Theatre from Restoration through Romanticism
Restoration and 18th Century


         Wilson and Goldfarb. Theatre: The Lively Art, 7th edition: Chapter 14, pages 308 - 323.

         William Congreve. The Way of the World
         John Dryden. All For Love
18th Century...
         John Gay. The Beggar's Opera
         Richard Sheridan. School for Scandal

         Drottningholm Theatre

Theatre from 1660 to 1875
Restoration: 1660 to 1700 | 18th Century

Restoration: 1660 to 1700

1. When was the English Restoration?

From 1660 to 1700.

     To whom was the English crown restored?

King Charles II
Charles II (1630-1685), the son of King Charles I and the grandson of King James, was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from his Coronation in 1660 to his death in 1685.

2. What are the characteristics of a Restoration Comedy of Manners?

Restoration (and 18th century) comedy ridiculed human failings-- breaches of a "sophisticated code of manners" established by the courtiers of Charles II. They assumed (but never stated) an ideal mode of life which they expected the audience to accept.
The Ideal Gentleman was well born, dressed well, was poised and witty, skilled in love making, was able to conduct several affairs simultaneously, never boasted of his affairs, was always discreet, and never fell in love (or showed true compassion). If he was married, he could not be jealous if his wife took a lover.

The Fashionable Young Lady was familiar with the world of intrigue, but did not become involved in it. If she was a widow (or married to an older man) she could take a lover, as long as she was not found out. If she was married, she should not expect constancy in her husband.

3. What title do many consider the best example of an English Comedy of Manners?

William Congreve
William Congreve (1670-1729) wrote four comedies and one tragedy. His masterpiece is The Way of the World (1700), considered by many to be the best example of a Restoration Comedy. Read the play snyopsis on page 413 in the Appendix.

4. What type of dramas did John Dryden write?

John Dryden
John Dryden (1631-1700), influencial poet, critic, translator and playwright is primarily remembered (as a dramatist) for his Neo-Classic tragedies. He dominated the literary life of Restoration England and was made Poet Laureate of England in 1667.

5. What is the title of his most important play?

All For Love, or A World Well Lost (1677)

6. On what earlier work is it based?

William Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra.

     What changes did he make?

He condensed the 15 years of dramatic time in Shakespeare's play into one 24 hour day. He compressed Shakespeare's large cast (30 men and 4 women) drama into a much smaller and more managable size (6 men and 4 women). Unlike Shakespeare who had scenes in Rome and Egypt, Dryden's play takes place in one location: in front of the temple of Isis in Alexandre, Egypt. He took Shakespeare's episodic tragedy, and turned it into a small cast climactic tragedy which observed the unity of time and place.

7. How did the actor-manager system function?

During the Elizabethan period, the acting company was a stock company. The control of the organization was vested in the "shareholders." A Restoration acting company was owned and controlled by one man: the manager. He usually was the leading actor of the company, and chose those plays which best exhibited his abilities. The remainder of the acting company was hired and did not share in the company's profit (or loss).

8. Who was the leading English actor-manager of the 18th Century?

David Garrick

David Garrick (1717-1779). In addition to being an actor with over ninety roles in his repertory and the manager and "patent holder" of Drury Lane (1747 to 1776), he was a playwright, director and designer. As a director he oversaw the entire production process. He expected his actors to be on time, to have their lines memorized, and to act during rehearsal. As a designer he introduced appropriate and historically accurate costumes to the English stage.

9. When were women introduced onto the English stage?

During the Restoration.

10. What problems did theatre managers encounter when hiring an actress?

Since acting was still socially unacceptable, it was often difficult recruiting women to perform on stage. There also were few women's roles in the plays (primarily the work of Shakespeare) that most managers staged.

11. Who was Nell Gwynn?

Nell Gwynn

Eleanor "Nell" Gwynn (1650-1687), one of the most popular comic actress of the Restoration, performed for only four years: 1665-1669. During her tenure on stage she became the mistress of King Charles II and bore him two illegitimate sons: Charles Beauclerk (1670-1726) and James Beauclerk (1671-1680). She was retired from the stage, by order of the King, in 1669.

12. What was a legitimate theatre?

They were the only legal theatres in London permitted to present full length (five act) dramas. These theatres were also known as Royal Theatres (because they were licensed by the King ) and Patent Theatres (because the document which licensed them was called a patent). In today's world, the legitimate theatre is the "theatre of the spoken word."

13. How many legitimate theatres operated in London during the 17th century?

Two. These were originally (in 1660) the two playhouses managed by William Davenant (1606-1668) and Thomas Killigrew (1612-1683). After parliment passed the Licensing Act of 1737, the two legitimate houses were Covent Garden and Drury Lane.

     How long did they retain this monopoly?

183 years, from 1660 to 1843.

14. What was a minor theatre?

A minor theatre was a legal, licensed, London playhouse which could not perform "regular" drama.

     What type of plays were they permitted to present?

  1. Short plays (two or three act),
  2. Operas (both ballad and Italianate),
  3. Melodramas (plays with a musical score) and
  4. Illustrated lectures (for example: Presenting Othello as an "illustrated lecture" on jelousy).

15. What did the Restoration stage look like?

Restoration Theatre
The Restoration stage was a proscenium theatre with a deep forestage or apron. There was a proscenium opening which framed the scenery. Most of the action took place on the forestage. Entrances and exits were made through doors on the either side of the apron.The 650 seats (in 1700) were distributed between the pit, boxes, and galleries. The most expensive seats were in the private boxes (four shillings) which surrounded the first floor pit (two shillings, six pence). The cheapest seats were in the two galleries (one shilling, six pence and one shilling). See the illustration of Drury Lane on page 313.

16. What type of scenery was used on an English Restoration stage?

Restoration theatres used the wing - border - backdrop style of scenery. Because of the cost, scenic units painted for one show were usually incorporated into a theatre's stock set for use in other productions.

18th Century

17. What type of comedies did Richard Sheridan write?

Richard Sheridan
Richard Sheridan (1751-1816), the leading English playwright of the 18th century is remembered for his sentimental comedies. Like Restoration comedy, they were also a comedy of manners, but they reaffirmed middle class morality.

18. What is the title of his most important work?

The School for Scandal (1777) (plot summary) His other two major, often revived works are The Rivals (1775) and The Critic (1779).

A Meeting of the "School"
Crabtree, Sir. Benjamin Backbite, Lady Sneerwell, Mrs. Candour

The School for Scandal

19. Which legitimate theatre did he manage?

In 1776 Sheridan became a stock holder in and manager of Drury Lane, one of the two patent houses. He became a member of Parliament (repesenting Stafford) in 1780 making him a politician as well as theatre manager and playwright.

20. What is the title of John Gay's only major work?

John Gay
John Gay's (1685-1732) only major dramatic work is The Beggar's Opera (1728), a ballad opera telling the story of Macheath, the head of a band of robbers, Peachum, the "godfather" of London's underworld and Polly, Peachum's daughter and Macheath's wife. With 62 consecutive performances at Lincoln's Inn Field, a minor theatre, this early form of musical-comedy is considered by many, to be the theatre's first long run.

"How Happy Could I Be With Either"
Macheath and his two wives, Lucy and Polly, at Newgate Prison

The Beggar's Opera

21. How does a ballad opera differ from an Italian opera?

In a ballad opera recitatives are replaced with spoken dialogue and the music (with original words) was adapted from popular folk songs, bar-room tunes, famaliar ballads, even airs (airas) and choruses from opera. The songs were brief so they would not slow down the story. In an Italian opera, the dialogue becomes recitatives and the music is specifically composed for the work.

22. What was Lewis Hallam's connection to the development of the American theatre?

William Hallam attempted to open a third legitimate theatre in London in the 1750's. When his request to the king was denied, he sent his brother Lewis (1714-1756) and a company of twelve actors to the colonies where they established a theatre in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania in 1752. The company also performed in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina. When Lewis died, his widow married actor David Douglass, and together in 1758, they formed the American Company. Many theatre historians declare this to be the beginning of the commercial American theatre.

23. What was the major change in theatre architecture during the 18th century?

Drury Lane, 1794
Because the size of the theatre audience grew during the 18th century, the capacity of the auditoriums also grew. In 1700, Drury Lane could seat a maximum of 650, a hundred years later, after the addition of three new galleries, the seating capacity was 3600; a five fold increase. Not only did the capacity of the house increase, so did the size of the stage. The Drury Lane of the English Restoration had a stage that was only 34 feet deep: 17 feet from the foot lights to the proscenium arch and 17 feet from the arch to the back wall. (See the Ground Plan on page 320). In 1800 the stage house of Drury Lane was 85 feet wide and 92 feet deep. The proscenium opening was 43 feet wide by 38 feet high. The 3600 seat Drury Lane, which was really too large for drama, burned to the ground in 1809. A new Theatre Royal was built in Drury Lane in 1812. Today, November 2011, that theatre is the London home of Shreck, the Musical.

24. What is the importance of the court theatre at Drottningholm?

Stage of the Drottningholm Theatre
This small court theatre was built in the middle of the 18th Century (1766) at the summer palace of the Swedish royal family. The space was closed in 1792, "rediscovered" in 1920 and reopened in 1922. It is today a working example of an eighteenth century Italianate proscenium theatre complete with 15 complete sets of scenery. See the photographs on page 319. Visit the Drottningholms Slottsteater Web page.

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Last updated: November 17, 2011
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