Monkey Theater

Source: Walter Benjamin (trans. Howard Eiland), ‘Monkey Theater’ in Berlin Childhood around 1900 (Cambridge, Mass./London: The Belknap Press of Hadvard University Pres, 2006), pp. 142-143

Text: “Monkey Theater” – to the adult ear, this name has something grotesque about it. Such was not the case when I first heard it. I was still quite young. That monkeys must have looked rather strange onstage was a consideration wholly overshadowed by this strangest of all things: the stage itself. The word “theater” pierced me through the heart like a trumpet blast. My imagination took off. But the trail it pursued was not that which led behind the scenes and which later guided the boy: rather, my imagination sought the trace of those clever, happy souls who had obtained permission from their parents to spend an afternoon in the theater. The entry led through a gap in time – that uncovered niche in the day which was the afternoon, and which already breathed an odor of the lamp and of bedtime. On entered not in order to feast one’s eyes on William Tell or Sleeping Beauty – at least, not only for this reason. There was a higher goal: to occupy a seat in the theater, among all the other people who were there. I did not know what awaited me, but looking on as a spectator certainly seemed to me only part of – indeed, the prelude to – a far more significant activity, one that I would engage in along with everyone else there. What sort of activity it was supposed to be I did not know. Assuredly it concerned the monkeys just as much as it would the most experienced theatrical troupe. And the distance separating monkey from man was no greater than that separating man from actor.

Comments: Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German philosopher, essayist and cultural commentator. His idiosyncratic memoir of observational pieces on his Berlin childhood was not published in collected form in his lifetime, and not until 1989 in a form that most closely matches the author’s intentions.

Journals of Arnold Bennett

Lilian Braithwaite and Noël Coward, via Wikipedia

Source: Arnold Bennett, journal entry 4 February 1925, in Newman Flower (ed.), The Journals of Arnold Bennett: 1921-1928 (London: Cassell, 1933), pp. 73-74

Production: Noël Coward, The Vortex, Royalty Theatre, London, 4 February 1925

Text: Wednesday, February 4th
“The Vortex”, by Noel Coward, Royalty Theatre. As Pauline Smith was ill, I took Evelyn Foster instead. This play has made a great stir. First act played 43 minutes, and the first half-hour, and more, was spent in merely creating an atmosphere. Talk whose direction you couldn’t follow. No fair hint of plot till nearly the end – and hardly even then. Five unforeseen entrances of important characters. One might have been excused. In 2nd Act, some tiny glimpses of dramatic talent and ingenuities. the end of this Act, where the son plays the piano louder and louder while his mother makes love to a young man, is rather effective, original, and harrowing. The atomosphere of a country-house week-end party is fairly well got. Technique marred by important characters coming in unperceived and overhearing remarks. the 3rd Act contains the whole of the play, and is in effect a duologue between mother and son. Coward plays the son well, and Lilian Braithwaite gets through the mother as a sort of tour de force, but she never gives a convincing picture of an abandoned woman. The end is certainly harrowing to a high degree. But not much effect of beauty. Some smartness in the play, and certainly the germs of an effective dramatic skill; but really I saw nothing that was true except in minor details. I dozed off once in the last Act and Evelyn had to waken me.

Comments: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a British novelist and playwright. Noël Coward‘s controversial play The Vortex originally opened at the Everyman on 25 November 1924, transferring later to the Royalty and then the Comedy.

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

Source: A French Traveller [Louis Simond], Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811: with remarks on the country, its arts, literature, and politics, and on the manners and customs of its inhabitants (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1815), pp. 126-127

Production: John G. Millingen and Charles E. Horn, The Bee-hive, Lyceum Theatre, London, 30 April 1811

Text: April 30. — I have already given a literal translation of one of those lyric pieces which are introduced in many English farces, and are often sung between he play and the farce. At Edinburgh we heard Bannister, and here Mathews, sing some of these select pieces with a great deal of true comic, and what is called here dry humour. Yesterday, particularly, Mathews delighted the public of the Lyceum in a new play, called the Bee-hive, played forty times running. The song of an inn-keeper, who enumerates the contents of his larder and kitchen, was encored again and again, with frantic applause. Other songs, however, which happened to be less in the popular taste, were received with coolness, and we heard some men behind us exclaim, among themselves, “Italian squalls!— What a shame, on a British theatre, — Just like the opera by G— !” Whenever I have expressed any surprise at the state of the English stage, I have been told that it was only the amusement of the vulgar, and that if I chose to partake of it, I must not complain. Admitting that people of fashion scarcely ever go to the theatre, yet the lowest of the people do not frequent it more then they do; — it is in fact filled by the middle class, neither the highest nor the lowest, and that is precisely the class where I should look for the true and legitimate national taste. Besides, if the theatres of Covent-Garden and Drury-Lane are for the vulgar, what other is there left for those who rank themselves above the vulgar? The opera, — in other words, there is no national theatre.

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. The Bee-hive was a two-act music farce with libretto by John G. Millingen and music by Charles E. Horn.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 17 August 1667

Production: Thomas Heywood, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody; or, Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, Bridges Street theatre, London, 17 August 1667

Text: At noon home to dinner, and presently my wife and I and Sir W. Pen to the King’s playhouse, where the house extraordinary full; and there was the King and Duke of York to see the new play, “Queen Elizabeth’s Troubles and the History of Eighty Eight.” I confess I have sucked in so much of the sad story of Queen Elizabeth, from my cradle, that I was ready to weep for her sometimes; but the play is the most ridiculous that sure ever come upon the stage; and, indeed, is merely a shew, only shews the true garbe of the Queen in those days, just as we see Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth painted; but the play is merely a puppet play, acted by living puppets. Neither the design nor language better; and one stands by and tells us the meaning of things: only I was pleased to see Knipp dance among the milkmaids, and to hear her sing a song to Queen Elizabeth; and to see her come out in her night-gowne with no lockes on, but her bare face and hair only tied up in a knot behind; which is the comeliest dress that ever I saw her in to her advantage.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The play he saw was Thomas Heywood‘s 1605 If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody; or, Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, performed at Bridges Street theatre. Heywood’s play was in two parts; Pepys saw part one. Knipp is the actress Elizabeth Knepp, frequently mentioned in the diary.


Boswell for the Defence

Source: William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Frederick A. Pottle, Boswell for the Defence: 1769-1774 (London: William Heinemann, 1960), p. 238

Production: George Colman the elder, The Man of Business, and William O’Brien, Cross Purposes, Edinburgh, 16 July 1774

Text: Saturday 16 July [1774]: … At six I had a hackney-coach which carried Mrs. Montgomerie, Claud, my wife, and me to the play. There was just forty people in the boxes and pit. The play was The Man of Business, and the farce, Cross Purposes. It was wonderful to see with what spirit the players performed. In one view it was more agreeable tonight than being at a crowded play. One could attend fully to what passed on the stage, whereas in a great audience the attention is distracted and one has a great deal to do in behaving properly. The difference was the same as viewing a country when upon a calm horse at a slow walk or viewing it upon a fiery horse at a gallop, when you must attend to the reins and to your seat. But the laughable passages did not go off so well as in a crowd, for laughter is augmented by sympathetic power. Supped quietly at home.

Comments: James Boswell (1740-1795) was a Scottish lawyer, biographer and diarist, best known for his Life of Samuel Johnson. He was born in Edinburgh, the son of Lord Auchinleck. The plays he saw were the comedy The Man of Business by George Colman the Elder and the afterpiece Cross-Purposes by the actor William O’Brien, both men being known to Boswell. I have not been able to identify the small theatre Boswell visited.

Garrick’s Acting As Seen in His Own Time

‘Mrs. Hopkins & Mr. Garrick in the Character of Queen Gertrude and Hamlet’, Late 18th century [1774?], via Folgerpedia

Source: Extracts from Walter Herries Pollock, ‘Garrick’s Acting As Seen in His Own Time’, Longman’s Magazine (August 1885), pp. 371-375, translated from two letters by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, originally published in German in the periodical Deutsches Museum, November 1776

Production: William Shakespeare, Hamlet, theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 2 and 12 December 1774

Text: Now, my dear B., if, after what I have told you, you have been able to picture a Garrick to yourself, follow me with him in one or two scenes. To-day, because I am somewhat in the humour for it, I will take the one out of Hamlet where the Ghost appears to him. You know this scene already from Mr. Partridge’s excellent description in Fielding. My description will not make the other superfluous, but only explain it.

Hamlet appears in black attire, the only one, alas, which is still worn in the whole court, for his poor father, who has been scarcely dead a couple of months. Horatio and Marcellus accompany him in uniform. They await the Ghost. Hamlet has folded his arms and pulled his hat over his eyes. It is a cold night, and just twelve o’clock. The theatre is darkened, and the whole audience as still and the faces as motionless as if they had been painted on the walls of the house. At the extreme end of the theatre one might have heard a pin drop. Suddenly as Hamlet goes rather far up the stage somewhat to the left, with his back to the audience, Horatio starts. “Look, my lord, it comes,” says he, pointing to the right where the Ghost is standing immovable, ere one is even aware of it. At these words Garrick turns suddenly round, and at the same moment staggers back two or three paces with trembling knees, his hat falls to the ground, both arms—especially the left—are nearly extended to the full, the hand as high as the head, the right arm more bent and the hand lower, the fingers spread out and the mouth open. There he remains standing, with legs far apart, but still in a graceful attitude, as if electrified, supported by his friends. His features express such horror that I felt a repeated shudder pass over me before he began to speak. The almost appalling silence of the assembly, which preceded this scene and made one feel scarcely safe in one’s seat, probably contributed not a little to the effect. At last he speaks, not with the beginning but with the end of a breath, and says in a trembling voice “Angels and ministers of grace defend us,” words which complete whatever may yet be wanting in this scene to make it one of the sublimest and most terrifying of which, perhaps the stage is capable. The Ghost beckons him; then you should see him, with his eyes still fixed upon the Ghost, while yet speaking to his friends, break loose from them, although they warn him not to follow, and hold him fast. But at last, his patience exhausted, he faces them, and with great violence tears himself away, and, with a swiftness which makes one shudder draws his sword on them, saying, “By heavens, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me.” Then, turning to the Ghost,’ he holds his sword out: “Go on; I’ll follow thee;” and the Ghost moves off. Hamlet remains standing still, his sword extended before him, to gain more distance; and when the audience have lost sight of the Ghost, he begins to follow him slowly, at times stopping, and then going on again, but always with his sword extended, his eyes fixed on the Ghost, with dishevelled hair and breathless, until he, too, is lost behind the scenes. You may easily imagine what loud applause accompanies this exit. It begins as soon as the Ghost moves off, and lasts until Hamlet likewise disappears.

… In the fine soliloquy, “O that this too too solid flesh would melt,” &c, Garrick is completely overpowered by the tears of just grief for a virtuous father, for whom a frivolous mother no longer wears mourning, nor even feels grief, at a time when every parasite of the court should still be wearing black—the most unrestrained of all tears, perhaps because they are the only alleviation which in such a struggle between one duty and another duty an honest heart can procure. Of the words, “so excellent a king,” the last word is quite inaudible; you only perceive it by the motion of the mouth, which closes immediately afterwards firmly, and trembling with agitation, as if to repress with his lips the only too clear indication of the grief which might unman him. This way of shedding tears, which shows the whole burden of inward grief, as well as the manly soul suffering under it, carries one irresistibly away. At the end of the soliloquy he mixes just anger with his grief; and once, when he strikes out violently with his arm to give emphasis to a word in his indignation, the word (to the surprise of the audience) remains unuttered, choked by emotion, and only follows after a few seconds, when tears begin to flow. My neighbour and I, who had not yet exchanged a word, looked at each other and spoke. It was irresistible.

… Hamlet, who, as I have already reminded you, is in mourning, appears here with thick, loosened hair, some of it hanging over one shoulder, he having already begun to play the madman; one of his black stockings is half-way down his leg, showing the white understocking, and a noose of red garter hangs down the middle of the calf. Thus attired, he steps slowly forward in deep thought, supporting his chin with his right hand, and the elbow of the right with the left, looking on one side on the ground in a dignified manner. Here, taking his right hand away from his chin, but, if I mistake not, still holding it supported by the left, he utters the words “To be or not to be” softly; but they are everywhere audible, on account of the great stillness, and not through the peculiar gift of the man, as some of the papers state.

I must here make a little observation on the text. In the fourth line of this soliloquy some propose reading “against assailing troubles” instead of “against a sea of troubles,” because arms cannot be taken against a sea. Mr. Garrick nevertheless says, “against a sea of troubles.”

The graveyard scene is suppressed at Drury Lane. At Covent Garden it is still kept. This suppression Garrick should not have introduced. Such a splendid old piece, with all its fine characteristic raw strength, would still in these mealy-mouthed times, when even the language of nature begins to give way to conventional babble, have broken the fall of it even if it had not been able to uphold it.

I must pass over some of the most beautiful scenes, among others that in which he instructs the actors, as well as that in which he thunders into his mother’s heart the comparison between his uncle and his father when the Ghost appears; one blow upon another before one has yet recovered.

Comments: Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) was a German physicist and philosopher. A keen Anglophile, he visited England in 1770 and over 1774-1775. His celebrated account of David Garrick‘s performance in Hamlet (original diary entries reveal that he saw the production on 2 and 12 December 1774) was written in two letters to his friend Heinrich Christian Boie in 1775 and originally published in Boie’s literary periodical Deutsches Museum in November 1776.

Links: Copy of English translation at Hathi Trust
Copy of German original at Hathi Trust

Extracts of the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry

Source: Lady Theresa Lewis (ed.), Extracts of the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry, from the year 1783 to 1852 (London: Longmans, Green, 1865), pp. 167-168

Production: Antoine de la Fosse, Manlius Capitolinus and Marc-Antoine Legrand, L’Aveugle Clairvoyant, Comédie-Française, Paris, 6 July 1818

Text: Monday, July 6th. — M. de Duras gave us tickets for this week in the box of the gentlemen in waiting. I arrived in time to see the last scene’ of Talma, in ‘Manlius.’ It was the night of his return to the theatre after rather a long absence. On the curtain falling, they called loudly for him, with a noise and a disturbance much more like London than Paris. Three times they in vain began the second piece; it was impossible to hear a word. Three times the two actresses who had to commence the piece took refuge in the side scenes. At last, whilst Baptiste Cadet came forward to address the audience, some officer of the police, in his scarf of office, announced that, by an order of the police, the actors were forbidden to appear upon the stage out of their parts. One might well ask why this rule? which prevents the audience from showing, and the actor from receiving, these marks of approbation. They have much to learn in this country upon the ne quid nimis in the way of government. At last the audience was asked if they would have the second piece, ‘L’Aveugle Clairvoyant.’ Upon the reiterated ‘Ouis’ from the pit, they replied, ‘Vous l’aurez quand ces misérables criards ont cesses.’ On this the noise was renewed for some minutes, after which we had the piece very well acted and very amusing.

Comments: Mary Berry (1763-1852) was a British editor, letter writer and diarist, known for her close association with Horace Walpole. Her published journals and correspondence include many theatregoing references. François-Joseph Talma (1762-1826) was the leading French actor of the period. One of his most celebrated roles was than of Manlius in Manlius Capitolinus, the 1698 Roman tragedy by Antoine de La Fosse. L’Aveugle Clairvoyant was written by the prolific French playwright Marc-Antoine Legrand.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Baron Waldstein

Source: G.W. Groos (translated and annotated by), The Diary of Baron Waldstein: A Traveller in Elizabethan England (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981), p. 37

Text: Monday, 3 July [1600]
Went to see an English play. The theatre follows the ancient Roman plan: it is built of wood and is so designed that the spectators can get a comfortable view of everything that happens in any part of the building.

On the way back we crossed the bridge; it has very fine buildings on it, and fixed to one of them can still be seen the heads of a number of earls and other noblemen who have been executed for treason.

Comments: Zdeněk Brtnický z Valdštejna (1581-1623), or Baron Waldstein, was a Moravian artistocrat, who from 1597 to 1603 kept a diary (in Latin). In 1599 he went on a tour of Europe, and in 1600 visited England. His frustrating account of a visit to a London theatre, which names neither theatre nor play, could be describing the Globe (built the previous year), Swan or Rose, though it does at least establish its location as being south of the river. A second diary entry, for 2 August 1600, when he was still in London, merely notes “Went to see an English play”.

The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America

1788 engraving of Inkle and Yarico, via British Museum,, issued under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence

Source: Henry Wansey, The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794 (Salisbury/London: J. Easton/ G. and T. Wilkie, 1796), pp. 42-43

Production: George Colman the Younger and Samuel Arnold, Inkle and Yarico, and David Garrick, Bon Ton, Federal Street Theatre, Boston (Massachusetts), 9 May 1794

Text: A very elegant theatre was opened at Boston about three months ago, far superior in taste, elegance and convenience, to the Bath, or any other country theatre that I have ever yet seen in England. I was there last night, with Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan. The play and farce were Inkle and Yarico, and Bon Ton; I paid a dollar for a ticket. It held about twelve hundred persons. One of the dramatis personae, was a negro, and he filled his character with great propriety. The dress of the company being perfectly English, and some of the actors, (Jones and his wife,) being those I had seen perform the last winter at Salisbury, in Shatford’s company, made me feel myself at home. Between the play and farce, the orchestra having played Ca Ira, the gallery called aloud for Yankee-doodle, which which after some short opposition was complied with. A Mr. Powell is the manager of the play-house. Mr. Goldfinch, the ingenious architect of this theatre, has also lately built an elegant crescent, called the Tontine, about fourteen or sixteen elegant houses, which let for near two hundred pounds sterling, a year.

Comments: Henry Wansey (1752?-1827) was an English antiquarian and traveller. In 1794 he visited the United States of America and two years later published an account of his travels, including meeting President George Washington. He attended the Federal Street Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts in May 1794, the theatre having opened the previous year. It was designed by Charles Bulfinch, not Goldfinch. Inkle and Yarico was a popular and widely performed comic opera about a shipwrecked Englishman and his love for an Indian native. Shatford was the English actor-manager James Shatford. Mr Jones played Trudge and Mrs Jones played Patty. The African-American actor Wansey says that he saw has not been identified, and is not mentioned in contemporary published accounts. Bon Ton was a comedy by the actor-manager David Garrick.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Travels in England During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth

Source: Sir Robert Naunton, Travels in England During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth by Paul Hentzner. With Fragmenta Regalia; Or, Observations on Queen Elizabeth’s Times and Favourites (London: Cassell, 1892). Originally published in 1612 as Itinerarium Germaniae, Galliae, Angliae, Italiae, cum Indice Locorum, Rerum atque Verborum.

Text: Without the city are some theatres, where English actors represent almost every day tragedies and comedies to a very numerous audiences; these are concluded with excellent music, variety of dances, and the excessive applause of those that are present.

Not far from one of these theatres, which are all built of wood, lies the royal barge, close to the river. It has two splendid cabins, beautifully ornamented with glass windows, painting, and gilding; it is kept upon dry ground, and sheltered from the weather.

There is still another place, built in the form of a theatre, which serves for the baiting of bulls and bears; they are fastened behind, and then worried by great English bull-dogs, but not without great risk to the dogs, from the horns of the one and the teeth of the other; and it sometimes happens that they are killed upon the spot; fresh ones are immediately supplied in the places of those that are wounded or tired. To this entertainment there often follows that of whipping a blinded bear, which is performed by five or six men, standing circularly with whips, which they exercise upon him without any mercy, as he cannot escape from them because of his chain; he defends himself with all his force and skill, throwing down all who come within his reach and are not active enough to get out of it, and tearing the whips out of their hands and breaking them. At these spectacles, and everywhere else, the English are constantly smoking tobacco; and in this manner—they have pipes on purpose made of clay, into the farther end of which they put the herb, so dry that it may be rubbed into powder, and putting fire to it, they draw the smoke into their mouths, which they puff out again through their nostrils like funnels, along with it plenty of phlegm and defluxion from the head. In these theatres, fruits, such as apples, pears, and nuts, according to the season, are carried about to be sold, as well as ale and wine.

Comments: Paul Hentzner (1558-1823) was a German lawyer and tutor to a Silesian nobleman, Christoph Rehdiger, whom he accompanied of a tour of Switzerland, France and England, 1596-1599. His account of his travels was published in Latin in 1612. His sight of the London theatres dates from September 1598.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg