Theatre

The Journal of a London Playgoer

‘Charlotte Cushman as Meg Merriles’ (c.1855) Library of Congress, via Wikipedia

Source: Henry Morley, The Journal of a London Playgoer: from 1851-1866 (London: George Routledge, 1866), pp. 80-81

Production: Daniel Terry, Guy Mannering, Haymarket Theatre, London, 11 February 1854

Text: 1854, February 11.— ‘Guy Mannering’ is very nicely produced at the HAYMARKET. The scenery is new, the grouping is effective, the cast is tolerably good, and there is one piece of acting in it of an excellent and very striking kind. Miss Cushman’s melodramatic Meg Merrilies has quite as indisputably the attributes of genius about it as any piece of poetry or tragedy could have. Such is her power over the intention and feeling of the part that the mere words of it become a secondary matter. It is the figure, the gait, the look, the gesture, the tone, by which she puts beauty and passion into language the most indifferent. The effect is not wholly agreeable. Nevertheless it is something to see what the unassisted resources of acting may achieve with the mere idea of a fine part, stripped of fine language, unclothed as it were in words. The human tenderness blending with that Eastern picturesqueness of gesture, the refined sentiment breaking out from beneath that heavy feebleness and clumsiness of rude old age, are wonderfully startling. Mr. Compton is a good Dominie Sampson, and Miss Harland looks and sings very pleasingly in Lucy Bertram. Mr. Howe is not enough of the ruffian in Dirk Hatteraick. He looks rather an honest fellow; and though he might have been as innocently fond of a garden of tulips as Scott makes his Dutch smuggler, he would not have plundered and murdered on all sides simply to get at that source of natural enjoyment.

Comments: Henry Morley (1822-1894) was a British academic and writer. He was Professor of English at University College London from 1865-1889. His Journal is a record of his attendance at most new production in the leading London theatres over a fifteen-year period. The journal he kept served as the basis for his dramatic reviews in The Examiner, which he edited 1859-1864. Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) was one of the great figures of the nineteenth-century American stage. The role of Meg Merrilees in Daniel Terry‘s adaptation of Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering was one of her signature roles.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Epistle to Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love

From page of Epistle to Daiphantus via Shakepeare Documented

Source: ‘An. Sc.’ [Anthony Scoloker?], extract from Epistle to Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love (William Cotton, 1604)

Text:
[From the introductory section]

It should be like the Neuer-too-well read Arcadia, where the Prose and Verce, (Matter and Words) are like his Mistresses eyes one still excelling another and without Coriuall for to come home to the vulgars Element, like Friendly Shake-speares Tragedies, where the Commedian rides, when the Tragedian stands on Tip-toe: Faith it should please all, like Prince Hamlet.

[From the poem]

His breath, he thinkes the smoke; his tongue a cole,
Then calls for bottell-ale; to quench his thirst:
Runs to his Inke-pot, drinkes, then stops the hole,
And thus growes madder, then he was at first.
Tasso, he finds, by that of Hamlet, thinkes.
Tearmes him a mad-man; than of his Inkhorne drinks.

Calls Players fooles, the foole he iudgeth wisest,
Will learne them Action, out of Chaucers Pander:
Proues of their Poets bawdes euen in the highest,
Then drinkes a health; and sweares it is no slander.
Puts off his cloathes; his shirt he onely weares,
Much like mad-Hamlet; thus as Passion teares.

Comments: Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love is a poem, printed in 1604, expressed from the point of view of a courtier, Daiphantus, whose character commentators have seen as being similar to William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet. The poem is credited to ‘An. Sc’, sometimes identified as the printer Anthony Scoloker, though he died in 1593, or a relative of his. When Hamlet was first performed Richard Burbage almost certainly took the leading role. The reference to Hamlet wearing only his shirt indicates an actual piece of stage business witnessed by the author.

Links: Copy at Early English Books Online

Journal of Frances Anne Butler

‘Mr Kean as Othello’, lithograph print, c.1830, via Victoria and Albert Museum

Source: Journal of Frances Anne Butler (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1835), vol. 1 (of 2), p. 147

Text: Kean is gone — and with him are gone Othello, Shylock, and Richard. I have lived among those whose theatrical creed would not permit them to acknowledge him as a great actor; but they must be bigoted, indeed, who would deny that he was a great genius, a man of most original and striking powers, careless of art,perhaps because he did not need it; but possessing those rare gifts of nature, without which art alone is as a dead body. Who that ever heard, will ever forget the beauty, the unutterable tenderness of his reply to Desdemona’s entreaties for Cassio. “Let him come when he will, I can deny thee nothing;” the deep despondency of his “Oh now farewell;” the miserable anguish of his “Oh, Desdemona, away, away.” Who that ever saw, will ever forget the fascination of his dying eyes in Richard; when deprived of his sword, the wondrous power of his look seemed yet to avert the uplifted arm of Richmond. If he was irregular and unartist-like in his performances, so is Niagara, compared with the water works of Versailles.

Comments: Frances Anne ‘Fanny’ Kemble (1809-1893) was a British stage actress and writer, a member of the celebrated Kemble theatrical family. She married Pierce Mease Butler in 1834. The British actor Edmund Kean died 15 May 1833.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

On the Mexican Highlands, with a Passing Glimpse of Cuba

Source: William Seymour Edwards, On the Mexican Highlands, with a Passing Glimpse of Cuba (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1906), pp. 198-200

Text: Last night was to be my final one in Mexico, and as a troupe of Spanish actors was billed at one of the larger theaters, I went to see the play. There are a number of playhouses in the city, and paternal government is laying the foundation for an opera-house which, it is announced, will be one of the most “magnifico” in the world. The theater we attended was one of the largest, and the actors, Spaniards from Barcelona, were filling a season’s engagement. In purchasing tickets, the first novelty was the separate coupons which are issued for each act. You buy for one act or another as you prefer. The Mexicans rarely stay the play out, but linger for an act or two and then depart. There are tiers of boxes around the sides, in which were many men and ladies in evening dress, the belles and beaux of the city. We sat among the occupants of the seats upon the floor, the greater part of whom were men. The first noticeable difference between the audience here and that at home is that every man keeps on his hat except when occupying a box. It is bad enough, we think, for a woman to retain her hat or bonnet, but imagine how it is when you are confronted by multitudinous high-peaked broad-brimmed sombreros of the most obtrusive type. The excuse for the wearing of these great hats upon all occasions is, that in the chilly air of these high altitudes, it becomes a necessary protection.

The faces about me were dark; even the men in the boxes were of darker color than would be those of the pure Spanish blood. The women are also dark, their color much darker than that of the usual mulatto in the States. This is due to the large infusion of Indian blood among the Mexican people, even among the leisure classes.

The actors were of the Spanish swarthy type, but among the actresses, there were, as always, two or three with conspicuously red heads, the Venetian red so pronounced and popular among the London shopgirls. These red headed belles received the entire attention and applause of the male portion of the audience. The audience also smoked incessantly, the gentlemen large Mexican cigars, the ladies their cigarettes. The right to smoke is an inalienable privilege of both sexes in Mexico, the women using tobacco almost as freely and constantly as do the men. The acting was good, and some of the fandango dances brought thunders of bravos. The pauses between acts were long. In one of the intervals we sauntered out upon the streets, where a mob of ticket brokers so assailed us and bargained so successfully for our remaining coupons, that we sold them at an advance over the figure we had paid. The plays begin early, about seven o’clock, and the doors stay open until midnight, the constantly changing audiences giving to the actors fresh support.

On a previous night we visited another theater, where a more fashionable company gathered to see the well-known Frenchman, Frijoli, in his clever impersonations of character. Here were assembled Mexico’s most fashionable set, among them a party of distinguished South Americans attending the Pan-American Congress, the ladies from Brazil, Argentina, and Chili wearing costly diamonds, and being in full decollete attire.

Here also the sombrero reigned supreme in dress circle and on parquet floor, and smoking was everywhere indulged in.

Comments: William Seymour Edwards (1856-1915) was an American businessman, Republican politicians and travel writer. He visited Mexico and Cuba in 1905-06. The theatre he attended was in Mexico City.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 18 February 1667

Production: Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Maid’s Tragedy, King’s House, London, 18 February 1667

Text: Thence away, and with my wife by coach to the Duke of York’s play-house, expecting a new play, and so stayed not no more than other people, but to the King’s house, to “The Mayd’s Tragedy;” but vexed all the while with two talking ladies and Sir Charles Sedley; yet pleased to hear their discourse, he being a stranger. And one of the ladies would, and did sit with her mask on, all the play, and, being exceeding witty as ever I heard woman, did talk most pleasantly with him; but was, I believe, a virtuous woman, and of quality. He would fain know who she was, but she would not tell; yet did give him many pleasant hints of her knowledge of him, by that means setting his brains at work to find, out who she was, and did give him leave to use all means to find out who she was, but pulling off her mask. He was mighty witty, and she also making sport with him very inoffensively, that a more pleasant ‘rencontre’ I never heard. But by that means lost the pleasure of the play wholly, to which now and then Sir Charles Sedley’s exceptions against both words and pronouncing were very pretty. So home and to the office, did much business, then home, to supper, and to bed.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The Maid’s Tragedy was written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Sir Charles Sedley was a politician, dramatist and notorious libertine.

Links: www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1667/02/18/

Pleasant Notes Upon Don Quixot

Source: Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot (London, 1654)

Text: And although the only Laureat of our stage (having compos’d a Play of excellent worth, but not of equall applause) fell downe upon his knees, and gave thanks, that he had transcended the capacity of the vulgar; yet his protestation against their ignorance, was not sufficient to vindicate the misapplication of the argument; for the judicious part of that Auditory condemn’d it equally with those that did not understand it, and though the Comaedy wanted not its

prodesse, & delectare,

Had it been exhibited to a scholastick confluence; yet men come not to study at a Play-house, but love such expressions and passages, which with ease insinuate themselves into their capacities. Lingua, that learned Comaedy of the contention betwixt the five senses for the superiority, is not to be prostituted to the common stage, but is only proper for an Academy; to them bring Iack Drumm’s entertainment, Greens tu quoque, the Devill of Edmunton, and the like; or if it be on Holy dayes, when Saylers, Water-men, Shoomakers, Butchers and Apprentices are at leisure, then it is good policy to amaze those violent spirits, with some tearing Tragaedy full of fights and skirmishes: As the Guelphs and Guiblins, Greeks and Trojans, or the three London Apprentises, which commonly ends in six acts, the spectators frequently mounting the stage, and making a more bloody Catastrophe amongst themselves, then the Players did. I have known upon one of these Festivals, but especially at Shrove-tide, where the Players have been appointed, notwithstanding their bils to the contrary, to act what the major part of the company had a mind to; sometimes Tamerlane, sometimes Iugurth, sometimes the Jew of Malta, and sometimes parts of all these, and at last, none of the three taking, they were forc’d to undresse and put off their Tragick habits, and conclude the day with the merry milk-maides. And unlesse this were done, and the popular humour satisfied, as sometimes it so fortun’d, that the Players were refractory; the Benches, the tiles, the laths, the stones, Oranges, Apples, Nuts, flew about most liberally, and as there were Mechanicks of all professions, who fell every one to his owne trade, and dissolved a house in an instant, and made a ruine of a stately Fabrick. It was not then the most mimicall nor fighting man, Fowler, nor Andrew Cane could pacifie; Prologues nor Epilogues would prevaile; the Devill and the fool were quite out of favour. Nothing but noise and tumult fils the house, untill a cogg take ‘um, and then to the Bawdy houses, and reforme them; and instantly to the Banks side, where the poor Beares must conclude the riot, and fight twenty dogs at a time beside the Butchers, which sometimes fell into the service; this perform’d, and the Horse and Jack-an-Apes for a jigge, they had sport enough that day for nothing.

Comments: Edmund Gayton (1608-1666) was an English physician and writer. His Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot, known as also as Festivous Notes upon Don Quixot is a rambling study of Don Quixote which many asides anecdotes, including observations on the theatre. It was published in 1654, when theatrical performances in England were banned under Cromwell’s regime, so his recollections of the misbehaviour of audiences at theatrical performances during Shrovetide probably refers to the 1630s. The plays referred to include The Merry Devil of Edmonton, John Marston’s Jack Drum’s Entertainment, Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine the Great, William Boyle’s Jugurth (possibly), and presumably Thomas Heywood’s The Four Prentices of London.

Links: Copy at Early English Books Online

Lewis Carroll’s Diaries

‘Henry VIII: Queen Katherine’s Dream’, from Illustrated London News 2 June 18855, reproduced in Shakespeare’s Staging

Source: Edward Wakeling (ed.), Lewis Carroll’s Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), vol. 1 (Lewis Carroll Society: Publications Unit, 1993), pp. 104-106

Productions: John Maddison Morton, Away with Melancholy and William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Henry VIII, Princesses’s Theatre, London, 22 June 1855

Text: Went to the Gallery of the British Artists where I scarcely got the worth of my shilling – then heard a very good lecture on the model of Sebastopol in Leicester Square, and at five joined Ranken and a man of the name Brown at the Wellington Hotel, where we dined before going to the ‘Princess’. The evening began with a capital farce, Away with Melancholy, and then came the great play, Henry VIII, the greatest theatrical treat I ever had or expect to have. I had no idea that anything so superb as the scenery and dresses was ever to be seen on the stage. Kean was magnificent as Cardinal Wolsey, Mrs. Kean a worthy successor to Mrs. Siddons in Queen Catherine, and all the accessories without exception were good – but oh, that exquisite vision of Queen Catherine! I almost held my breath to watch: the illusion is perfect, and I felt as if in a dream all the time it lasted. It was like a delicious reverie, or the most beautiful poetry. This is the true end and object of acting – to raise the mind above itself, and out of its petty everyday cares – never shall I forget that wonderful evening, that exquisite vision – sunbeams broke in through the roof, and gradually revealed two angel forms, floating in front of the carved work on the ceiling: the column of sunbeams shone down upon the sleeping queen, and gradually down it floated a troop of angelic forms, transparent, and carrying palm branches in their hands: they waved these over the sleeping queen, with oh! such a sad and solemn grace. So could I fancy (if the thought be not profane) would real angels seem to our mortal vision, though doubtless our conception is poor and mean to the reality. She in an ecstasy raises her arms towards them, and to sweet slow music they vanish as marvellously as they came. Then the profound silence of the audience burst at once into a rapture of applause; but even that scarcely marred the effect of the beautiful sad waking words of the Queen, “Spirits of peace, where are ye?” I never enjoyed anything so much in my life before: and never felt so inclined to shed tears at anything fictitious, save perhaps at that poetical gem of Dickens, the death of little Paul.

Comments: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll, was a British mathematician, photographer and children’s author, best known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The production of Shakespeare and Fletcher‘s Henry VIII that he saw at the Princess’s Theatre in London was produced by the theatre’s manager, Charles Kean (son of Edmund Kean). It was one a number of spectacular Shakespearean revival presented at the Princess’s, which placed emphasis on historical ‘authenticity’. Queen Katherine was played by Ellen Tree, Charles Kean’s wife. Away with Melancholy was a one-act farce written by John Maddison Morton, best known for Box and Cox.

A Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland

Source: Benjamin Silliman, A Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland, and of two passages over the Atlantic, in the years 1805 and 1806, vol. 1 (Boston: T.B. Wait and Co. for Howe and Deforest, and Increase Cook and Co. Newhaven, 1812), pp. 268-269

Production: Zittaw; or, The Woodman’s Daughter, Astley’s Amphitheatre, London, 19 July 1805

Text: ASTLEY’S AMPHITHEATRE. July 19. — I had made an appointment to meet an American friend this evening, at the door of Astley’s amphitheatre, which is just over Westminster bridge on the Surry side. This theatre is precisely on the plan of the royal circus, and the entertainments are of the same kind, that is, pantomime, buffoonery, and riding. The house is very splendid, and the scenery, decorations, and machinery are in a style of very uncommon elegance.

The evening was opened with the pantomime of Zittaw, or the Woodman’s daughter. It was the most intelligible pantomime that I have ever seen ; this was owing to the liberty they took of speaking certain parts in plain English — of singing others, and of frequently displaying pieces of painted cloth, containing, in large capitals, a hint of the story.

And what was the subject of the pantomime? Do you ask? It was that which is the first, second and third thing in all theatrical performances.

If we are to believe the theatres, love is a most sanguinary passion, for it rarely comes to a catastrophe without murder. They killed no fewer than four, in the course of this pantomime. Even the lady herself, who is the heroine of the story, is made, in the progress of the representation, to appear on the stage, and to fence for a good while, with one of her unsuccessful suitors, whom at length, (being unable to des patch him with the sword,) she destroys with a pistol ball. It is to be hoped that this was not a very faithful copy of life, for, surely, it is enough to be repulsed, without being murdered besides.

Comments: Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was a pioneering American chemist. The ‘pantomime’ he saw while visiting London in 1805 was presumably based on the gothic story Zittaw the Cruel; or The Woodsman’s Daughter, A Polish Romance by prolific writer of chapbooks Sarah Wilkinson. Astley’s Amphitheatre was originally a circus (opened 1770), but later put on pantomimes and other such entertainments. It was located by Westminster Bridge and had burned down twice before it became famous in the 1800s for its equestrian spectaculars.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of an Invalid

Source: Henry Matthews, The Diary of an Invalid, being the Journal of a Tour in pursuit of health; in Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and France, in the years 1817, 1818, and 1819, vol. 2 (London: J. Murray, 1824, 4th edition), pp. 216-217

Production: Alexandre Duval, Édouard en Écosse, Toulouse, 22 January 1819

Text: 22d. In the evening to the theatre. The play was Edouard en Ecosse; founded on the adventures of the Pretender in England, the work of M. Duval, who is fond of dramatising English story. The part of Charles Edward was admirably played by Beauchamp. His face and appearance, when he first comes in, pale and worn out with fatigue, presented a striking resemblance of Napoleon. The political allusions with which the play abounds, were eagerly seized throughout, and applied to the Ex-Emperor.—“Je n’ai fait que des ingrats” was long and loudly applauded. In the last act of the play the air of “God save the King” was incidentally introduced; which afforded the audience an opportunity of manifesting their feeling towards England, which they did not neglect — and an universal hiss broke out. A pantomime followed, but a very faint imitation of the inimitable entertainment which is called by that name in England. The first dancer is called Harlequin, without his wand or his tricks; the first female dancer is Columbine; and the unfortunate Pantaloon, in addition to his own part, is Clown also; so that besides the kicks on the breeches which he receives in quality of the first character, he has also to endure the slaps of the face which fall to the lot of the second. His mock dance was excellent; and his animated sack, for he jumps into a sack and displays wonderful locomotive powers therein, was worthy of Grimaldi himself.

Comments: Henry Matthews (1789-1828) was a British judge. On account of ill health, he went on a recuperative tour of Europe over 1817-1819. The published diary of his travels, The Diary of an Invalid (1820), was very popular and went through a number of editions. The two-volume diary has several entries on theatregoing. Alexandre-Vincent Pineux Duval was a French actor, dramatist and theatre manager. His three-act play Édouard en Écosse, on Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’), was published in 1801. I am unsure of the precise theatre in Toulouse, and of the identity of the actor Beauchamp.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Travels with Herodotus

Source: Ryszard Kapuściński (trans. Klara Glowczewska), Travels with Herodotus (Lonson: Allen Lane, 2007 [orig. pub. Podróże z Herodotem, 2004]), pp. 241-243

Text: Theatrical performances abound in the streets and squares. African theater is not as formalistic as the European. A group of people can gather someplace extemporaneously and perform an impromptu play. There is no text, everything is the product of the moment, of the passing mood, of spontaneous imagination. The subject can be anything: the police catching a gang of thieves, merchants fighting to keep the city from taking away their marketplace. wives competing among themselves for their husband, who is in love with some other woman. The subject matter must be simple. the language comprehensible to all.

Someone has an idea and volunteers to be director. He assigns roles and the play begins. If this is a street, a square, or a courtyard, a crowd of passersby soon gathers. People laugh during the performance, offer running commentary, applaud. If the action unfolds in an interesting way, the audience will stand there attentively despite the punishing sun: if the play does not jell, and the ad hoc troupe proves unable to communicate and move the action forward effectively, the performance is soon over and the spectators and actors disperse, making way for others who may have better luck.

Sometimes I see the actors interrupt their dialogue and begin a ritual dance, with the entire audience joining in. It can be a cheerful and joyous dance, or the opposite—with the dancers serious, focused, and collective participation in the common rhythm an evidently profound experience for them, something meaningful touching their core. But then the dancing ends, the actors return to their spoken parts, and the spectators, for a moment still as if entranced, laugh once again, happy and amused.

Street theater includes not just dance. Its other important, even inseparable element is the mask. The actors sometimes perform in masks, or, because it is difficult in this heat to wear one for long, simply hold them near—in their hands, under their arms, even strapped to their backs. The mask is a symbol. a construct full of emotion and resonance that speaks of the existence of some other universe, whose sign, stamp, or presence it is. It communicates something to us, warns us about someone; seemingly lifeless and motionless, it attempts by means of its appearance to arouse our feelings, put us under its spell.

Borrowing from various museums, Senghor collected thousands upon thousands of such masks. When seen in the aggregate, they evoke a separate, mysterious world. Walking through that collection was a singular experience. One began to understand how masks acquired such power over people, how they could hypnotize, overwhelm, or lead people into ecstasy. It became clear why the mask—and faith in its magical efficacy—united entire societies, enabled them to communicate across continents and oceans, gave them a sense of community and identity, constituted a form of tradition and collective memory.

Walking from one theatrical performance to another, from one exhibit of masks and sculptures to others, I had the sense of being witness to the rebirth of a great culture, to the awakening of its sense of distinctness, importance, and pride, the consciousness of its universal range. Here were not only masks from Mozambique and Congo, but also lanterns for macumba rituals from Rio de Janeiro, the escutcheons of the guardian deities of Haitian voodoo, and copies of the sarcophagi of Egyptian pharaohs.

Comments: Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007) was a Polish journalist and travel writer. Travels with Herodotus is an account of his early years as a journalist in India, China and Africa, interwoven with his reading of the Histories of Herodotus. The book includes an account of his visit to Senegal in 1966, when the president Léopold Senghor hosted a festival of worldwide black art in Dakar, the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Negres.