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I. The Restoration in England

Before 1642 – the royalty supported the theatre.

1) In 1642, a civil war – the Puritan Revolution. Charles I was beheaded and the country’s leadership taken over by Oliver Cromwell (the Lord Protectorate)

2) From 1642 - 1660 Theatre was outlawed; it was connected with the monarchy and with "immoral," non-Puritan values.

3) The monarchy was restored in 1660. Charles I’s son, Charles II, was restored to the throne (thus, this period is called "the restoration"). He had been in France during the Interregnum, in the court of Louis XIV, who loved theatre. Charles II helped bring Italianate and French styles and staging to England.

The Drury Lane and Covent Gardens became the first theatres officially licensed during this period.


II. Restoration Comedy of Manners:

Characterized by:

1) Stock characters

2) Stock situations: Missed communication, deceit, arranged marriages. Witty dialog

3) Sophisticated sexual behavior of a highly artificial and aristocratic society

"virtue" comes form succeeding in catching a lover or cuckolding a husband without getting caught

"honor" comes from reputation, not integrity

"witty"—saying things in clever ways

4) Character names describe actor: (i.e.: Fidget, Squeamish, Witwould)

5) The comedy of manners pokes fun at the affectations, manners, and conventions of society.


III. Playwrights of the Restoration:

William Congreve (1670-1729) – The Way of the World (1700)

William Wycherly (1640-1715) – The Country Wife (1675)

George Etheridge (c. 1637-1691) – She Would If She Could (1668)

Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was one of the first woman playwrights of the Restoration.  Wrote eighteen plays.

 Early 1700’s moral plays became popular again.

Eighteenth Century Theatre


I. Rationalism

1) Restoration comedy, an aristocratic form of theatre, declined, at least in part because of the rise of a conservative Protestant (Puritan) middle class.

2) During the 1700’s, the concept of Rationalism (The Age of Reason), faith in reason, began to take over from faith in God.  Part of this led to the movement of Sentimentalism in the theatre. – Asserted that each person was essentially good.


II. Sentimentalism

1) Sentimentalism: characterized by a sympathetic response to misfortune.

Begins in England, 1690’s to 1730’s.

Sentimental Comedies / tearful comedies: more conservative, middle-class, sentimental, moralistic.

2) Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729)

The Conscious Lovers (1722) – sentimental comedy with protagonists drawn from the middle class. The 18th century view held that people are good; their instincts let them retain goodness. People could retain virtue by appealing to virtuous human feelings.

3) Oliver Goldsmith (1731-1774)

She Stoops to Conquer (1773) – mistaken identities, benign trickery, keep two lovers apart.

4) Richard Sheridan – The Rivals (1775 – Mrs. Malaprop was a character).

School for Scandal (1777)


III. Serious Drama in the 18th Century:

1) Joseph Addison (1672-1719) – Cato (1713) is considered a masterpiece.

Heroic Tragedy:

Dealt with conflicts between love and honor or duty, contained violent action.

These eventually declined in public favor – they were easily ridiculed and parodied.

2) Became replaced with more Neoclassical plays, such as:

John Dryden (1631-1700) – All for Love – a reworking of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, with neoclassical ideals.


Other 18th Century Forms:

1) Pantomimes – became popular by 1715 – combined dancing, mime (silent mimicry), done to music, with elaborate scenery and special effects – done as an afterpiece after plays. They combined commedia, farce, mythology.

2) The Harlequin came from these pantomimes – with his magic wand, the scenery would change. Primarily visual and aural entertainment.


Staging in the 18th Century Theatre

1) Theatres increased in size: from seating 650 people during the Restoration to 1500 people by 1750.

2) Women on stage-Acting companies used women for all female parts except witched and old women.

3) It was common for "lines of business" to emerge: the kind of role one would play and seldom stray from. Many companies used "possession of parts": an agreement that when an actor joins a company he "owns" a particular role.



Romanticism Theatre


The Age of Independence

The Rise of the middle class was occurring – trading and manufacturing joined agriculture as major sources of wealth.

1) Between 1750 and 1800, Romanticism took hold, and flourished between 1789 and 1843 in Europe.

The American Revolution (1770) and the French Revolution (1791) further asserted that men had freedom to act on their own consciences.

Often called the Age of Independence.


2) Romantic Plays, old and new, tended to appeal to emotions rather than intellect.

Special effects therefore focused on the supernatural and the mysterious – visual over verbal, sensational rather than intellectual..

3) Aristocrats tended to go to the opera and ballet, and more middle-class now went to the theatre.

4) Romanticism’s sub-category in Germany was sturm und drang.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [Guurr’ tuh) (1749-1832) – his plays characterized by sprawling action, long and arduous.

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) – William Tell (1804) – a stirring celebration of democracy, individualism, and nationalism.

5) In France – Victor Hugo’s Hernani (1830) -- caused a riot. Should long-accepted Romantic ideals be allowed in France’s National Theatre? Remember, the French Academy had determined that all French plays would be neoclassical in form!!

It contained elevated language, noble characters, and the five-act form, and was thus Neoclassical;

However, it also had common people as some important characters, struggles with a ruler, violence and death, and humor -- and was thus NOT neoclassical.

Eventually, Romanticism won out.

Actors During the Romantic Period:

The Kembles – dominated English theatre till 1815:

Edmund Kean (1787-1833) – considered to "perfect" the romantic style. Usually played villainous roles.

William Charles Macready (17930-1873) – a compromise between the Kembles and Kean – careful rehearsals, detailed characterizations. He popularized historical accuracy in settings and costumes.

In France: Sarah Bernhardt (1845-1923) -- specialized in "breeches roles" (women playing men)

Edwin Booth (1833-1893) – brother of John Wilkes Booth – famous for interpretations of Shakespearean roles.

Romantic Theatre Practice:

1) Seeing becomes more important than hearing, the orchestra seats (which had up till then been the cheap seats) became more valuable.

2) The upper galleries – the "gods" – were the cheapest.

3) Audiences, especially those in the gods, were loud and vocal.

4) Scenery included drops, flats, ground rows (cutaway flats standing free on the stage floor).

5) Carefully and realistically painted.

6) Candles or oil lamps – but by 1830, gaslight was used (Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia was the first to be lit by gas, in 1816).