Elizabethan drama may be said to end with the formal closing of the theatres in 1642, when Parliament, by ordinance of September 2, decreed that 'public stage-plays shall cease, and be forborne.' Restoration drama may be said to begin with the reopening of the theatres in 1660, when Charles II, by letters patent of August 21, authorized Thomas Killigrew and Sir William D'Avenant to 'erect' two companies of players, later housed in the two 'Patent Theatres,' in London. The interval between 1642 and 1660 may be called the dramatic interregnum. Though the official ban upon the theatres during this period failed to suppress fully theatrical activity, English drama languished in times of civil war and Puritan constraint. Fortunately, in spite of adverse conditions, the earlier stage tradition was partly sustained throughout the interregnum by surreptitious revivals of old plays, by frequent adaptation of their comic scenes into 'drolls,' or short farces, and finally by the bolder innovations of D'Avenant's 'operas.'
Sir WILLIAM D'AVENANT ( 1606-1668) best personifies the continuity of dramatic tradition in the transition from Elizabethan to Restoration drama. He links with the Elizabethans as Ben Jonson's successor in the poet-laureateship and as author of early plays that antedate the closing of the theatres. Love and Honor (1634) is in its very title prophetic of his later drama and influence on the school of love-and-honor dramatists. During the closing years of the interregnum he emerges as leader in the reawakening of dramatic impulse. The Siege of Rhodes ( 1656), produced with politic emphasis on its musical and scenic adornment to veil its essentially dramatic character, directly foreshadows the heroic drama of the Restoration. It blends elements of music and scenery already familiar in the English masque with elements of drama that derive from Elizabethan hero-plays like Marlowe's Tamburlaine and the heroic romances of Beaumont and Fletcher -- for D'Avenant is an inheritor of earlier tradition. It reflects likewise the foreign influences of Italian opera and of French drama. But The Siege of Rhodes, in rekindling the spent fires of dramatic energy, despite the curfew law that still smothered them, is in itself a new and vital force. It has thus often been regarded as the first English opera and the immediate ancestor of Restoration heroic drama -- for D'Avenant is a true pioneer. The general heroic and operatic features of The Siege of Rhodes are maintained by D'Avenant in The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru ( 1658) and in The History of Sir Francis Drake ( 1659). Detailed stage directions as to scenery and appropriate costume foreshadow his significant influence on the pictorial setting of the Restoration stage.
With the restoration of monarchy to the throne in 1660, D'Avenant becomes a conspicuous leader of the Restoration stage. As patentee of the new theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, where his company of actors -- known as the Duke of York's -- was soon housed, D'Avenant enlarges as manager his influence already acquired as playwright. In reviving on the Restoration stage various plays of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, and in reverting largely to Elizabethan drama for materials for his own new plays and adaptations, he again emphasizes the continuity of the earlier dramatic tradition. From the Elizabethan period onward, through the dramatic interregnum, and into the Restoration period, D'Avenant maintains unbroken the sorely strained thread of English drama. His place in the history of drama is doubly assured, as conservator of the old stage tradition and as prophet of the coming drama.
The Siege of Rhodes holds its chief historical significance as precursor of Restoration heroic drama. In its themes of love and honor, and their personification in martial hero and angelic heroine, in its choice of foreign setting and of semi-historical atmosphere, in its preference for exalted characters and stirring scenes, and in its victory of virtue over the vicissitudes of war, The Siege of Rhodes