seems never to have tried to interfere in politics. Charles richly rewarded her with a generous allowance and a handsome house in the St.James’ section of London so that she could be near the palace. He elevated the two sons she bore him to the nobility. With her newfound wealth, Gwyn provided a house for her mother in fashionable Chelsea, but her mother died in an accident in 1679 brought on by a bout of drunkenness. Despite the king’s great largesse, Gwyn spent prodigiously and when Charles died in 1685, she was in danger of being sent to debtor’s prison. Read the rest of this entry

Spanish Theatre – 17th Century

Spanish Theatre – 17th Century

A Century of Greatness – 17th Century

17th century spanish theaterAlthough Spain suffered military and economic setbacks in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this same period was one of brilliance in the arts and literature in the country. By 1600, the cities of Spain had already developed a vigorous theater that was in many ways even more vital than that of London. The origins of Spanish theater can be traced to the late medieval dramas that were performed on solemn religious occasions. Like England the Feast of Corpus Christi in late spring was an important occasion that was often celebrated with the staging of imposing religious dramas. Unlike many parts of Europe where Protestantism gradually restricted religious drama, such productions remained a vital part of urban piety in the seventeenth century, inspiring a new genre of auto sacramentals, or sacramental plays, that aimed to teach the Spanish the tenets of Counter Reformation Catholicism.

In particular, these sacramental plays focused on the theology of the Eucharist, and their series of scenes often demonstrated the biblical events that had produced the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as well as the rise of Christianity. Even as such religious theater remained a growing tradition in Spain’s Golden Age, popular secular drama was undergoing a dramatic expansion, although its roots also lay in the religious institutions of the country. In the second half of the sixteenth century religious confraternities brotherhoods of lay and clerical members began to stage performances of secular dramas and comedies for paying audiences. Many of these brotherhoods cared for the sick and dying, and the profits of their dramatic performances were used to underwrite their charitable efforts.

The typical Spanish theater of the time was known as a corral, a word that referred to the walled in courtyards in which plays were performed. At one end of these corrals a raised stage provided the setting on which the dramas were performed. Usually these stages were two stories high, with an upper gallery that was decorated to suggest towers, houses, and other elements of urban architecture. The first two of these theaters the Corral de la Cruz and the Corraldel Principe were constructed as makeshift affairs in the newly named Spanish capital of Madrid. Others developed there and at Seville, and by 1600, these two cities were home to the most vigorous theater life in Spain, although other theatrical troupes thrived elsewhere in the country. Read the rest of this entry

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn


The early years of Aphra Behn, the first English woman to support herself by writing, are shrouded in some mystery. She was probably born in the village of Wye in the south eastern English county of Kent in 1640, but the identity of her parents is still not definitely known. Either when she was a teenager or slightly later in her early twenties she traveled to Surinamon the coast of South America. At the time, Surinam was an English trading colony, although it was later transferred to the Dutch. The experiences that Behn hadwhile she was there formed the basis for her later novel, Oroonoko (1688). When she returned to London around 1664, she married Mr. Behn, a trader in the city whose family origins were Dutch and German. Her husband probably died about a year later, and in the years that followed she began to circulate in court circles where shewas prized for her wit.

Sometime around 1667, Aphra Behn went to Antwerp on a spy mission for Charles II; at this time, she amassed numerous debts in the king’s service, and when she returned to England, she was imprisoned for them. She secured her release, but the king did not come to her aid. To pull herself out of her financial troubles, she began to write for the London stage, producing her first play, The Forced Marriage, in 1670. The play was staged by the Duke’s Men and was a great success. In seventeenth century England, it was generally customary for playwrights to receive box office proceeds for every third night that a play was performed. Since the theater going public in Restoration times was smaller than in Tudor or early Stuart times, most plays were staged for only a few nights. Behn’s The Forced Marriage had six performances and its author consequently received the production’s proceeds for two nights, a large sum that might keep a playwright sustained over months and even years.

Success and Failure

In 1671, the company for which Behn wrote, the Duke’s Men, moved into a handsome new theater designed for them by Sir Christopher Wren, and the author began to write plays at the rate of about one each year. Some of these (The Rover [1677] and The Second Part of the Rover) were successful, while a few others floundered and the author did not even receive one night’s proceeds. Except for one tragedy and a tragicomedy, all her works were in the genre of “comedy of manners” that the Restoration theater favored. In particular, she often railed against the custom of arranged murders common in her day. Behn seems also to have been an astute judge of public tastes. In 1670, the wildly popular actress Nell Gwyn had retired from the stage after becoming the king’s mistress; in 1677, Behn wrote the female lead in the comedy of manners play The Rover in an attempt to lure Gwyn out of her retirement and back to the stage. The actress obliged, helping to make the play a great hit.

aphra_behnThe following year, Behn wrote another work, Sir Patient Fancy, to include a role for the famous actress, and to honor her the playwright dedicated to Gwyn the publication of her work, The Feigned Courtesans in 1679. In these years Aphra Behn acquired her own dubious notoriety since herworks were often filled with the bawdy humor and suggestions of sexual license that were favored at the timeon London’s stage. By the 1680s Behn’s reputation as a dramatist of light comedies was well recognized, and her output of works was steadily increasing. Of all the Restoration dramatists, she ranked second only to John Dryden for the sheer number of her works. She produced three works, and another two in 1682. The last of these, Like Father Like Son, failed so miserably that the text was never published. In the prologue, too, she had included remarks that the censors found offensive, and she was arrested. While the outcome of her interrogation is not known, she was probably merely given a warning. But the incident, in tandem with the changing theatrical scene in London, seems to have discouraged Behn from writing for the theater for several years. Between 1682 and 1685, she apparently produced noworks for the London stage. In the years leading up to her arrest, too, the company for which she wrote, the Duke’s Men, entered on hard times, and by 1682 was forced to merge with The King’s Men in order to survive. Read the rest of this entry

New Amsterdam Theatre

New Amsterdam Theatre

The New Amsterdam Theatre is a Broadway theater located at 214 West 42nd Street in the heart of Times Square in New York City. It is operated by Disney Theatrical Productions, and is currently showing the musical Mary Poppins.

Construction and original run

new amsterdam theatre

The New Amsterdam, the first concrete example of architectural Art Nouveau in New York, was built in 1903 by the partnership of impresarios A.L. Erlanger and Marcus Klaw and designed in the Art Nouveau style by architects Herts & Tallant. Decorating was carried out by an extensive team of painters and sculptors that included George Gray Barnard, Robert Blum, the brothers Neumark, George Daniel M. Peixotto, Roland Hinton Perry and Albert G. Wenzel. At the time of construction, it was the largest theatre in New York, with a seating capacity of 1,702. Along with the Lyceum Theatre, also built in 1903, it is the oldest surviving Broadway venue.,
The New Amsterdam opened in November 1903 with a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For many years, it hosted the Ziegfeld Follies, showcasing such talents as Olive Thomas, Fanny Brice and the Eaton siblings. A racier sister show of the Follies, the Midnight Frolics, played in Read the rest of this entry