The French Revolution and the London Stage, 1789-1805

By George Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Revolution

The speed with which Holcroft was able to bring a version of Beaumarchais' play to the London stage seen in September produced in December indicates the time lapse between events, news of the events and their depiction or reflection in cultural production. In an age of electronic communication topicality is measured in days, but with handwritten reports, horseback couriers and movable-type newspapers, topicality was more a matter of months. Nevertheless, the arrival of news occasioned not only discussion in coffeehouses and journalistic commentary, but also, as Frederick Reynolds recorded, media exploitation:

The French Revolution had for some time excited the public attention in a considerable degree; but it did not cause a general and alarming sensation until the memorable fourteenth of July, 1789, when the Bastile [sic] was destroyed. Then, as is usual in these cases, every man began to consider how the consequences might affect himself The loyalist saw the revolution in one light, the democrat in another; and even the theatrical manager had also his view of the subject. The Bastile must bring money; that's the settled point; and a piece of that name must be written.

At least three theatrical representations of the fall of the Bastille went into rehearsal. The one at Covent Garden ran into problems with the censor, as Reynolds continued: 'A piece under that title was written, and put into preparation at Covent Garden Théâtre. But, when the parts were studied, the scenery completed, and the music composed, the Lord Chamberlain refused his licence.' 1 However, the Lord Chamberlain had no direct control over pieces presented at Sadler's Wells, the Royal Circus and Astley's Royal Grove Amphithe atre. 2

Astley presented Paris in an Uproar; or, the Destruction of the Bastille (17 August 1789) inspiring a revealing cartoon An Amphitheatrical Attack on the Bastille' (see frontispiece). This illustration suggests

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