lunes, 4 de diciembre de 2023

The Caroline and Commonwealth Theatre

 Chapter 7 of the Cambridge Illustrated History of British Theatre, by Simon Trussler.

The accession of Charles I in 1625 was overshadowed by the severest outbreak of plague since 1603—ironically, the year in which his father had come to the throne. Though the disease had remained endemic, prohibitions against playing during James's reign had generally been brief: now its more severe recurrence put the very survival of the weaker companies at risk. Apart from losing their 'ordinary poet', John Fletcher, in the outbreak of 1625, the King's Men were thus alone in weathering a closure of the theatres which lasted from James's death in late March until the following December. By then Charles had transferred his own protection, ex officio as it were, to the King's —whither the leading players of his former troupe, the Prince's also found their way.


As Shakespeare's near-contemporaries (and first editors) Heminges and Condell began to bow out of the company's affairs, its management fell increasingly into the hands of John Lowin—a stalwart member since 1603, whose speciality lay in bluff confidants and insidious malcontents—and a more recent arrival, John Taylor, who had taken on Burbage's 'line' of parts following the great actor's death in 1619.

Philip Henslowe had also died in 1616, and Palsgrave's Men had barely recovered from this misfortune (ending an association which went back to their Elizabethan origins under the Lord Admiral) when the fire at the Fortune in 1621 consumed their precious prompt-books. For them the plague closure proved a fatal blow—as it did also for the Lady Elizabeth's Men, who had previously occupied Christopher Beeston's Phoenix (or Cockpit) theatre in Drury Lane. Beeston, having disbanded the company proceeded to combine its best players with Queen Anne's to form a troupe headed by Richard Perkins, probably the best-known actor of the day. For this he successfully sought the protection of Charles's bride of a few months, Queen Henrietta Maria, who at the time was enjoying a honeymoon with all loyal subjects by virtue of being French—almost a White Queen for their new White King.

Measured by the frequency of their calls to perform at court, Queen Henrietta's went on to achieve a success second only to the King's, and were the only other troupe to be honoured with a grant of royal livery. But when a later, devastating outbreak of plague kept the theatres shut for an even longer spell, from May 1636 to November 1637, Beeston threw out the company in favour of a new troupe, in part composed of children, which became known simply as "Beeston's Boys." A new Queen Henrietta's thereupon began to play at the Salisbury Court—the latest indoor playhouse, built in 1629 just to the west of the Blackfriars, between Fleet Street and the Thames.

The second Fortune had reopened in 1625 with a company which united the remnants of the Palsgrave's Men with others of the Lady Elizabeth's, to become known as the King and Queen of Bohemia's. It thus revived and combined the patronate-in-exile of the popular couple, with whose distant troubles all good protestants felt common cause, despite the unbrotherly inertia of the King. The new company does not seem to have survived beyond 1629, when its manager Richard Gunnell went over to the King's Revels—a troupe created to open the Salisbury Court, with the declared aim of training boy players for the King's Men. Beset by financial problems, this company (by then composed manily of adults) disappeared from view after the closure of 1636-37.

The birth of an heir to the throne led in 1631 to the creation of a new company of Prince Charles's Men, which also played briefly at the Salisbury Court. But Prince Charles's were later to be found either at the Fortune or at the Red Bull, the surviving outdoor theatres beyond the northern City boundaries, where they alternated with a company of doubtful provenance known as the Red Bull-King's Men. Since the Globe was now the only theatre remaining on Bankside, the addition of the Salisbury Court to the Blackfriars and the Phoenix meant that there were now as many 'private' indoor theatres as there were outdoor playhouses—though the seating capacity of the 'public' theatres was of course far larger, since the indoor houses played to a self-limiting, wealthier clientele.

(Illust.): Richard Perkins (c. 1585-1650) was the first Flamineo in Webster's The White Devil at the Red Bull in 1612, and was singled out for praise by the author for his 'well-approved industry', which 'did crown both the beginning and the end'. Perkins had joined Worcester's (alter Queen Anne's) Men in 1601, and after the death of Thomas ('Tu quoque') Greene in 1612 became their leading player. From 1625 he was with the new company of Queen's Men at the Phoenix, where his friend Heywood commended his performance as Barabas in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta.


The received wisdom that a once-homogenous Elizabethan audience became fragmented during the Jacobean period when the supposed elite defected to the private playhouses has, however, recently been disputed—one scholar actually contending that few of the 'unprivileged' even of Elizabethan London could have afforded either the time or money to visit a theatre. Yet, apart form requiring the 'privileged' to be almost fanatically frequent in their theatregoing, this view would make foolhardy the practice of the King's Men, after their move to the Blackfriars, of returning to the much larger Globe for the summer—when the legal profession was on vacation and most of fashionable society out of town. And, so far as the Caroline period is concerned, it also discounts derisive contemporary references to 'the meaner sort of people' said to attend the remaining outdoor playhouses.

What little we know of the repertoire of the public theatres does suggest an audience not only less upmarket but apparently less up-to-date—one which still relished the devils of Faustus, the battles of Tamburlaine, or the Machiavellian intrigues of The Jew of Malta, along with the easygoing certainties of the old chronicles, while also approving plays which portrayed the tribulations and triumphs of merchants and apprentices. The handful of new plays which have come down to us from these theatres also suggests their audiences' predilection for works of 'low life and roguery among brothels and prisons', as the theatre historian Martin Butler puts it, or even such a 'full-blown adventure packed with spectacle, devilry, and magic' as The Seven Champions of Christendom by John Kirke (c. 1638).

We should beware of taking at face value the glib dismissals of these theatres from contemporary writers who were, in truth, less concerned about their old-fashioned tastes than their new-fangled politics. As broadsides and pamphlets increasingly provided their own kind of outlets for popular discontents, the popular theatre—whose capacity for survival proved formidable—began to give these a dramatic focus. But the public playhouses, although the protests they voiced were the most radical, wer not alone in offering a theatrical critique of the government—especially after 1629, when Charles began his ill-fated eleven-year experiment in personal rule, and the theatre became one of the many public forms for an opposition that was now, perforce, extra-parliamentary.


To the ever-more-politicized theatre of the decade or so before the Civil Wars we shall return later in the present chapter. But the government, of course, already had its own theatrical mouthpiece, in London's 'third theatre'—that of Charles's court. When his father's Banqueting Hall in Whitehall had burned down in 1619, Inigo Jones was ready with plans for a new building within three months, and by 1622 this was in regular use. However, the installation of Rubens's ceiling panels in 1635 necessitated a change of venue to a temporary hall of similar size next door, lest the masterpiece be damaged by smoke from the thousands of torches and candles required for the masking. Mainly for visiting professionals, Jones also built, in 1629-30, the 'Cockpit at Court', which is illustrated and described [here:]

(Illust.): Reconstruction of the Cockpit in Court by Richard Leacroft, from the extant plans of Inigo Jones. Built in 1629-30 (and so-called to distinguish it from Beeston's theatre in Drury Lane), this was better suited than Jones's new Banqueting House to the twenty or so plays brought to court each year by the professional companies. Here, the King sat enthroned on a miniature stage of his own, directly facing the actors—the seating plan ensuring that no spectator could entirely turn his back on the royal presence.

Queen Henrietta Maria soon became the dominant influence over royal theatricals. At first, her great love was for pastoral—that curious idealization of supposed rustic innocence, of which Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess (c. 1608) had been a pioneering example in the English drama. For her first Christmas at court she outraged convention by requiring the ladies-in-waiting (who customarily combined their decorative presence with decorous silence) to take on speaking roles in the French pastoral L'Arténice—even persuading them into beards for the male parts.

In 1632 the Queen hired Joseph Taylor from the King's Men to rehearse her amateur cast (and herself) in another pastoral, The Shepherd's Paradise, which took some seven hours to perform. Taylor was rewarded with £100, which was more than generous for a common player, while the total of £2,500 given to the courtly author, Walter Montague, appears the more astonishing set against the fee of £10 for the outright sale of the play to one of professional companies.

A few years earlier, in 1629, there had been great public outrage when a visiting French company, which included actresses, had tried to play a season at the Blackfriars, and it was probably this occasion which the Puritan lawyer William Prynne had in mind when he attacked 'women actors, notorious whores' in his anti-theatrical pamphlet Histrio-Mastix, the Player's Scourge—which, however, was published just ten days before the performance of Montague's play during the New Year celebrations of 1633. Prynne was savagely punished for his supposed libelling of the Queen, even to the painful indignity of losing his ears: and the Inns of Court, to which Prynne had belonged until debarred for his crime, made recompense by mounting James Shirley's shrovetide masque The Triumph of Peace, processing to stage it at Whitehall, and later in the City, in the presence of the King and Queen.

With the ageing Ben Jonson out of favour, and no longer demonstrating and defending the literary potential of the masque, this became an ever more spectacular affair as Charles's reign progressed. Inigo Jones was now able to subdue the ambitions of more compliant dramatists to the whims of his scenographic genius—as he was still doing on the very eve of the Civil Wars, when Sir William Davenant's Salmacida Spolia (1640)  paid its elaborate allegorical compliment to an all-wise King and a prudent, pregnant Queen for averting, through their 'secret power', the threats of 'Discord, a malicious Fury' and her malignant spirits.

(llustr.): Designs by Inigo Jones for the final masque of Charles's reign, Davenant's Salmacida Spolia (1640). This opens by acknowledging that the King has to 'live and govern in a sullen age'—but soon Concord and the Good Genius of Great Britain appear, to acclaim one whose 'secret wisdom' will outlast 'those storms the people's giddy fury raise.' It was during this last chorus that the pregnant Queen and her ladies descended from the 'huge cloud of various colours' here illlustrated, costumed 'in Amazonian habits of carnation, embroidered with silver, with plumed helms'.

(Illustr.): Portrait by Van Dyck of Inigo Jones (1573-1652). Appointed to the household of James I's young heir apparent, Prince Henry, in 1604, within a year Jones was using perspective scenery for the first time in the English court theatre. He introduced the proscenium arch to 'frame' his stage pictures, used elaborate continental devices for the transformation of scenes—and even experimented with colored lighting, using candles ranged behind tinted glass. When, in 1619, he designed the Banqueting House in Whitehall, he had installed sophisticated devices for the raising and lowering of scenery. After the last of his many quarrels with Jonson over precedence, in 1631, he overawed other masque writers, and was approaching seventy when he produced his last designs, for Salmacida Spolia (...). He died in poverty during the Commonwealth. 

Literary critics have tended to bemoan the triumph of decoration in the Caroline masque. Aganst this, it is argued that the masque was only now discovering itself as essentially a visual and musical medium—which, incidentally but crucially, was formative to the development of English scenography. Yet it must finally be conceded that the form came to mirror and even to encourage Charles's increasing detachment from political and social realities. If the pastoral prettified an actually discontented countryside, the masque became a substitute instead of a symbol for the King's relationship with his people—in both cases, theatricality as wish-fulfilment.

Among the other 'cavalier dramatists' of Charles's court were Sir John Suckling, Sir John Denham, and Sir William Berkeley, whose The Lost Lady, staged in 1637, celebrated the ideal of platonic love which the Queen had for some years been cultivating—a convenient cover for her political intrigues, which demanded the unswerving devotion of courtly male 'servants' without threatening the sanctity of her marriage with the King (which, in ironic contrast with his father's and his son's, remained a model of domestic harmony). Jonson had both imitated and parodied the dramatic possibilities of the emergent neoplatonic cult in one of his last plays, The New Inn (1629): unsurprisingly, it was a flop, for few beyond the charmed and self-deceiving circles of the court could make even satirical connections between the convolutions of courtly role-playing and the harsh actualitites of life in an increasingly discontented kingdom.

Although the King's Men dutifully took a number of plays by the cavalier dramatists from the court to the public stage of the Blackfriars, it is significant that these never seem to have survived the transfer for long—though the costumes that came with them were no doubt gratefully recycled by the tire-man. Indeed, in the two-way traffic between court and theatre, only Davenant proved equally competent and successful in both. In the single year of 1634, for instance, he was anticipating eponymously in The Wits the favourite character types of Restoration comedy and in Love and Honour the heroic abstractions of its tragedy, and within another twelvemonth he had produced an old-style Jonsonian comedy, News from Plymouth, for the Globe, while accomodating the niceties of neoplatonism in The Temple of Love—one of the several court masques in which he submitted to the twin disciplines of allegory and Inigo Jones. But in other respects, as we shall see later, he was very much his own man.


Among the professional dramatists who had learned their craft in the Jacobean theatre, Philip Massinger—who took over as regular dramatist for the King's Men following Fletcher's death—and his close contemporary John Ford were competent and prolific writers, whose skill lay in their ability to sense and give dramatic shape to the uncertainties of the new reign. As Charles's absolutist ambitions became clearer, 'opposition' began to imply independence not just of means but of ends—not only rejection of a monarch's advisors, but repudiation of the actions of the King himself. The average citizen was beginning to recognize that the patterns of court behaviour and morality were not necessarily either the best or even the most convenient: and the 'accepted order' began to appear neither very acceptable nor even (which to the middle classes was more threatening) capable of maintaining an appearance of social stability.

If Massinger's line of tragi-comedy was less fluent and easygoing than Fletcher's, this was, then, because the self-consciousness to which some critics have objected derived from an uncertainty of values which was entirely characteristic of the age. The alleged prurience of the incest theme in Ford's best-remembered work, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (c. 1632) reflects a similar sense that new rules mught be needed for new situations: 'unnatural' love may only lead to self-destruction within the constraints of tragedy, but here it is allowed to speak for itself, and threatens to transcend generic as well as moral boundaries.

So Massinger and Ford, familiarly believed to represent a drama in its decadence, may alternatively be understood as theatricalizing their own astonishment at the world they were opening up. If their tragedies and tragi-comedies remain second-rate, as charged by the influential poet-critic T. S. Eliot, it is because the dilemmas they pose are not easily accomodated within the formulaic patterns of those genres—whereas their comedies remain alive (if largely ignored) because here the form gives bewilderment to its own comedic dignity and slightly subversive triumph. Thus, Massinger's best-known work in the genre, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1625) juxtaposes the conventional expectations of city comedy with the actual sympathies aroused for 'country' values—while The City Madam (1632) is as much a 'problem play' as a comedy proper, its resolution no less ambiguous than that of Measure for Measure. As with so much Caroline drama, one's response depends on whether one feels that the dramatist is purposefully  posing the problem, or compounding it by evasion of the moral issues.

We look separately [below] at the social comedies of James Shirley and Richard Brome—whose usual theatre, the Salisbury Court, played host on occasion to companies otherwise to be found outdoors. Indeed, we find in its repertoire fewer plays calculated to appeal to courtly tastes than we might expect: and it was here in 1635 that Nathaniel Richards's Messalina reached the stage—a play that could be and was interpreted as downright puritanical in its critique of courtly extravagance and the self-indulgence of the rich. Audiences in the Phoenix, too, must have enjoyed the affirmation of mercantile and yeoman values to be found in the plays of Beeston's old colleague, the still prolific Thomas Heywood, who wrote regularly for Queen Henrietta's in the early 1630s.


Heywood achieved a modest success at court with Love's Mistress in 1634, and, perhaps, in consequence, went on to spend two years with the King's Men, collaborating with Brome on the topical piece The Late Lancashire Witches and the lost but significantly titled The Apprentice's Prize. However, after the plague closure of 1636-37 Heywood seems to have written no more for the stage, though his prose output from then until his death in 1641 shows if anything a final flowering rather than any diminution of his prodigious energies. As titles of pamphlets such as The Black Box of Rome Opened and The Jesuits Taken in Their Own Net suggest, the stalwart old Elizabethan may have decided that pamphleteering was a better way of supporting the opposition. Not all dramatists felt that way, however, and in the course of the 1630s the theatre became increasingly responsive to the concerns of those who were critical of Charles's authoritarian rule.

Among extant plays of that decade, Henry Glapthorne's Albertus Wallenstein thus glorified the protestant cause in its struggles abroad, while an anonymous piece, The Valiant Scot, found an historical analogy for the presbyterian church's defiance of Charles's attempts to impose an Anglican liturgy in Scotland. And the titles of many among the numerous lost plays, particularly from the remaining public theatres—Dekker's Gustavus, King of Sweden, Heywood and Brome's The Wars of the Low Countries, the anonymous Play of the Netherlands—suggest that clear (if sometimes historically analogous) connections were made with current events.

For a few years before the close of 1642, it seemed almost as though the theatre was conspiring to offend the authorities. In 1639 the Red Bull company at the Fortune had been fined and some of its actors imprisoned for performing 'a new old play', now lost, called The Cardinal's Conspiracy, which was said to ridicule the Church—and they proceeded to compound their offence with a revival of The Valiant Scot. Later in the same year Prince Charles's Men were brought before the Privy Council when The Whore New Vamped, an attack on custom-farming, was claimed to have 'reflected upon the present government'. Then, in the following spring, Beeston's Boys at the Salisbury Court staged Brome's unlicensed The Court Beggar, perceived by Charles as an attack upon his expedition into Scotland. The actors, defying a royal command to cease playing, were eventually slapped into prison—along with their manager William Beeston,who had only just inherited the theatre on his father's death in 1638. The trusted Davenant was installed, unsuccessfully and briefly, as manager in his place.

The man responsible for Beeston's imprisonment was the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Pembroke—co-dedicatee with his brother of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays. Symptomatically of the shifting loyalties of the times, Permbroke was himself dismissed in the following year for negotiating and recommending to Charles unacceptable peace terms with the Scots, and for subsequently supporting the impeachment of Strafford. The historian Margot Heinemann actually supects Pembroke of complicity in Christopher Beeston's ousting of Queen Henrietta's Men, and identifies numerous other 'opposition' plays in the repertoire of his 'Boys'.

Even at the respectable Blackfriars, that cautious career-dramatist Shirley can scarcely have been unconscious of the parallels with Laud's downfall in his tragedy The Cardinal of 1641—while in the same year and at the same theatre Jonson's last patron, the Duke of Newcastle, dared in The Variety not only to satirize courtiers but even to parody that last resort of Caroline self-deception, the court masque. By this time, not only were such plays alluding directly or indirectly to the current situation, but ever more explicit dramatic dialogues were appearing in profusion in pamphlet form.

Few of these, perhaps, were intended for performance, but Richard Overton's A New Play Called Canterbury His Change of Diet (1641), does bear marks of having reached the stage: thus, an engraving in the published text, [reproduced alongside], not only depicts Archbishop Laud in company with a mocking stage clown, but imprisons him in a 'property' cage such as revivals of Tamburlaine would have left ready to hand. The 'play' has been aptly compared with the French proto-absurdist Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi for its blend of broad but biting satire and surreal slapstick (part of the 'diet' that Laud is forced to change is his taste for human ears, poor Prynne's having proved an addictive morsel).

(Illustration:) "A new PLAY called CANTERBURIE His Change of Diet. Which sheweth variety of wit and mirth: privately acted neire the Palace-yard at Westminster. In th' 1st the Bishop of Canterbury having variety of dainties, is not satisfied till he be fed with tippets of mens eares. In th' 2  Act, he hat his nose held to the Grinde-stone. In th' 3 Act, he is put into a birdCage with the Confessor. In th'4 Act, the Jester tells the King the Story. Printed Anno Domini, 1641."

Title page of a pamphlet-play by the puritan satirist Richard Overton, A New Play Called Canterbury His Change of Diet (1641). The woodcut shows the third act, in which the impeached Archbishop Laud and a Jesuit priest are brought on in a 'great bird cage together, and a fool standing by, and laughing at them'. Although the piece is thought by some not to have been intended for the stage, its very brevity suggests its possible use as a jig. Such properties as are required would have been readily available—the cage, for example, from the ever-popular Tamburlaine.

Despite the political confusion—to some extent because of it, in view of the loosening of the censorship it entailed—the season of 1641-42 looked propitious for the theatre. Brome was at the height of his powers as a truly exciting and innovative dramatist, and, although Massinger was recently dead, Shirley was back in London and in harness for the King's Men. Most important of all, the theatre seemed set to exploit its recently discovered potential as an agent for change, not merely a mirror of its causes and effects. Had Charles been reconciled to the political compromise for which all but his extremest opponents were working, it seems at least possible that, so far from dwindling into decadence, the later Caroline theatre would have survived its necessary unshackling from past glories to emerge with a renewed and vigorous sense of purpose.

Social playwrights of the Caroline Theatre:  The critic Margot Heinemann has usefully reminded us that the Mermaid collections which, from their first appearance in the late 1890s until the 1960s, remained the most accessible editions of 'the best plays of the old dramatists' for the average actor, teacher, or student, were at the time revolutionary in their editors' preference for plays which dealt frankly with sexual and emotional relationships. But the 'old Mermaids' often misrepresented a dramatist's full range, overlooking work which illuminated social or political themes—themes which, in the case of Caroline writers, tended better to suit the tight, 'well-made' plot construction of which James Shirley was perhaps the pre-eminent exponent.

Shirley began his theatrical career in 1625 as 'ordinary poet' for Queen Henrietta's Men at the Phoenix, worked in a similar capacity for the first permanent playhouse in Dublin during and after the plague of 1636-37, then returned to London after the death of Massinger in 1640 to fill the same role for the King's Men—a thoroughgoing professional, steadily productive and in continuous employment. Like Davenant, Shirley tends to look forwards rather than back, anticipating the Restoration in distilling the social 'manners' of his times into comedic form—and also, like Massinger, contrasting the values of 'the town' with those of 'the court' and 'the country', investigating and exploiting all these modes of behaviour with a typically Caroline sense of polite shock that there should be alternatives in such matters. 

At his best, as in The Example (1634), Shirley creates a chiaroscuro of local color within the framework of a confessedly mechanical plot. In two plays of 1632, The Ball and Hyde Park, the very titles reflect his discovery and exploration of new venues for social (and dramatic) mingling, away from the conventional confines of City and Whitehall. He writes of a leisured society at ease with itself, but aware of the tensions between classes and sexes, of shifting allegiances—and of the threat to leisure itself as the mark of a gentleman. 

Shirley's steady output averaged two plays a year—and when the reformed company of Queen Henrietta's Men went to the Salisbury Court in 1637, and Richard Brome took over as 'ordinary poet', we know from a lawsuit over his contract that this appears to have been a standard contractual expectation. Brome was less able to sustain such a pace—hence the necessity for the lawsuit—but his output, if less prolific than Shirley's, was in many ways more interesting, and intensely and consistently social in its range. In part for this reason, no doubt, Brome was not even accorded the passing immortality of a Mermaid edition, and his work remains extremely difficult to come by.
Brome was fond of directing satirical jibes not only at the cavalier playwrights and their tricksy staging techniques, but at the political system which the court, in the absence of a parliament, was increasingly assumed to represent. He blended the skill of his olf master Jonson in the depiction of everyday London life with the softer realism of a Dekker, the love of intrigue of a Middleton—and, less expectedly, the capacity of a Shakespeare for showing characters changed by their experiences. Yet his works, so far from seeming derivative, are a higly personal synthesis of their elements—as of others which foreshadow trends instead of following them.

The multiple levels of action in A Jovial Crew (1641) thus anticipate Pirandello in their creation of a complex sense of theatrical illusion—even to the imaginary author who reveals himself at the end. And the therapeutic playacting in The Antipodes (1638) amounts to a seventeenth-century variation upon psychodrama, set in a topsy-turvy world of inverted behaviour. Here, beggars are courtiers, usurers give charity, and ladies learn parrot-fashion—from parrots. Not only does Brome display zestful ingenuity in these carnivalesque inversions, but the juggling of moral values in his anti-London has the purposeful ambiguity of Swift's Gulliver stranded in Lilliput or Brobdingnag.

Others of Brome's plays touch more closely on the immediacies of an actual London where civil war was now imminent—but, almost to the end, not in the least expected. Charles himself saw Brome's The Court Beggar (1640) as a satire on his recent, disastrous Scottish campaign, and the play's depiction of foolish and corrupt courtier makes its own none-too-implicit comment upon the whole panoply of a personal government now in terminal decay.

As it was, the theatres were ordered to be closed immediately after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1642—'while these sad causes and sad times of humiliation do continue'. As this phrasing suggests, it is unlikely that more than a temporary closure—expected by the players to times of plague and during periods of royal mourning—was intended. Often claimed to be the long awaited revenge of rabid puritans, the closure was more probably the precautionary move of a still-moderate parliament concerned to secure the support of the respectable bourgeoisie, and worried by the new role of the public theatres as a mouthpiece for the people—thus potentially encouraging what would have been perceived as mob-rule.

Whatever the cause of the edict, its effect was the cessation of authorized playing for eighteen years. Very soon, this began to create problems for the members of what was now a well-organized profession, heavy with obligations to hirelings and landlords—a plight unavailingly described in a pamphlet of 1643 entitled The Actors' Remonstrance. As another, more satisfied source declared: 'They have beaten them out of their Cockpit, baited them at the Bull, and overthrown their Fortune"—and, it might have added, spun their Globe out of orbit, for its occupants, as befitted King's Men, had early volunteered for Charles's service, and by 1644 their old outdoor theatre had been demolished. In the following year the actors evidently found discretion the better part of loyalty, and threw themselves on the mercy of parliament: they were awarded their back pay, but given no hope for their future.

Yet playacting, despite its loss of legal sanction, did not altogether disappear. The Fortune was raided several times on account of illicit playing, and William Beeston was evidently active at the Salisbury Court at least until 1647, when soldiers broke up a performance of Beaumont and Fletcher's A King and No King. How many more such surreptitious occasions went undetected, and so unrecorded, we have no means of knowing—though the lull between the First and Second Civil Wars in 1647-48 evidently saw a more widespread resurgence of theatrical activity, necessitating a new ordinance to put it down. Eventually, this led to the demolition or wrecking of the interior of all the old playhouses—except, apparently and inexplicably, the Red Bull, which, despite the regular intervention of the authorities, seems to have kept going intermittently almost until the Restoration.

Printed plays, closet dramas, and drolls. One expedient available to dispossessed actors and poets was to publish their plays—which, of course, they could now do free from fear of poaching by their rivals. The clause in Brome's contract that he should not publish his work without his company's consent appears to have been a standard one: thus, typically, none of the plays written by Shirley for the King's Men between 1640 and 1642 was published during those years, but all were brought into print in 1653. And it was presumably to alleviate the hardships of the King's Men that in 1647 they published a folio of plays attributed (with varying accuracy) to the marketable partnership of Beaumont and Fletcher—only the third time, following Jonson and Shakespeare, that writers had been so honoured. Ironically and fruitlessly, the volume was dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke, now firm for the parliamentary cause.
 Numerous 'closet' dramas also found their way into print. Some, like those of the amiably eccentric Duchess of Newcastle, would have been unlikely ever to reach the stage—but others, such as those by Thomas Killigrew (whose long theatrical career began as a dramatist under Charles I), were published only as an unsatisfactory alternative to performance. However, one work which remained unpublished until after the Restoration was The Wits, a collection of brief and usually farcical pieces often taken from longer plays—as was Bottom the Weaver from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Such 'drolls' had come into their own during the interregnum, for they required only a clear space in a tavern or a fit-up stage hastily erected in a public place, and so were much less readily purt down than regular plays. 

The popularity of these pieces may have been in part responsible for the style and flavour of the propagandist playlets which continued to appear either in pamphlet form or in the newspapers or 'mercurys' that in the 1640s had begun to find a ready audience. Often reading like uptated versions of the political moralities of a century earlier,  these were probably written by authors who could also turn their hands to broadside ballads and chapbooks. Whether or not they were performed, outlets for them became severely restricted when unlicensed printing was suppressed in 1649, and only drolls on such age-old themes as sexual gulling and knock-about roguery survived. Although only briefly surfacing within the 'official' culture during this period of political and social ferment, the drolls derived from a popular tradition which predated the interregnum as surely as it was to survive it.
Ironically, the performing art which eventually achieved an official seal of approval under Cromwell's protectorate was aristocratic rather then popular in its origins. Music had always been more acceptable to the puritan mind than the drama, and masques were still occasionally performed—Shirley's Cupid and Death, for example, before the Portuguese ambassador in 1653, and Thomas Jordan's Fancy's Festivals in 1657. Then, in 1657, William Davenant—who, following two years of imprisonment as an active royalist, was seeking to revive his fortunes through his old profession—because the leading and most successful exponent of a new kind of music drama when, in his own home, he staged the so-called First Day's Entertainment at Rutland House.

This served as a dry-run for what turned out to be the first part of his The Siege of Rhodes—usually dignified as the earliest English opera, which it accidentally was, since it differed from the masque in that its dialogue was sung throughout. Inigo Jones's pupil, collaborator, and successor John Webb designed the scenery for Davenant's stage in a style which in everything except its domesticated scale anticipated that of the Restoration—as also did the presence of a woman among the amateur cast.

That Davenant was not especially aiming at an operatic format, but at any performing mode which might overcome official objections to the spoken drama, is suggested by his next piece, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, for which in 1658 he actually obtained authority to refurbish the old Phoenix theatre. This contained juggling, acrobatic, dramatic monologues, and even tight-rope walking within what was in effect a compilation bill—but which won approval by making its political points in conformity, with the anti-Spanish policy of the government. Eventually, by the time Davenant came to write The Second Part of the Siege of Rhodes in 1659, Cromwell was dead, General Monk about to make his move, and a Restoration expected: so Davenant simply reverted to the more traditional dramatic format of his past and many of his future successes.

Throughout the interregnum, there had been prominent support for reopening of the theatres on reformed lines—most notably from the poet and parliamentary supporter John Milton, who even drew up a list of appropriate biblical and historical themes. These would have carried suitable moral messages, sweetened with a few scenes of spectacle and even mild titillation, but were essentially modelled along the neoclassical lines he himself later employed for Samson Agonistes (1671). The composer Richard Flecknoe, too, wrote his closet Love's Dominion (1654) as a 'pattern for the reformed stage', which he tactfully proposed as 'an humble coadjutor of the pulpit'.

In the event, of course, 'reform' as it was understood by the returning monarch had to do not with the theatre's moral probity but with putting into effect the continental innovations which had impressed him in exile. As early as 1639, the ubiquitous Davenant had been projecting a scheme for a lavish new playhouse, where 'scenes', previouly only utilized for court performances, might be set—and Charles himself, his reformist and sexual zeal neatly coinciding, was anxious that 'the evil and scandal' of boys appearing in 'the habits of women' should be remedied by the employment of actresses. And so, as the critic John Dennis was later to recall, 'They altered at once the whole face of the stage by introducing scenes and women'.

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