1902 Encyclopedia > London > Drama (Theatres)

(Part 26)


The Drama

According to Fitzstephen, London "instead of showes upon theatres and comical pastimes" possessed in his time "holy plays are representations of miracles"; and Stow mentions that in 1391 a play by the parish clerks continued three days together and that another in the year 1409 lasted eight days, and was "of matter from the creation of the world." In the 15th century the secular began to supersede the sacred drama; its progress in London under Elizabeth and James I. will be touched on below (pp. 846 sq.). After the Restoration the "king’s servants" who had previously occupied the Globe and Blackfriars played first at the Red Bull, then in Vere Street, Clare Market, and in 1663 removed to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. For Davenant’s company, known as the "duke of York’s" the Lincoln’s Inn theatre was built on an improved plan in 1662, and there for the first time women actors were introduced. The two companies received each special patents in the same year. Before 1672, when Drury Lane theatre was burned, Davenant had removed to a new house built by Wren in Dorset Gardens, at a cost of 8000 pounds, and spoken of by Dryden as "like Nero’s palace shining all with gold"; and, as the new Drury Lane was far less magnificent in its arrangements, it generally had the worst of the costly competition in which they engaged until the union of the patent’s in 1682. In 1695 a license was granted to a new theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and in 1705 Haymarket theater was opened, chiefly for Italians opera. The Dorset Gardens theatre was demolished in 1709. in 1733 the Lincoln’s Inn theatre was removed to Covent Garden. The Act of 1737, which forbade the granting of new licenses, gave to the patent houses a monopoly of the legitimate drama till 1843; but in the smaller houses, such as "The Little Gaymarket" (erected in 1720), the Goodman’s Fields theatre (1727), Sadler’s Wells (1764), the Lyceum (1795), the Adelphi (about 1800), the Princess’s (1830), the Strand (1831), and St James’s (built by Braham, 1835), the law was evaded by the performance of miscellaneous entertainments. The most striking feature in the dramatic entertainments of London is their variety; the old dramatic traditions of England, so closely associated with Drury Lane and Covent Garden, now exercise their influence rather in Germany than in London. London at present possesses about thirty theatres, and the plays of the older dramatists are revived only occasionally, chiefly at Drury Lane, the Lyceum, and the Princess’s. Melodrama and the domestic drama win large support but many theatres rely chiefly on comedy, farce, or operabouffe.

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