United Kingdom

Jack Drum’s Entertainment

Source: John Marston, Jack Drum’s Entertainment (The Tudor Facsimile Texts, 1912 [orig. pub. 1600])

Text:
SIR EDWARD FORTUNE:… Now by my troth and I had thought ont too,
I would haue had a play; Ifaith I would.
I saw the Children of Powles last night,
And troth they pleasde mee prettie, prettie well.
The Apes in time will do it handsomely.
PLANET. Ifaith, I like the Audience that frequenteth there
With much applause: A man shall not be choakte
With the stench of Garlicke; nor be pasted
To the barmy Iacket of a Beer-brewer.
BRABANT IUNIOR. Tis a good, gentle Audience, and I hope the Boyes
Will come one day into the Court of requests.
BRABANT SIGNIOR: I and they had good Playes, but they produce
Such mustie fopperies of antiquitie,
And do not sute the humourous ages backs
With cloathes in Fashion.

Comments: John Marston (1576-1634) was an English playwright and poet. His romantic comedy Jack Drum’s Entertainment was written c.1599-1600 and entered in the Stationer’s Register on 8 September 1600. It was first performed by the boy actors’ troupe Children of Paul’s (i.e. St Paul’s Cathedral), the subject of this passage from Act V of the play. Marston wrote regularly for the Children of Paul’s.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

An East End Music-Hall

Source: Robert Machray, The Night Side of London (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1902), pp. 112-124

Text: AN EAST END MUSIC-HALL

Let youth, more decent in their follies, scoff
The nauseous scene, and hiss thee reeling off.”

Steele, The Tatler, No. 266.

The music-hall must be considered a chief feature of the Night Side of London; it is certainly one of the most popular, whether in the West End or the East. Its leading comedian, Mr. Dan Leno, has been honoured by a “command” of the King. It is a far cry, however, from the humour and whimsicalities of “good old Dan” to the comicalities of the typical East End music-hall star. But it matters not whether the hall is within a stone’s throw of Piccadilly or outside the radius, it is ever a popular institution. One of the sights of the town is the long queue of people standing outside the Alhambra, the Empire, the Palace, the Tivoli, the “Pav.,” the Oxford, and other halls, until the
doors leading to pit and gallery are thrown open. The queue often has to wait for a considerable time, sometimes in the pouring rain, but it does so with wonderful patience and good-humour — the wait being frequently enlivened by the strains of the n[—–] minstrel, or some other open-air entertainer. To-night you shall go to the Palace of Varieties at Greenwich. Last night you were at Deptford, and now you travel half a mile or more further south-eastward. Perhaps you begin this particular evening with a fish-dinner at the famous Ship, just opposite Greenwich Hospital, and though the Ship is not quite the fashionable resort it once was, you may do a great deal worse than dine there.

You make your way to the Palace of Varieties, Greenwich. You are. perhaps, a trifle late, and on inquiry you find the only seats left are “fauteuils,” price one-and-six. For a thorough appreciation of the humours of the scene you should have come earlier and got a place in the gallery, price threepence. But you have no option, so you plunge recklessly, and bang goes one-and-sixpence. The fauteuils prove to be seats in the front row, and those vacant when you arrive are immediately behind the conductor of the orchestra. Well, you are a bit too near the music, but there is some compensation, for you are able to see how the conductor conducts and at the same time adds to the quality and tone of his band. With his left hand, you observe, he plays a piano what time he manipulates a harmonium with his right. And all the while he seems to be able to exchange confidences with the first violin, who, you cannot fail to perceive, is a wag. You do not take this in all at once, for your eyes at first are fastened on the stage, where two comely females are engaged in a vigorous encounter of words, which you surmise may lead eventually to something very like blows — as it does. You pick up the subject or the object, which you please, of the duel of tongues between the two ladies, one of whom is dressed like a superior shop-assistant, while the other might be a factory-girl. They both lay claim to the affections of a certain “Charlie,” and in the wordy warfare that ensues they do not spare each other. “Do you know,” asks the superior shop-assistant in a shrill voice, “that I have blue blood in my veins?” “What I do know,” retorts the other, with great deliberation, “is that you’ll soon have red blood on your nose!” Whereat the house, hugely tickled, roars delightedly. “Do you know,” cries the first, “that my father occupies an important, a very important, position in the town?” “As a mud-pusher, I suppose!” And again the audience screams its appreciation; indeed, the audience does this on the slightest provocation during this particular “turn.” Finally, the end you have foreseen comes. A little fisticuff battle concludes the action — without any damage to either of the scrappers, who suddenly stop, shake hands, and stand bowing and smiling before the footlights. The curtain descends, and the band plays a loud and lively air, the cornet, in particular, adding several horse-power to its volume and momentum, so to speak.

Next appears upon the stage a young lady, rouged, powdered, decolletée, short-frocked; she is a mimic, and, as you soon perceive, a clever one. She gives personations of some well-known popular music-hall favourites. Thus, she imitates Eugene Stratton in his “Lily of Laguna,” and Happy Fanny Fields in a American-German song. In the latter character she says to the audience, “Why don’t you applaud me more? Don’t you know that the more you applaud me the more money I make?” And don’t they applaud! The place fairly rocks with laughter and hoarse shouts. To this young lady succeeds the Artist Lightning Sketcher — he is also a ventriloquist. He provides himself with the figures ventriloquists usually introduce into their pieces by a very simple device. He draws them on a large sheet of paper with chalks of red, black, and green, while you look on. Next he makes you a picture of St. Peter’s at Rome on a big smoked plate — and all in a minute or two. Then he does something even more ambitious — it is his great lightning picture, called “The Home of the Sea Gull.” There is a large white sheet of paper on a board; he takes various chalks — vermilion, blue, green, black, orange — and hey! presto, there are blue sky, green water, black rocks, white gulls, and a black steamer (a Newcastle boat, evidently) belching forth black smoke, to say nothing of a black man in a black boat! And all in a moment. No wonder the audience shouts its approval. This spurs the lightning artist to a Still More Amazing Feat. Stepping forward with a profound bow, he announces that he will, in a couple of moments, without rubbing out a single mark on “The Home of the Sea Gull,” convert that masterpiece into another, and very different, picture, entitled ” A Summer Evening Walk in the Country.” And he does it! Wonderful man! Again flash the chalks of vermilion, blue, green black, orange. The blue sk ynow gorgeous with the splendours of a dying sunset; the green water becomes green earth; the black rocks are transformed into black trees; the black steamboat, and the black man, and the black boat, are replaced by black trees with black foliage; and the white gulls roost under cover of the black leaves also. Finally, a touch or two, and there is a pair of lovers in the foreground. “I calls that fine,” says a deep voice behind you; “‘e’s clever, ‘e is!” Every one thinks the same, for the lightning artist is awarded thunderous applause, as is only right in the circumstances. And yet there may be some who say that Art is not appreciated in this country!

Now there trips upon the platform another young lady. First she sings a song about a young angel from the Angel (at Isling-t-u-n) who had four little angels at ‘ome, although the gay young spark who was courting her appeared to be unaware of this extremely interesting fact.
Somehow, the fact does not interest the audience, and the song is received with the sort of silence that is audible half a mile awav. “Ain’t no good,” says the deep voice in the rear: “she’ll ‘ave to go!” Poor girl! But her second turn is a dance, and this is received with considerable favour, so perhaps she will be kept on after all. To fail at even an East End hall must be a terrible business for an artiste; it means, if it means anything, the streets, starvation, death. While your mind may, perhaps, run on in this melancholy fashion a lion comique puts in an appearance, and your thoughts are whirled away. The lion comique is nothing if not immensely patriotic. In an enormous voice he shouts that King Edward is “one of the best” of kings; is a second verse he yells that Lord Charles Beresford is “one of the best” in the navy; in a third that General Buller is “one of the best” in the army — all of which statements are uproariously welcomed. This patriotic ditty is followed by a sentimental song, “When the Children are All in Bed,” and it is keenly appreciated. The audience, led by the first violin, who plays and, at the same time, sings the air with all the strength of his lungs, takes up the chorus with might and main. For your East Ender loves a sentimental song nearly as much as he loves his beer.

And now there comes the chief turn on the programme — it is a Sketch, by the Lynn family — Brother Lynn, so to speak, and two Sisters Lynn, though the family resemblance between them all is remarkably faint. The two ladies prove to be the same who appeared in the Abusive Duet of which “Charlie” was the subject a little while back. Mr., or Brother, Lynn, is new to you. The superior shop-assistant is now “Mrs. Guzzle,” and the factory-girl is her servant, “Sloppy.” Brother Lynn is “Mr. Guzzle,” Mr. Peter Guzzle. These are the dramatis personae. When the curtain goes up Mrs. Guzzle is bewailing to Sloppy the sad fact that her Peter no longer comes home early o’ nights, and that when he does come he is invariably the worse, much the worse, for “booze.” They take counsel together as to what is to be done to win Guzzle from his evil ways, and they hit on a great idea. This is nothing less than to lie in wait for Peter this very evening as ever was, get him to bed, and then pretend when he wakes up that he is dead — as dead as a red herring, or anything else that is most emphatically dead. Peter arrives upon the scene very drunk — he explains that he has been presiding at a teetotal meeting, and that it has gone slightly to his head. He is got off to bed, but in a surprisingly short time he reappears attired in his nightshirt, which is a commodious garment, whereunto is attached an enormous frill. He announces that he is come in search of the “water-bottle,” a statement which the audience receives with a yell of derision. And now enter Sloppy, who with tears (perhaps they keep her from seeing her master) laments the death of “poo’ mahster,” but is inclined to rejoice that her missus is rid of such a scamp. “It won’t be long before she marries agin. There was that ‘andsome feller that admired her sech a lot – o’ course, they’ll make a match of it!” And so on. Guzzle listens in amazement, exclaiming that he is not dead, but Sloppy makes as if Guzzle did not exist. So much so that Mr. Guzzle begins to think there must be some truth in what she says — he is dead, and he howls out the question, “Where am I — in Heaven, or in the Other Place?” (Great laughter.)

The action is advanced another stage by the arrival of the undertaker to measure Guzzle for his coffin. The undertaker, you see without any wonder whatever, is no other than Mrs. Guzzle. Assisted by Sloppy, they lay out Mr. Guzzle on a sofa — Guzzle keeps on protesting he is
not dead, hut that makes no difference — and measure him. “He’s the sort o’ size,” says the pretty undertaker, otherwise the superior shop-assistant, otherwise Mrs. Guzzle, with husiness-like grasp of the situation and of Peter, “that we keep in stock. I’ll send the coffin round at once. He’ll look pretty well laid out.” (Peter groans.) But, hold, something has been forgotten. Peter died suddenly, it seems, and the circumstances are a little suspicious. It is necessary, therefore, that there shall be an inquest by the coroner — Peter will have to be “opened up.” (Loud and long-contiimed shrieks from Peter: “Cut up! Opened up! I won’t be cut up! I won’t be opened up! I’m not dead! O! what a bad dream! What an awful nightmare!”) Then Sloppy and the undertaker talk about the “dear departed.” Sloppy tells him that her master was a good ‘usband to missus until he took to bettin’ and drinkin’. Well, Guzzle was dead now (“I must be dead!” cries Guzzle, with sudden conviction), and missus would soon console herself — ” A ‘andsome woman like ‘er won’t have to wear the willer long.” (Peter groans dismally.) Exit undertaker, promising to send the coffin at once.

Meanwhile there is a noise outside, and Sloppy remarks that must be the coroner come to hold the inquest, and he must be sharpening up his instruments to “open up mahster.” (Peter shrieks, howls, kicks, tears his hair — the audience shouting with inextinguishable laughter the
while.) But the coroner never comes upon the stage; instead of him enter the Devil to take Peter off to the Other Place. (The Devil, you will notice, has on this occasion a trim female figure — in fact, that of Mrs. Guzzle.) The Devil is too much for Peter, and he (Peter) goes off into a fit. When he comes out of it, his wife and Sloppy are by his side. He tells them he’s had a frightful nightmare, but that, thank goodness, it was nothing else. “Do you know,” he says confidingly, “I dreamt I was dead, and that the undertaker came to measure me for my coffin, and that there was to be an inquest, and that I was to be opened up, and that the Devil — but it was all a bad dream! Well, my dear, it’s taught me a lesson. I’ll never bet or go to the Pig and Whistle again.” Brother Lynn and the two Sisters Lynn now join hands, while the crowd rocks and reels with tumultuous cheers, hand-clappings, and cat-calls. The Lynn Family, or Guzzle Family, as you like it, has scored a huge and gorgeous success!

To them succeed acrobats, who appear to think that jumping in and out of barrels, blindfolded, is quite a usual way of “getting around,” — but by this time you have seen enough. You abandon your fauteuil, get out of the smoke-laden, beer-stained atmosphere, and pass out into the street.

Comments: Robert Machray (1857-1946) and illustrator Tom Browne (1870-1910) wrote The Night Side of London, a observant and vividly illustrated account of all kinds of entertainment in Edwardian London, from which this chapter on the music hall comes. The illustrations are those that feature in the text. Machray was a journalist and a crime novelist; Browne was a prolific comic artist. The Parthenon Theatre of Varieties at Greenwich was renamed the Hippodrome and continues today as the Greenwich Theatre. The text has had one word removed which could cause offence.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Memoirs of John Quincy Adams

‘Edmund Kean as Richard III in “Richard III”‘.engraving, University of Illinois Digital Collections, https://digital.library.illinois.edu/items/85885f10-4e7d-0134-1db1-0050569601ca-9

Source: Charles Francis Adams (ed.), Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, comprising portions of his diary from 1795 to 1848 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1874-77), vol. 3, pp. 466-467

Production: William Shakespeare (adapted by Colley Cibber), Richard III and Harlequin Horner, or, The Christmas pie, Drury Lane Theatre, London, 3 February 1817

Text: February 3rd [1817] … We went to Drury Lane, and saw “Richard the Third,” with the pantomime of “Harlequin Horner,” with a clown issuing from the Christmas pie. Kean performed Richard. The play is not exactly Shakspeare’s. Colley Cibber brought it out improved and amended, and John Kemble has improved upon it again. More than half the original tragedy, including many of the finest scenes, is discarded. Two or three scenes from the third part of Henry the Sixth are transferred to this play. There are modern additions, not well adapted to Shakspeare’s [sic] style, and his language itself is often altered, and seldom for the better. As it is, however, it has constantly been from Cibber’s time one of the standing favorites of the public on the English stage, and the character of Richard is one of the trying tests of their greatest tragic actors. I never saw it performed but once before, and that was at Boston in 1794. It is by many of Kean’s admirers considered as his greatest part; but his performance this night in some degree disappointed me. There is too much of rant in his violence, and not smoothness enough in his hypocrisy. He has a uniform fashion of traversing the stage from one side to the other when he has said a good thing, and then looks as if he was walking for a wager. At other times, he runs off from the stage with the gait of a running footman. In the passages of high passion he loses all distinct articulation and it is impossible to understand what he says. But he has much very good subsidiary pantomime, which is perhaps the first talent of a first-rate actor. He has a most keen and piercing eye, a great command and expression of countenance, and some transitions of voice of very striking effect. All the other male performers were indifferent, and the women below mediocrity. The two children (girls) were very good. The house was crowded, and the applause of Kean incessant during the tragedy. The fight between Richard and Richmond was skilful and vigorous. Kean always contrives to make a claptrap of his dying scenes. The clapping at his death continued five minutes long. The Duke and Duchess and Princess Sophia of Gloucester were present, and received with great applause. At their entrance, “God save the King” was performed by the orchestra, and sung by part of the players, the audience all standing.

Comments: John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was the sixth President of the United States (1825-1829). In 1817, at the time of this diary entry, he was the US ambassador to Britain, before becoming Secretary of State to James Monroe. Edmund Kean (1787-1833) played Gloucester in a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III heavily rewritten by Colley Cibber. Harlequin Horner; or, Christmas Pie was a popular pantomime piece, first produced at Drury Lane in 1816.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 27 February 1668

Production: Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, The Virgin-Martyr, King’s House, London, 27 February 1668

Text: All the morning at the office, and at noon home to dinner, and thence with my wife and Deb. to the King’s House, to see “The Virgin Martyr,” the first time it hath been acted a great while: and it is mighty pleasant; not that the play is worth much, but it is finely acted by Becke Marshall. But that which did please me beyond any thing in, the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of any thing, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musick hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me: and makes me resolve to practice wind-musique, and to make my wife do the like.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The Virgin-Martyr, set during the period of the Roman emperor Diocletian, is a tragedy co-written by Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, published in 1622. Pepys first saw the play on 16 February 1661 (“a good but too sober a play for the company”), then three times in 1668, above, on 2 March 1668 and 6 May 1668, in each case because of his love of the music. Rebecca (Becke) Marshall (dates not known) was one of the leading actresses of the Restoration period, mentioned several times by Pepys alongside her actress sister Anne Marshall.

Links: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1668/02/27

Journey Through England and Scotland

The Beargarden and the Rose Theatre, from Norden’s Map of London, 1593, via Wikipedia

Source: Lupold von Wedel, extract from travel account given in Lawrence Manley (ed.), London in the Age of Shakespeare: An Anthology ((university Park/London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986), p. 34, originally published in English as G. von Bülow (trans.), ‘Journey Through England and Scotland Made by Lupold von Wedel in the Years 1584 and 1585’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (London 1895)

Text: … The Thames is crossed by a bridge, leading to another town on the other side of the water called Sedorck [i.e. Southwark]. This bridge is built of stone, 470 paces long, but its upper part has not the appearance of a bridge, being entirely set ine houses filled with all kinds of wares, very nice to look at. …

On the 23rd we went across the bridge to the above-mentioned town. There is a round building three storeys high, in which are kept about a hundred large English dogs, with separate wooden kennels for each of them. These dogs were made to fight singly with three bears, the second bear being larger than the first, and the third larger than the second. After this a horse was brought in and chased by the dogs, and at last a bull, who defended himself bravely. The next was, that a number of men and women came forward from a separate compartment, dancing, conversing, and fighting with each other; also a man who threw some white bread among the crowd, that scrambled for it. Right over the middle of the place a rose was fixed, this rose being set on fire by a rocket: suddenly lots of apples and pears fell out of it down upon the people standing below. Whilst the people were scrambling for the apples, some rockets were made to fall down upon them out of the rose, which caused a great fright but amused the spectators. After this, rockets and other fireworks came flying out of all corners, and that was the end of the play. …

Comments: Lupold von Wedel (1554-1615?) was a German mercenary and travel writer. He travelled widely, visiting England and Scotland between August 1584 to May 1585. Wedel presumably visited the Beargarden, a theatre-like round structure on Bankside. The entertainment following the baiting starts as a dance of some kind, but thereafter becomes strange.

On Actors and the Art of Acting

Playbill from The Theatrical Observer, 16 November 1832

Source: George Henry Lewes, On Actors and the Art of Acting (Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz, 1875), pp. 16-17

Production: William Shakespeare, Othello, Drury Lane Theatre, London, November 1832

Text: Kean’s range of expression, as already hinted, was very limited. His physical aptitudes were such as confined him to the strictly tragic passions and for these he was magnificently endowed. Small and insignificant in figure, he could; at times become impressively commanding by the lion-like power and grace of his bearing. I remember, the last time I saw him play Othello, how puny he appeared beside Macready, until in the third act, when roused by Iago’s taunts and insinuations, he moved towards him with a gouty hobble, seized him by the throat, and, in a well-known explosion, “Villain! be sure you prove,” &c., seemed to swell into a stature which made Macready appear small. On that very evening, when gout made it difficult for him to display his accustomed grace, when a drunken hoarseness had ruined the once matchless voice, such was the irresistible pathos—manly, not tearful—which vibrated in his tones and expressed itself in look and gestures, that old men leaned their heads upon their arms and fairly sobbed. It was, one must confess, a patchy performance considered as a whole; some parts were miserably tricky, others misconceived, others gabbled over in haste to reach the “points”; but it was irradiated with such flashes that I would again risk broken ribs for the chance of a good place in the pit to see anything like it.

Comments: George Henry Lewes (1817-1878) was an English literary critic and philosopher, best-known now as the partner of the author George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). The ailing Edmund Kean, reaching the end of his career and his life, and William Macready disliked one another. Kean had previously avoided acting opposite his younger rival. Macready complained at how Kean upstaged him by taking up unfair positions on the stage. Kean died just a few months later, on 15 May 1833.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 23 February 1663

Productions: Robert Stapylton, The Slighted Maid, Lincoln Inn’s Field Theatre, and John Dryden, The Wild Gallant, London, 23 February 1663

Text: At home I found Mr. Creed with my wife, and so he dined with us, I finding by a note that Mr. Clerke in my absence hath left here, that I am free; and that he hath stopped all matters in Court; I was very glad of it, and immediately had a light thought of taking pleasure to rejoice my heart, and so resolved to take my wife to a play at Court to-night, and the rather because it is my birthday, being this day thirty years old, for which let me praise God.

While my wife dressed herself, Creed and I walked out to see what play was acted to-day, and we find it “The Slighted Mayde.” But, Lord! to see that though I did know myself to be out of danger, yet I durst not go through the street, but round by the garden into Tower Street.

By and by took coach, and to the Duke’s house, where we saw it well acted, though the play hath little good in it, being most pleased to see the little girl dance in boy’s apparel, she having very fine legs, only bends in the hams, as I perceive all women do. The play being done, we took coach and to Court, and there got good places, and saw “The Wilde Gallant,” performed by the King’s house, but it was ill acted, and the play so poor a thing as I never saw in my life almost, and so little answering the name, that from beginning to end, I could not, nor can at this time, tell certainly which was the Wild Gallant. The King did not seem pleased at all, all the whole play, nor any body else, though Mr. Clerke whom we met here did commend it to us. My Lady Castlemaine was all worth seeing tonight, and little Steward. Mrs. Wells do appear at Court again, and looks well; so that, it may be, the late report of laying the dropped child to her was not true.

It being done, we got a coach and got well home about 12 at night. Now as my mind was but very ill satisfied with these two plays themselves, so was I in the midst of them sad to think of the spending so much money and venturing upon the breach of my vow, which I found myself sorry for, I bless God, though my nature would well be contented to follow the pleasure still. But I did make payment of my forfeiture presently, though I hope to save it back again by forbearing two plays at Court for this one at the Theatre, or else to forbear that to the Theatre which I am to have at Easter. But it being my birthday and my day of liberty regained to me, and lastly, the last play that is likely to be acted at Court before Easter, because of the Lent coming in, I was the easier content to fling away so much money.

So to bed.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The two comedies that he saw were Sir Robert Stapylton‘s The Slighted Maid and John Dryden‘s The Wild Gallant (his first play). Barbara Villiers, or the Countess Castlemaine, was a mistress of King Charles II. Pepys had taken a vow at the end of 1661 not to go to the theatre any longer, but regularly broke it.

Links: www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1663/02/23

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

Sir Thomas Lawrence, ‘John Philip Kemble as Hamlet’ (1802), via Wikimedia Commons

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. 121-125

Production: William Shakespeare, Hamlet and George Colman the Younger, The Grand Dramatic Romance Bluebeard, or Female Curiosity, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 21 April 1811

Text: April 21. — Hamlet was acted yesterday at Covent-Garden, and Kemble, the reigning prince of the English stage, filled the principal part. He understands his art thoroughly, but wants spirit and nature. His manner is precise and artificial; his voice monotonous and wooden; his features are too large, even for the stage. Munden in the part of Polonius, and Fawcett in the grave-digger, played charmingly. It is enough to mention the grave-diggers, to awaken in France the cry of rude and barbarous taste; and, were I to say how the part is acted, it might be still worse. After beginning their labour, and breaking ground for a grave, a conversation begins between the two grave-diggers. The chief one takes off his coat, folds it carefully, and puts it by in a safe corner; then, taking up his pick-axe, spits in his hand,— gives a stroke or two,— talks,— stops,— strips off his waistcoat, still talking, — folds it with great deliberation and nicety, and puts it with the coat, then an under-waistcoat, still talking, — another and another. I counted seven or eight, each folded and unfolded very leisurely, in a manner always different, and with gestures faithfully copied from nature. The British public enjoys this scene excessively, and the pantomimic variations a good actor knows how to introduce in it, are sure to be vehemently applauded. The French admit of no such relaxation in the dignité tragique.

L’éroite bienseance y veut être gardée;

and Boileau did not even allow Moliere to have won the prize of comedy, because he had

Quitté pour le bouffon l’agréable et le fin
Et sans honte a Terence allié Tabarin

much less would he or his school have approved of an alliance between tragedy and farce. Yet it may well be questioned whether the interest is best kept up by an uninterrupted display of elevation. For my part, I am inclined to think that the repose afforded by a comic episode renovates the powers of attention and of feeling, and prepares for new tragical emotions more effectually than an attempt to protract these emotions during the whole representation could have done. It is by no means usual for the different actors of the same scene, in real life, to be all equally affected. The followers of a hero do not feel as magnanimous as himself, and are even apt to laugh among themselves at his vices or his virtues. The hero himself is not always a hero, and does not speak invariably in the same tone. Indeed I do not know that it is unnatural for the same person to laugh and cry, within the same half hour, at the very same thing, or at least various views of the same thing; nor that this inconsistency of the human mind might not furnish stronger dramatic touches than the contrary quality. Poetical excitement cannot be maintained long at a time; you must take it up and lay it down like a flower, or soon cease to be sensible of the fragrance. If real illusion could ever take place in dramatic representation, it would certainly be produced rather by that diversity of tone and character which exists in nature, than by an artificial unity. But nobody does, in point of fact, forget for a moment, that what he sees is a fable, and, if he did, the effect of a tragedy would hardly be pleasure. We look on poetical terrors as we do from the brink of a precipice upon the yawning chasm below; it makes our head turn, and takes off our breath for very fear ; but, leaning on the parapet-wall, we feel all safe. Looking on the verdure and mild beauties around us, we enjoy the contrast; and, meeting the eye of our companion, exchange a smile.

Voltaire, D’Alembert, and many other foreign critics, agree in reproving this scene of the grave-diggers as horribly low, while they extol the soliloquy of Hamlet. Supposing, however, the sentiments of the prince had been put into the mouth of the peasant, and those of the peasant given to the prince, I question whether these critics would not still have taken part with the latter against the former. It is the spade and the jests which discredit the philosophy, yet there is a certain coarse but energetic fitness between the one and the other, — and the tone of buffoonery does not ill accord with the contempt of life, its vanities, and empty greatness. I have made a free translation of these two scenes, endeavouring to convey the ideas rather than the words, that my French readers may judge for themselves.

The tragedy of Hamlet is much more objectionable on other points, —being, in my opinion, one of the most ill conceived and inexplicable of Shakespeare’s plays,— which are all of them little else than mere frames for his ideas, comic or philosophical, gloomy or playful, as they occurred, without much attention to time and place; expressed with a vigour, a richness, and originality, quite wonderful in the original, but nearly lost in any translation. We might apply to Shakespeare what has been said of our Montaigne: “que personne ne savoit moins que lui, ce qu’il alloit dire, ni mieux ce qu’il disoit.” I have remarked before, that the style of Shakespeare is not old; and the inartificial texture of his plays appears the more strange on that account :— this style, just as it is, might be applied to the best conducted fable, and most regular argument. Of the dramatic writers who followed him, some avoided his irregularities, but missed his style, or rather had not his depth, his strength and genius; while others, and there is a recent example, approached that style, and had some sparks of that genius, but adopted, in their zeal, the inconsistencies, the coarseness, and even the puns. You can excuse, in a Gothic cathedral of five or six hundred years standing, those monkish figures carved on the walls, lolling their tongues out, or pointing the finger of scorn at each other, in low derision, and others still more indecent, in favour of the wonderful art, which, in such an age of darkness and ignorance, durst conceive, and could execute the idea of building this religious grove, rearing its arched boughs, and
lofty shades of hewn stones 150 feet above your head; — while the country-house of the wealthy citizen of London, mimicking that taste of architecture, excites a smile, — and if he should carry the imitation beyond the pointed arch, and painted windows, to the very indecencies I have mentioned, the ridicule would be complete.

The after-piece was Blue-Beard, which outdoes, in perversion of taste, all the other showy stupidities of the modern stage. A troop of horse (real horse) is actually introduced, or rather two troops, charging each other full speed, — the floor is covered with earth, — the horses are Astley’s, and well drilled; they kick, and rear, and bite, and scramble up walls almost perpendicular, and when they can do no more, fall, and die as gracefully as any of their brethren, the English tragedians. All this might do very well at Astley’s, but what a pity and a shame that horses should be the successors of Garrick, and bring fuller houses than Mrs Siddons!

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. The production of Hamlet that he saw at Covent Garden featured John Philip Kemble as Hamlet and Joseph Munden as Polonius and John Fawcett as the gravedigger. The afterpiece was George Colman the Younger‘s 1798 play The Grand Dramatic Romance Bluebeard, or Female Curiosity. Astley’s Amphitheatre in London was famed for its circus and equestrian entertainments.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Pantomime

Source: ‘The Pantomime – Boxes, Pit and Gallery’, Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News, 16 January 1869

Comments: The Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News was a British newspaper of the 1860s which reported on sports of all kinds and theatre productions. It was notable for its illustrations from wood engravings. The name of the artist of this illustration is not given.

The Diary of Frances Lady Shelley

Source: Richard Edgecumbe (ed.), The Diary of Frances Lady Shelley (New York: C. Scribner’s, 1912-1913), vol. 2, pp. 58-59

Text: As we passed the theatre we decided to enter, and hear Miss Stephens sing Scotch ballads to a Scottish audience. Much to our surprise we found the theatre so empty that we obtained seats in the front row. This led to some conversation afterwards relative to the sobriety in the search for amusement which is so characteristic of the people of Edinburgh. Some years ago Catalani gave a concert here. Every place was crowded, and she reaped a rich harvest. The next year she was tempted to come again, and the contrast was most striking; no one who had heard her before went again. When asked the reason, they replied that they had heard her. There was no satire in this, for the same thing occurred with Miss O’Neill. I saw her play, literally, to empty benches, and was able to obtain a seat in the front row. This is the more remarkable, as at her first visit the pressure was so great that people were fainting. All the boxes had been taken previous to her arrival in Edinburgh. I never admired Miss Stephens so much as on this occasion. The small theatre was favourable to her articulation, and I did not lose a word of that pathetic ballad “Auld Robin Gray,” which was rapturously encored, and no wonder, for she sings it with a degree of pathos difficult to describe. There was not a note, nor an intonation, which did not express in its fullest sense the pure feelings and sentiments of that most exquisite piece of poetry. I have always been of opinion that “Auld Robin Gray” affords the best example of female virtue, based on principle and sensibility, to be found in the English language. In a pure mind, like Lady Anne Lindsay’s, the spear of Ithuriel would instantly dissipate the sophism of Rousseau, and depict in their true colours and in their natural deformity the vaunted perfections of his Héloïse.

Comments: Frances Lady Shelley (1787-1873) was a well-connected, vivacious British society figure, whose lively diaries (edited by her grandson) include several accounts of theatregoing. Catherine Stephens, Countess of Essex (1794-1822) was an English concert and opera singer and actress. Eliza O’Neill was an English tragic actress (1791-1872). ‘Auld Robin Gray’ is a ballad by Lady Anne Lindsay. The Edinburgh theatre was presumably the Theatre Royal in Princes Street.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust