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THE ACTORS OF THE RESTORATION.
THE CIVIL WAR-SUPPRESSION OF THE THEATRES—
DAVENANT'S MUSICAL ENTERTAINMENT - GENERAL
As everybody knows, plays, at least the public performance of them, and players, so far as the law could touch them, were suppressed by the Long Parliament in 1647.* Many efforts were made to propitiate the authorities, but all in vain; and during the Commonwealth period, sock and buskin found their occupation gone. Some private representations were given at rare intervals—for instance,
* The ordinance of suppression described “those proud parroting players" as “a sort of superbious ruffians; and because sometimes the asses are clothed in Jions' skins, the dolts imagine themselves somebody, and walk in as great state as Cæsar.” Some of the actors betook themselves to the wars, mostly on the King's side. Robinson, a player of merit, was fated to encounter the fanatical Harrison, who, when he asked quarter, ran his sword through the hapless actor's body, crying, “Cursed be he who doeth the work of the Lord negligently!”.
Cowley's Comedy of “The Guardian” was played at Cambridge ; but to the general public the theatre door was religiously kept shut.* A bold attempt was made to re-open the Cockpit in 1648, but on the fourth day a troop of soldiers entered it, drove out the audience, destroyed the stage (in a frenzy of iconoclastic enthusiasm), and arrested the players, who were marched through the streets in their theatre costume, and imprisoned for awhile in the Compter and the Gatehouse. This severe example was accepted as a warning by the members of the despised profession, and to meet the exigencies of the situation Richard Cox invented a new kind of dramatic exhibition, at the Red Bull playhouse, in which ropedancing was put forward as the pièce de resistance, to deceive the authorities, while the taste of the audience was gratified by the performance of what were called “ Humours,” or “Drolleries ”—that is, a combination of the richest comic scenes from Shakespeare, Marston, Shirley, and others, into one piece, disguised under a new title. Thus: “The Equal Match” was concocted from Beaumont and Fletcher's “Rule a Wife and Have a Wife;" “ The Bouncing Knight; or, the Robbers Robbed," was an adaptation of the Falstaff scenes from the second part of “Henry IV.” These Drolleries were collected by Marsh in 1662, and reprinted by Kirkman in 1672, who, in his preface, says :
“As meanly as you may now think of these Drolls, they were then acted by the best comedians; and I may say, by some that then exceeded all now living ; the incomparable Robert Cox, who was not only the principal actor, but also the contriver and author of most of these farces. How have I heard him cried up for his John Swabber and Simpleton the Smith; in which he being to appear with a large piece of bread and butter, I have frequently known several of the female spectators and auditors to long for it; and once that well-known natural Jack Adams of Clerkenwell, seeing him with bread and butter on the stage, and knowing him, cried out, ‘Cuz! Cuz! give me some !' to the great pleasure of the audience. And so naturally did he act the Smith's part, that being at a fair in a country town, and that farce being presented, the only master-smith of the town came to him, saying, "Well, although your father speaks so ill of you, yet when the fair is done, if you will come and work with me, I will give you twelve-pence a week more than I give any other journeyman.' Thus was he taken for a smith bred, that was, indeed, as much of any trade.”
* A fine of 5s. was inflicted on any person attending illegal performances ; money taken at the doors was to be confiscated and given to the poor of the parish ; and any player caught in the act was, the first time, publicly whipped ; and afterwards, if he offended, to be treated as "an incorrigible rogue."
The fall of the Long Parliainent, by which they had been so cruelly persecuted, was grateful enough to the players, and we may fairly assume that Alexander Brome spoke their feelings in the verses which, in 1653, he prefixed to the collected edition of Richard Brome's Plays. The players, he exclaims, have survived the Parliament:
“See the strange twirl of times when such poor things
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