Theatre from Restoration through Romanticism
Nineteenth Century


         Wilson and Goldfarb. Theatre: The Lively Art, 7th edition: Chapter 14, pages 323 - 332.

         George Aiken / Harriet Beacher Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin
         Charles Fechter / Alexandre Dumas, père. The Count of Monte Cristo
         Alexandre Dumas, fils. The Lady of the Camellias (Camille)
         Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. Faust
         Edmond Rostand. Cyrano De Bergerac

1. Define romantic drama.

Romantic drama is the theatre of the "long ago and far away." The audiences of the early 19th century wanted to escape the dull, petty frustrations of their lives.

2. What are the characteristics of a romantic hero?

The romantic hero makes no comprises, appeases no one. To him every issue is clear, and if he goes down in defeat, he goes down fighting knowing that his cause is just.

3. What is the difference between the knight-champion and the knight-lover?

A Knight-Champion
The knight-champion was loyal to his lord, dedicated his life to the protection of the weak, rescued the innocent maiden, and fought the endless battle against the forces of evil.

The knight-lover placed women on a pedestal, and worshipped them from afar. After a brief glimpse of her beauty, he was transformed forever. He would write poems to her beauty, and sing of his undying devotion, but he could not touch her. It was better to yearn for the ideal, than to desecrate it by turning it into reality.

4. Why did England not produce any major 19th century romantic dramatists?

Because the actor-managers rediscovered the works of Shakespeare. His plays posses many of the elements of romantic drama--A broad sweep of action, many short scenes, and a dedication to love and adventure.

5. Which playwright's work was performed, in England, during this period?

William Shakespeare. He was, in a sense, one of the theatre first "romantic" playwrights.

6. Which of Victor Hugo's dramas was influential in getting romantic drama accepted in Paris' conservative state theatres?

Victor Hugo
Although Hugo (1802-1885) is today primarily remembered for two novels: Les Misérables (1862) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831); his romantic tragedy: Hernani (1830), set in the ficticous Spanish court of Don Carlo I (1500-1558) helped shatter the neoclassical rules which had restrained French drama since the Renaissance.

7. What happened during its initial performances?

The audience, composed of supporters of both the neoclassic and romantic movements, "rioted" through fifty-five performances.

8. What is the relationship between 19th century opera and romantic drama?

Like many 19th century operas which were based on 19th century dramas, Victor Hugo's Hernani is the source of Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani (1844).

9. Which form, the drama or opera, has held the stage best?

Tosca, the Opera
The opera. There are few, if any, productions of the original dramas, but the operas have become part of the standard repertory. Puccini's Tosca (the opera) is based on a play written for Sarah Bernhardt, the great 19th century French actress. No one produces the play (also called Tosca), but Pucinni's opera is one of the war- horses of the operatic repertory.

10. Who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo?

Alexandre Dumas, pere
Alexandre Dumas', père (1802-1870) first major success was as a playwright. His Henri III was successfully produced in Paris in 1829. He soon shifted from writing romantic drama to writing romantic novels. His major works include The Three Musketeers (1844) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1845).

    Why was his stage adaption of Monte Cristo not a theatrical success?

His 1848 adaption of the 117 chapter, 1300 page novel (originally published in 18 installments in the Journal des Débats) required a cast of a 100, was written in 20 acts, and took two days to perform. Thirty five years later, Charles Fechter, a 19th century actor / manager, developed a more workable (9 scenes, 5 acts + Prologue, cast of 24) adaption. This version, starring James O'Neill, was first presented on the massive stage of New York's Booth Theatre in February 1883.

Richard Chamberlain as Edmond Dantes,
The Count of Monte Cristo (1975, TV Movie)

The Count of Monte Cristo (Part 1 of 11)

11. Who performed it in the United States during the late 19th century?

James O'Neill as Monte Cristo
James O'Neill (1847-1920), an acknowledged Shakespearean actor, played the title role of Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, at least 6000 times over a 30 year period. His performance was recorded on film by Edwin Porter in 1913.

12. What was his relationship to Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)?

He is Eugene's father.

13. What type of plays did Alexandre Dumas, fils write?

Alexandre Dumas, fils
Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824-1895) wrote, what he believed, were realistic dramas. But most modern directors see his plays as being very romantic.

    What was his relationship to Alexandre Dumas, père?

He was his son.

14. What is the title of his (A. Dumas, fils) most often revived work?

La Dame aux camélias', known as Camille in the English speaking world, began life in 1848 as a novel. Four years later, in 1852, Dumas, fils adapted his story of the love between Marguerite Gautier (a courtesane based on Marie Duplessis, the playwright's real-life lover) and a young, Armand Duval to the French stage. In 1853 it becomes the source of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata.

15. Why is it now considered a romantic, and not realistic drama?

What was "here and now" in 1852 is now "long ago and far away."

16. What is the title of Edmund Rostand's most important work?

Edmund Rostand
Edmund Rostand (1868-1918) is best remembered for Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), the story of a 17th century (1619-1655) French nobleman (with a very large nose) and his love for his cousin Roxanne.

17. What position does it hold in dramatic literature?

It is probably the best example of a 19th century romantic drama.

Jose Ferrer as Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

Cyrano de Bergerac

18. What position does Johann Wolfgang von Goethe hold in German literature?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Goethe (1749-1832) is Germany's greatest literary figure. He is to German literature what Shakespeare is to English drama, and Moliere is to French comedy.

19. What is his most important play?

Faust (Part I: 1808, Part II: 1831): the story of a man, Henrich Faust, (suggested by the life of Dr. Johann Georg Faust (1480-1540), an itinerant alchemist, astrologer, and magician) who sells his soul to Mephistopheles, the devil for all knowledge. Mephistopleles will be Faust's servant on earth, and Faust will be the devil's servant in the after-life.

20. What German theatre did he manage?

He was the manager of the state theatre at Weimar. He required his actors to attend rehearsals. He permitted only two responses from his audiences. If they liked the show they could applaud. If they did not like the show they could remain silent.

21. What are the characteristics of a melodrama?

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Melodrama contained a spotless hero who was usually falsely accused (but cleared by the last act) and an evil black hearted villain (who was often a banker or lawyer). Background music underscored sentimental speeches and the action sequences, just like in a film. The greatest excitement was the chase.

22. How large an audience did the 19th century melodramas attract?

Melodrama developed the largest popular audience in American theatre history.

23. What was the title of America's most successful 19th century melodrama?

Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was based on Harriet Beacher Stowe's novel of the same name. The play, adapted by George Aiken, was written in six acts, included 30 scenes, and was performed by a cast of 25. There were American productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin into the 1930's.

24. What was the importance of the showboat to the westward movement of the American theatre?

"Major Bowes' Amateurs In Person" on the Golden Rod Floating Theatre

In the early part of the 19th century, most major American cities were built along a river (usually the Mississippi or Ohio) or a canal. Mounting a theatre on a flat boat, and taking the show to the major cities along the river was an efficient way to tour, and no "western" community was large enough to support a resident theatre company.

William Chapman's two hundred seat Floating Theatre is considered America's first showboat. Starting in 1831, it traveled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. By thy 1850s there were dozens of showboats plyings the water ways of the midwest. They continued to operate into the middle of the 20th century. In the late 1950s, the Golden Rod, pictured above, was permanently docked on the St. Louis waterfront. It was the home of an acting company who performed classic 19th century melodrama, like The Drunkard (1844) and The Octoroon (1859), each weekend. I saw a number of these productions while I was living in southern Illinois.

The American showboat was immortalized first in the novel by Edna Ferber (Show Boat, 1926), and later in the Jerome Kern - Oscar Hammerstein II musical: Show Boat, (1928).

25. What types of plays did they present?


25a. Where was Aberdeen's first theatre located?

According to the Early History of Brown County (1965), Aberdeen's first "theatre" was located in a hall above Frenchie's Saloon. In a 1973 taped oral-history interview, Lorraine Roesch quoted her mother, Mrs. A. N. Aldrich (one of Aberdeen's pioneer families) saying "I remember Aberdeen's first theatre upstairs over a saloon with a stairway up the outside of the building. Here I saw the drama: The Two Orphens by a traveling troupe."

25b. Who built Aberdeen's first opera house?

In September 1884, three years after the railroad arrived, Charles Gottschalk (1860-1944) opened the National Skating Rink, a large wooden structure located on the south east corner of Lincoln Street and Third Avenue. This enterprise lasted about six months. Three years later, in 1887, Gottshcalk turned what had been his indoor skating rink into the Aberdeen Opera House (also known as the Gottschalk Opera House or simply, The Gottschalk). This was Aberdeen's first playhouse. It had a seating capacity of 700 and a 40 foot wide by 25 foot deep stage with a 20' by 14' proscenium opening.

The New Gottschalk Opera House & Hotel -- 1902-1910

The original Gottschalk burned in 1902 and was replaced with another wooden structure the same year. The second Opera House, which was somewhat larger (Seating capacity: 860, Stage: 54' wide by 30' deep by 44' high, Proscenium: 30' wide by 22' high), burned eight years later (1910) in one of Aberdeen's most spectular fires. It was replaced in May 1913 by the new, fire proof, Aberdeen Theatre (Seating capacity: 940; Stage: 54' wide by 34' deep by 54' high; Proscenium: 32' by 25') which in November of 1914 became the Orpheum Theatre. Aberdeen was one of twenty-six South Dakota towns with at least one theatre or opera house listed in the 1908-09 issue of the Julius Cahn - Gus Hill Theatrical Guide. The Guide, which was the "bible" of the theatrical booking agent, gave the seating capacity and stage dimensions of the houses available to the traveling rep companies.

The Gottschalk Opera House Fire -- July 1910

25c. Who used Aberdeen's opera house?

Mlle Rhea
The Gottschalk was used primarily for local political meetings, church revivals, school graduations, and amateur theatricals. Once or twice a month a professional acting company would arrive in town and present a repertory of two to five plays. They traveled by rail bringing their props and costumes with them and expecting the local theatre to provide the needed scenery and furniture. They would stay in a local hotel for two day to a week performing a differnt show each night. If their visit was successful, the company would return the following year with new scripts.

In September 1888, Mlle. Rhea and Her Grand Company of Players were in Aberdeen for two days. They presented two plays at the Gottschalk: Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Adrienne Lecouvreur, a French tragedy by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouve. Tickets were priced at $ 1.00 ($ 24.00 in 2010 dollars). Mlle. Rhea (Hortense-Berbe Loret, 1844-1899) was a popular, well known Belgium born and French trained, European actress who performed for 17 years in Brussels, Rouen, Paris, St Petersburg and London. She arrived in the United States in 1881. She performed her repertory in a heavily accented English.

Probably the most successful touring company to play Aberdeen was the Clint and Bessie Robbins Company of Youth and Cleverness. They appeared annually on the stages of the Orpheum and Capital Theatres for nearly 20 years from the late 1910s through the mid 1930s. In the fall of 1928, Clint and Bessie Robbins and their company of 13 actors were in town for six days. They gave six performances of three plays: The Behaviour of Mrs. Crane, Stella Dallas and The Noose on the stage of the Orphum Theatre. Their last visit was in the late 30s and they were forced to perform in a tent because no theatres were available. By the early 40s most of the traveling shows had left the business, a victim of the movies who had stolen both their theatres and their audience. According to Billboard magazine, in January 1942 the Robbins were operating a gift shop in southern California and in 1944 they were working at a defense plant in Portland, Oregon,

26. What French playwrights are remembered for developing the tightly wrought drama known as the "well-made-play?"

Eugene Scribe
Eugene Scribe (1791-1861) and Victorien Sardou (1831-1908). Scribe has been credited with 300 scripts, mostly comedies. Sardou is the author of Tosca (1887) a romantic tragedy written for Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) the leading French actress of her day. It was adapted into an opera by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) in 1900.

     What effect did this formula have on later playwrights?

Elements of the well-made-play formula were used by the early realistic playwrights, especially Henrik Ibsen.

27. What are the characteristics of a well-made-play?

  1. Extensive exposition and careful preparation (fore shadowing) early in the play,
  2. A tightly knit cause-and-effect arrangement of plot incidents,
  3. Each scene builds to a strong climax (or crisis),
  4. A secret known to the audience, but not to the play's characters,
  5. A "show down" or confrontational scene between the play's two major characters near the climax, and
  6. A careful resolution of the action so there are no loose ends.

28. What was the star system? What was its relationship to the actor-manager system of production?

In the star system, the production is built around the lead actor, the "star". He owned the company. His wife was usually the leading lady, and his son and daughter would often play the "romantic" leads. Plays were selected to show off the star's talents. The supporting cast was there to assist the star.

The star-system was an outgrowth of the actor-manager system which dates back to the English Restoration.

29. How does it differ from the ensemble approach to acting?

In the ensemble approach, there are no stars. There are leading roles, simply because that's the way plays are written. But the actor who played the lead in one production, would have a supporting role in the next show. In the star system, the star played all of the leads, all the time.

30. What were some of the acting techniques used by the stars which made it difficult for them to perform subtle realistic drama?

It was a sin for the star to rehearse. He stood at the front edge of the stage and spoke directly to the audience. The audience would often applaud at the end of a scene. If there was enough applause, the star might do an encore.

31. Why did 19th century actors perform at the front edge of the stage?

If an actor moved too far up stage (away from the primary light source: footlights), he would be in the dark.

32. Who was Edwin Booth?

Edwin Booth as Hamlet
Edwin Booth (1833-1893) was America's leading 19th century Shakespearean actor. He used a subtle, psychological approach. He brought Shakespeare to the American stage, using for the first time, a full accurate script. In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, he performed Hamlet for one hundred consecutive nights, setting a record that would stand until the 1922-1923 John Barrymore production at New York's Sam H Harris Theatre. He briefly retired from the stage after his brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. See the photo of Edwin Booth as Hamlet on page 329.

     Sir Henry Irving?

Sir Henry Irving as Hamlet
Before arriving in London in 1866, Henry Irving (1838-1905) had performed in Sunderland (1856), Edinburgh (1857-1860), Manchester (1860-1865) and Liverpool (1865). With performances of Hamlet (1874), Macbeth (1875) and Othello (1876) he gained a reputation as England's greatest actor. In 1878, after forming a partnership with actress Ellen Terry, he became actor-manager of London's Lyceum Theatre where they successfully revived Goethe's Faust and Shakespeare's Hamlet. In 1895 he became the first actor in British history to be Knighted.

     Sarah Bernhardt?

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), "The Divine Sarah" debuted on the stage of the Comédie Française in 1862. After a successful 14 year career in France she arrived in London (1876) where she quickly established herself as the leading actress of the day. Her first (of nine) American tours was four years later in 1880. (Her last American visit was in 1918). In 1899 she founded, in Paris, the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt. The same year, at the age of 55, she played the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet in Paris, London and New York. In 1900 she took her talent before the camera making eleven films including both Alexandre Dumas' fils La Dame aux Camélias (1910 and 1912) and La Tosca (1909). Even though her left leg was amputated at the age of 71 (1915), she continued to perform, playing parts she could act while seated, until her death in 1923. During her 62-year career, she played some 70 roles, all in French, in more than 125 productions. She is probably the first truly international star.

33. Who were the two men who brought about the change from the stars system to the ensemble system?

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Georg II, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1826-1914).

34. Who was Richard Wagner?

Wagner was one of Germany's most influential 19th century opera composers and theatrical producers. He believed that drama should be "dipped in the magic fountain of music" to combine the greatness of Shakespeare with that of Beethoven.

35. What was his theory concerning the importance of the director?

He believed all elements of a production should come under the control of one man, the all powerful director who would synthesize the theatrical elements into a Gesamtkunstwerk, or "a master art work."

36. What German manager showed the world that it was possible to produce romantic drama in a realistic style?

Georg II
Duke of Saxe-Meiningen
Georg II, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, operated a small, professional court theatre. He used the ensemble system of production. He believed in a long (six to eight months) rehearsal period. His sets and costumes were historically accurate. He used a realistic style of production, but the plays he presented were romantic. He toured his company for 16 years (1874 to 1890) and influenced production techniques in Paris and Moscow.

Set for Cathy from Heilbronn by Heinrich von Kleist (1810)
Painted by the Brueckner Brothers, Coburg, for the Meiningen Company

37. What were his two most often performed productions?

William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Friedrich Schiller's (1759-1805) William Tell (1804).

38. What is a stock set?

A collection of "generic" sets which the theatre manager would use for his company's productions

    What were some of the scenic designs theatre managers stocked?

A small local theatre would own at least four basic designs, a...
  1. Kitchen set,
  2. Parlor set,
  3. Woodland scene, and
  4. City street scene.
The manager would decide which of these four designs would best fit the settings required for each play he presented. The action was set either in the city or in the country (woodland scene) and delt with the lives of the rich (who lived in the parlor) or the poor (who seemed to spend most of their time in the kitchen).

39. Why did 19th century directors object to their use?

Directors, like Georg II, the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, believed that a new, and different, set (or sets) should be designed for each production.

40. What is a box set?

Set for Plaza Suite

An interior set which uses flats (wood frames covered with canvas) to create the back and side walls, and often ceiling, of a "realistic" room.

    How does it differ from a wing-border-backdrop set?

Set for Fiddler on the Roof

The side "walls" in a wing-border-backdrop set are placed parallel to the front edge of the stage. In a box set, these "side walls" are turned so they run diagonal from up stage to down stage.

Box Set

Wing-Border-Backdrop Set

41. What changes did the box set force on the design of the stage floor?

With the development of the more realistic box set, the raked stage floor, which had been around since the renaissance, was replaced with a flat stage floor. Stage hands discovered it was difficult to handle the side walls of a box set on a slanted floor.

42. What is the fourth-wall concept?

Denis Diderot
According to French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) the scenic artist should create a "real" room (four walls) then remove one of these walls so the audience can watch the action of the play unfold on stage.

    How did it effect the actors?

In a realistic production, the focus of the action should remain with in the confines of the "room". As for as the actor is concerned, there is no audience, only the other characters in the "room."

43. When did gas lamps replace candles and oil lamps as the primary source of light in the theatre?

In the first third of the 19th century. Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre was outfitted with gas light in 1816.

44. What was the gas table?

A collection of valves used by the gasman to control the intensity of light. For the first time it became practical to dim the house lights forcing the audience to focus their attention on the stage.

45. What was a limelight?

The 19th century spotlight which created the brilliant pool of light that followed the "star," hence the origin of the phrase "He's in the limelight." The light was produced by heating a block of calcium carbonate (lime) to incandescence with a oxyo-hydrogen torch.

    How was it used?

It was used both as a follow spot and the source of theatrical beams of sunlight and moonlight.

46. When did the electric light replace the gas lamp as the major source of theatrical light?

In the 1880's. London's Savoy Theatre, the home of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta's, was, in 1881, the first theatre to be totally lit by electricity.

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Last updated: December 1, 2011
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