Evidence of Restoration Performances: Duke Ferdinand Albrecht's Annotated Playtexts from 1664-65

Article excerpt

Annotated English playtexts at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbuttel, Germany, provide significant performance documentation for the early Restoration stage that not only corroborates the sketchy records already known but also add previously unrecorded performances. Duke Ferdinand Albrecht of Braunschweig-Luneburg (1636-1687), the youngest son of Duke August for whom the library was named, purchased these English playtexts during his ten-month visit to London from 12 May 1664 to 16 March 1664/5, when he immersed himself in London theatre culture.

Ferdinand Albrecht's annotated performance data are extremely valuable given the limited state of knowledge of Restoration theatre history. Since theatrical documents such as playbills and newspaper advertisements did not survive until the turn of the century, modern understanding of the Restoration repertory is extremely incomplete. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, who are currently revising The London Stage, Part 1: 1660-1700, conclude that "we know no more than about 7 per cent of the performances that were given in these years (versus nearly 100 per cent after 1706)."(1) Duke Ferdinand Albrecht is an extremely reliable eyewitness of the Restoration theatre, joining the ranks of main sources of The London Stage for performance data of the early 1660s--Sir Henry Herbert (Master of the Revels), Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, and other diarists and foreign travellers who wrote about attending the London theatre.

During his London sojourn or after his return to Europe Ferdinand Albrecht noted the place and time of performance on the title pages of eight English plays: Sir George Etherege's The Comical Revenge, James Shirley's The Court Secret, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's The Scornfull Lady, Thomas Killigrew's The Parson's Wedding, William Shakespeare's Hamlet, James Shirley's The Cardinal, John Webster's The White Devil, and Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy.(2) His annotations for all eight of these plays provide unique performance records; in fact, five provide the only documentation for a production of any of these plays in 1664-65. An additional four plays have no title-page annotations: John Dryden's The Rival Ladies, John Tatham's The Rump, the anonymous The Unfortunate Usurper, and John Wilson's The Projectors. Since he customarily annotated the title pages of all the plays that he attended during his grand tour in Italy, France, and England, from 1658 to 1665, Ferdinand Albrecht's purchase of these four unannotated playtexts at this time, although interesting, does not necessarily imply that he attended performances.

Gillian Bepler, the Director of Research at the Herzog August Bibliothek, is the primary authority on Ferdinand Albrecht's grand tour. Her account of his involvement in London cultural life in 1664-65 and of the English books that he acquired at that time has provided the foundation for my research.(3) Unfortunately, the Duke's travel diary for the period of his London visit is lost; his later surviving diary entries include information about the plays staged at his various residences in Bevern, Bremen, and Hamburg, even with details of plot and casting.(4) His printed travelogue, the Wunderliche Begebnusse, published in 1679, contains only a cursory description of his London sojourn with no literary comments; moreover, his personal letters to and from Duke August, his father, shed little light on his theatrical activities while on his grand tour. An inventory of the more than 3,000 volumes with autograph provenance annotations at his library at Bevern Castle entitled the Nachlassinventar and prepared in 1687 soon after his death is extant, but unfortunately the actual volume containing his Restoration plays, listed in the inventory as Allerhand Englische [sic] und Frantzosische Comoedien und Balletten, has been disbound (FA, 38, 74, 235; CT, 220-21, 223). Bepler surmises that the English playtexts, once part of that theatrical volume, were probably dispersed throughout the Wolfenbuttel Collection. …

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