The Theatrical Public in the Time of Garrick

The Theatrical Public in the Time of Garrick

The Theatrical Public in the Time of Garrick

The Theatrical Public in the Time of Garrick

Excerpt

When David Garrick and Samuel Johnson came up to London in March, 1737, the metropolis was supporting no fewer than four and often five major legitimate theatres and a number of minor playhouses. In addition to the Theatres Royal in Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the major playhouses included Lincoln's Inn Fields (new theatre), Goodman's Fields in Ayliffe-street, and the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. To stage-struck young men from the provinces it must have seemed an era of unlimited opportunity and prosperity. But had they been invited behind scenes in the professional world of the theatres they would have found that all was in turmoil.

Most of the gossip and speculation centered about Henry Fielding, manager of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. His satiric attacks against the Government had become notorious, and it was momentarily expected that an irate ministry would retaliate. The extent of such disciplinary action was of vital concern to every member of the theatrical profession, transcending in importance the uncertain fate of Manager Fielding. Actually the existence of most major and all minor playhouses was in jeopardy. And three months after Garrick's arrival in London the blow fell. On June 21, 1737, the actors' worst fears were confirmed with the passage in Parliament of a Licensing Act establishing the stage under the absolute control of the Lord Chamberlain, restricting legitimate drama to the two Patent theatres in Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and investing the Lord Chamberlain not only with power to license theatres but also with inclusive powers of censorship over all future dramatic productions.

For a time after the passage of the Licensing Act man-

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