« AnteriorContinuar »
count, which he appears to have regularly kept, and which, he says, will show that his shares yielded him “ a good yearly profit,” will probably, if they shall ever be found, throw much light on our early stage history,
Thus scanty and meagre were the apparatus and accommodations of our ancient theatres, on which those dramas were first exhibited, that have since engaged the attention of so many learned men, and delighted so many thousand spectators. Yet even then, we are told by a writer of that age, “ dramatick poesy was so lively expressed and represented on the publick stages and theatres of this city, as Rome in the auge of her pomp and glory, never saw it better performed; in respect of the action and art, not of the cost and and sumptuousness.”
THE history of the stage as far as it relates to Shakspeare,
naturally divides itself into three periods: the period which preceded his appearance as an actor or dramatick · writer; that during which he flourished; and the time which
has elapsed since his death. Having now gone through the two former of these periods, I shall take a transient view of the stage from the death of our great poet to the year 1741, still with a view to Shakspeare, and his works.
Soon after his death, four of the principal companies then subsisting, made a union, and were afterwards called The United Companies; but I know not precisely in what this union consisted. I suspect it arose from a penury of actors, and that the managers contracted to permit the performers in each house occasionally to assist their brethren in the other theatres in the representation of plays.
After the death of Shakspeare, the plays of Fletcher appear for several years to have been more admired, or at least to have been more frequently acted, than those of our poet.
* Sir George Buc. This writer, as I have already observed, wrote an express treatise concerning the English stage, which was never printed, and, I fear, is now irrecoverably lost.
During the latter part of the reign of James the First, Fletcher's pieces had the advantage of novelty to recommend them. I believe, between the time of Beauniont's death in 1615 and his own in 1625, this poet produced at least twenty-five plays. Sir Aston Cokain has informed us, in his poems, that of the thirty-five pieces improperly ascribed to Beaumont and Fletcher in the folio edition of 1647, much the greater part were written after Beaumont's death; and his account is partly confirmed by Sir Henry Herbert's Mapuscript, from which it appears that Fletcher produced eleven new plays in the last four years of his life. If we were possessed of the Register kept by Sir George Buck, we should there, I make no doubt, find near twenty dramas written by the same author in the interval between 1615 and 1622.
Sir William D'Avenant, about sixteen months after the death of Ben Jonson, obtained from his Majesty (Dec. 13, 1638,) a grant of an annuity of one hundred pounds per ann. which he enjoyed as poet laureat till his death. In the following year (March 26, 1639,) a patent passed the great seal authorizing him to erect a playhouse, which was then intended to have been built behind The Three Kings Ordinary in Fleet-street: but this scheme was not carried into execu. tion. I find from a Manuscript in the Lord Chamberlain's Office, that after the death of Christopher Beeston, Sir W. D'Avenant was appointed by the Lord Chamberlain, (June 27, 1639,) “ Governor of the King and Queens company acting at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, during the lease which Mrs. Elizabeth Beeston, alias Hutcheson, hath or doth hold in the said house :" and I suppose he appointed her son Mr. William Beeston, his deputy, for from Sir Henry Herbert's office-book, he appears for a short time to have had the management of that theatre.
In the latter end of the year 1659, some months before the Restoration of K. Charles II, the theatres, which had been suppressed during the usurpation, began to revive, and several plays were performed at the Red Bull in St. Johu's Street, in that and the following year, before the return of the king. In June, 1660, three companies seem to have been formed; that already mentioned, one under Mr. William Beeston in Salisbury Court, and one at the Cockpit in Drury Lane under Mr. Rhodes, who had been wardrobe. keeper at the theatre in Blackfriars before the breaking out of the Civil Wars. Sic Henry Herbert, who still retained
his office of Master of the Revels, endeavoured to obtain from these companies the same emoluments which he had formerly derived from the exhibition of plays; but after a long struggle, and after having brought several actions at law against Sir William D'Avenant, Mr. Betterton, Mr. Mohun, and others, he was obliged to relinquish his claims, and his office ceased to be attended with either authority or profit. It received its death wound from a grant from King Charles II. under the privy signet, August 21, 1660, authorizing Mr. Thomas Killigrew, one of the grooms of his majesty's bedchamber, and Sir William D'Avenant, to erect two new playhouses and two new companies, of which they were to have the regulation ; and probibiting any other theatrical representation in London, Westminster, or the suburbs, but those exhibited by the said two companies.
Mr. Thomas BETTERTON having been a great admirer of Shakspeare, and having taken the trouble in the beginning of this century, when he was above seventy years of age, of travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon to collect materials for Mr. Rowe's life of our author, is entitled to particular notice from an editor of his works. Very inaccurate accounts of this actor have been given in the Biographia Britannica and several other books. It is observable," that biographical writers often give the world long dissertations concerning facts and dates, when the fact contested might at once be ascertained by visiting a 'neighbouring parish church : and this has been particularly the case of Mr. Betterton. He was the son of Matthew Betterton (under-cook to King Charles the First) and was baptized, as I learn from the register of St. Margaret's parish, August 11, 1635. He could not have appeared on the stage in 1656, as has been asserted, no theatre being then allowed. His first appearance was at the Cockpit, in Drury Lane, in Mr. Rhodes's company, who played there by a license in the year 1659, when Betterton was twenty-four years of age. He married Mrs. Mary Saunderson, an actress, who had been bred by Sir William D'Avenant, some time in the year 1663, as appears by the Dramatis Personæ of The Slighted Maid, printed in that year. From a paper now before me, which Sir Henry Herbert has entitled a Breviat of matters to be proved on the trial of an action brought by him against Mr. Betterton in 1662, I find that he continued to act at the Cockpit till November, 1660, when he and several other performers entered into articles with Sir William D'Avenant ; in consequence
of which they began in that month to play at the theatre in Salisbury Court, from whence after some time, I believe, they returned to the Cockpit, and afterwards removed to a new theatre in Portugal Row near Lincoln's Inn Fields.
On the 15th of Nov. 1660, Sir William D'Avenant's company began to act under these articles at the theatre in Salisbury-court, at which house or at the Cockpit they continued to play till March or April, 1662. In October 1660, Sir Henry Herbert had brought an action on the case against Mr. Mohun and several others of Killigrew's company, which was tried in December, 1661, for representing plays without being licensed by him, and obtained a verdict against them. Encouraged by his success in that suit, soon after D'Avenant's company opened their new theatre in Portugal Row, he brought a similar action (May 6, 1662,) against Mr. Betterton, of which I know not the event. In the declaration, now before me, it is stated that D'Avenant's company, between the 15th of November 1660, and the 6th of May 1662, produced ten new plays, and 100 revived plays; but the latter number being the usual style of declarations at law, may have been inserted without a strict regard to the fact.
Sir Henry Herbert likewise brought two actions on the same ground against Sir William D'Avenant, in one of which he failed, and in the other was successful. To put an end to the contest, Sir William in June 1662 besought the king to interfere.
The actors who had performed at the Red Bull, acted under the direction of Mr. Killigrew during the years 1660, 1661, 1662, and part of the year 1663, in Gibbon's tenniscourt in Vere Street, near Clare-market; during which time a new theatre was built for them in Drury Lane, to which they removed in April, 1663. In the list of their stock-plays, there are but three of Shakspeare.
Downes the prompter has given a list of what he calls the principal old stock plays acted by the king's servants, (which title the performers under Mr. Killigrew acquired,) between the time of the Restoration and the junction of the two com. panies in 1682; from which it appears that the only plays of Shakspeare performed by them in that period, were King Henry IV. P. I. The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othelto, and Julius Cæsar. Mr. Hart represented Othello, Brutus, and Hotspur; Major Mohun, lago, and Cassius ; and Mr. Carta wright, Falstatt. Such was the lamentable taste of those times
that the plays of Fletcher, Jonson, and Shirley were much oftener exhibited than those of our author.
Sir William D'Avenant's Company, after having played for some time at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, and at Salisbury Court, removed in March or April 1662, to a new theatre in Portugal Row, near Lincoln's Inn Fields. Mr. Betterton, his principal actor, we are told by Downes, was adınired in the part of Pericles, which he frequently performed before the opening of the new theatre; and while this company continued to act in Portugal Row, they represented the following plays of Shakspeare, and it should seem those only: Macbeth and The Tempest, altered by D'Avenant; King Lear, Hamlet, King Henry the Eighth, Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth-night. In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark was represented by Mr. Betterton; the Ghost by Mr. Richards; Horatio by Mr. Harris : the Queen by Mrs. Davenport; and Ophelia by Mrs. Saunderson. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo was represented by Mr. Harris; Mercutio by Mr. Betterton, and Juliet by Mrs. SaundersonMr. Betterton in Tuelfth Night performed Sir Toby Belch, and in Henry the Eighth, the King. He was without doubt also the performer of King Lear. Mrs. Saunderson represented Catharine in King Henry the Eighth, and it may be presumed, Cordelia, and Miranda. She also performed Lady Macbeth, and Mr. Betterton Macbeth.
The theatre which had been erected in Portugal Row, being found too small, Sir William D'Avenant laid the foundation of a new playhouse in Dorset Garden, near Dorset Stairs, which however he did not live to see completed; for he died in May, 1668, and it was not opened till 1671.
On the 9th of November, 1671, D'Avenant's company removed to their new theatre in Dorset Gardens, which was opened, not with one of Shakspeare's plays, but with Dryden's comedy called Sir Martin Marall.
Between the year 1671 and 1682, when the King's and the Duke of York's servants united, (about which time Charles Hart, the principal support of the former company, died,) King Lear, Timon of Athens, Macbeth, and The Tempest, were the only plays of our author that were exhibited at the theatre in Dorset Gardens; and the three latter were not represented in their original state, but as altered by D'Avenant and Shadwell. Between 1682 and 1695, when Mr. Congreve, Mr. Betterton, Mrs. Barry, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, obtained a licence to open a new theatre in Lincoln's