Tag Archives: UK

Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn

Actress
(1650–1687)

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

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn

Playwright
(1640–1689)

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

Samuel Richardson

Samuel Richardson

samuel-richardson(1689–1761) English novelist and printer. As a novelist, Samuel Richardson was catapulted to celebrity in England when he was already in his fifties. From the publication of Pamela in 1740, until his death 21 years later, his activities are widely known. Considerably less information is available concerning the earlier years of his life. It is known that hewas born in rural Derby, although his family was from London. His father was a joiner, and soon returned with his family to the capital. The young Richardson apparently received little schooling, although he seems to have been a voracious reader as a child.

Although his parents might have preferred to send him into the church, they did not have the resources to tend to his education, and Richardson was apprenticed to a printer in London when he was seventeen. He completed his apprenticeship and was enrolled in the Stationer’s Company, the guild of London printers, in 1715. By 1721, he had begun his own business, having married the daughter of his onetime employer. Like most London printers in the era, he produced a vast array of publications, printing books, journals, handbills, and other kinds of material for those who were willing to pay his fees. He seems soon, however, to have become a prominent member of the capital’ sprinting establishment. In 1723, for instance, he became the printer entrusted with producing the True Briton, a Tory publication. A few years later he became an officer in the Stationer’s Company.

A String of Tragedies

Although these were years of professional advancement, they were marked by great personal tragedies. In the years between his marriage in 1721 and the early 1730s, he lost all six of his children as well as his wife, a fact that he credited later in life with producing a tendency toward nervous disorders. In 1733, Richardson’s tide of bad luck apparently turned, however; he remarried, this time to another printer’s daughter, and the couple had four girls that survived. In the same year as his second marriage, Richardson printed his first book, The Apprentice’s Vade Mecum, a conduct book. In these years his prosperity grew, largely because he won several lucrative government printing contracts. He purchased a country house just outside London, and seems to have had more leisure time. As aresult, he began to write more in the later years of the 1730s. Read the rest of this entry

Community theatre

Community theatre

community theatreCommunity theatre refers to theatrical performance made in relation to particular communities—its usage includes theatre made by, with, and for a community. It may refer to theatre that is made entirely by a community with no outside help, or to a collaboration between community members and professional theatre artists, or to performance made entirely by professionals that is addressed to a particular community. Community theatres range in size from small groups led by single individuals that perform in borrowed spaces to large permanent companies with well-equipped facilities of their own. Many community theatres are successful, non-profit businesses with a large active membership and, often, a full-time professional staff. Community theatre is often devised and may draw on popular theatrical forms, such as carnival, circus, and parades, as well as performance modes from commercial theatre. Community theatre is understood to contribute to the social capital of a community, insofar as it develops the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those who participate, whether as producers or audience-members.

 

Community theatre in Latin America

Partly inspired by Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation of culture, the seminal theatre practitioner Augusto Boal developed a series of techniques known as the Theatre of the Oppressed from his work developing Read the rest of this entry

19th Century Theatre

19th Century Theatre

Nineteenth-century theatre describes a wide range of movements in the theatrical culture of the 19th century. In the West, they include Romanticism, melodrama, the well-made plays of Scribe and Sardou, the farces of Feydeau, the problem plays of Naturalism and Realism, Wagner’s operatic Gesamtkunstwerk, Gilbert and Sullivan’s plays and operas, Wilde’sdrawing-room comedies, Symbolism, and proto-Expressionism in the late works of August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen.

Several important technical innovations were introduced between 1875 and 1914. First gas lighting and then electric lights, introduced in London’s Savoy Theatre in 1881, replaced candle light. The elevator stage was first installed in the Budapest Opera House in 1884. This allowed entire sections of the stage to be raised, lowered, or tilted to give depth and levels to the scene. The revolving stage was introduced to Europe by Karl Lautenschläger at the Residenz Theatre, Munich in 1896.

Romanticism in Germany and France

In Germany, there was a trend toward historic accuracy in costumes and settings, a revolution in theatre architecture, and the introduction of the theatrical form of German Romanticism. Influenced by trends in 19th-century philosophy and thevisual arts, German writers were increasingly fascinated with their Teutonic past and had a growing sense of nationalism. The plays of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and other Sturm und Drangplaywrights, inspired a growing faith in feeling and instinct as guides to moral behavior. Romantics borrowed from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant to formulate the theoretical basis of “Romantic” art. According to Romantics, art is of enormous significance because it gives eternal truths a concrete, material form that the limited human sensory apparatus may apprehend. Among those who called themselves Romantics during this period, August Wilhelm Schlegel andLudwig Tieck were the most deeply concerned with theatre. After a time, Romanticism was adopted in France with the plays of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Alfred de Musset, and George Sand. By the 1840s, however, enthusiasm for Romantic drama had faded in France and a new “Theatre of Common Sense” replaced it.

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