THE THEATRE COMES OF AGE
IN SPITE OF THE DISAPPROVAL OF THE STRONG RELIGIOUS FORCES of the day, the theatre was forging steadily ahead after 1800. It was attempting to establish itself by pleasing all classes, and with this end in view the playhouses of the period welcomed everything on their hospitable stages with delightful indiscrimination. A century ago the same house might advertise Junius Brutus Booth in Hamlet on one night, the "Original, Aboriginal, Erratic, Operatic, Semi-Civilized and Demi-Savage Extravaganza of Pocohontas" on the next, and on the third an equestrian melodrama with a cast of circus performers playing on horseback. A single evening often produced almost as varied theatrical fare, Macbeth, a daring French ballet, and perhaps such a popular and rowdy farce as My Young Wife and the Old Umbrella, making up the program. The theatre, that is, was a democratic institution, playing a rôle which in later years it largely surrendered, first to the vaudeville stage and then to the moving picture.
The trend was steadily away from Shakespeare and toward more farce and variety. But the function of the theatre before the days of vaudeville, let alone those of the movies, made this natural. "The rapid increase in population in newly formed cities," wrote an observant visiting actor, William Davidge, "produces a style of patrons whose habits and associations afford no opportunity for the cultivation of the arts."1 When the craze for lectures in the 1840's drew off the theatre's more sophisticated patrons, there was even greater need to meet the populace's demand for undiluted entertainment. "Opera and burlesque, the melodrama and the ballet," sighed one critic, "have literally swallowed up the