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2 Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. 67 5 see also Collier, op. cit. ii. 96.



126 The Origin of the English Picture-Stage

goes widely astray in his interpretation of the word "scenes"
as used in the patent, more particularly with regard to the
following clause empowering D'Avenant to charge normal
rates of admission : —

And that it shall and may be lawful to and for the said W. D.,
his heirs, etc., so to take and receive of such our subjects as shall
resort to see or hear any such plays, scenes, and entertainments
whatsoever, such sum or sums of money, as is or hereafter from
time to time shall be accustomed to be given or taken in other
playhouses and places for the like plays, scenes, presentments, and
entertainments.

Malone argues l that throughout the patent the word
"scenes" is used to mean "not paintings, but short stage
representations or presentments," and gives reasons why,
in his opinion, if the introduction of scenery had really
been projected, something in excess of the ruling prices of
admission would have been permitted to be charged. Even
allowing that there is some cogency in the latter part of
his contention (although, for that matter, the "or hereafter
from time to time shall be accustomed to be given " seems to
afford D'Avenant a loophole of escape), one cannot concede
that the word "scenes" was ever employed in the theatrical
patents of the seventeenth century in the sense of short
sketches. On the contrary, "interludes" was the routine
phrase bearing that interpretation. One searches in vain
for any use whatever of the word "scenes" in any of the
patents issued previously. And yet anyone conversant with
the old patents knows full well how much they run in the
one mould, how mechanical is the iteration of phrase, and
in how senseless a manner provisoes are repeated long
after time and change have deprived them of their validity.
D'Avenant must have intended to build a new kind of
theatre and give a new kind of performance, otherwise his
patent would have echoed in part the phrasing of the patent
granted to the King's players at the Globe and Blackfriars
in 1620, a patent which says nothing about musical enter-
tainments or scenes, but authorizes the licencees "freely to

1 op. cit. ii. 68.



The Origin of the English Picture-Stage 12 7

use and exercise the act and Facultie of playing Comedies,
Tragedies, Histories, Enterludes, Moralls, Pastoralls, Stage
playes and such other like as they have already studied." 1

To my mind it is plain, not only from the phrasing of the
passage, "musick, musical presentments, scenes, dancing, or
other the like," but from the clause warranting him to give
performances after the normal playing-time that D'Avenant
fully intended to give evening concerts as well as occasional
performances of opera. We shall see that the actual first
musical entertainment given seventeen years later under his
auspices was a concert. It may be asked, of course, why, if
it was the King's intention that D'Avenant should perform
operas, no mention of operas occurs in the patent. As a
matter of fact, the slangy, elliptical term "opera" had not
yet found its way to England. It was an abbreviation of
opera musica/e, aterm for which the "musical presentments"
of the D'Avenant patent is an adequate equation. Evelyn
had never heard the word opera till he visited Italy in
1644, and in noting its common use there in his diary on
19 November he is careful to define what it means.

The mystery which surrounds the D'Avenant patent
is to some extent dissipated when we come to consider
these details. For a man of only moderate means to build
and equip a new opera-house, and to furnish it with the
necessary singers, dancers, instrumentalists, scene painters
and machinists, was a truly formidable undertaking. It is
impossible now to determine what insuperable difficulties
sprang up in D'Avenant's path, but within five or six months
of the granting of the patent he had decided to abandon
his immediate project, while still hugging tenaciously his
original scheme in its quiddity. Collier seriously confuses
the issue by implying that the King for some mysterious
reason withdrew his permission. 2 He did nothing of the
kind. So far from surrendering his patent, D'Avenant

1 For the entire patent, see Collier, op. cit. i. 416-7.

2 op. cit. ii. 95-6. Chalmers maintains that D'Avenant had quarrelled with the
ground landlord, evidently basing on the statement in the indenture that the locality
in Fleet Street had been "found inconvenient and unfit for the purpose", but proof is
lacking, and one has suspicion that the real reason was not avowed.



128 The Origin of the English Picture-Stage

merely made indenture 1 on 2 October, 1639, yielding up
his right to erect a theatre in Fleet Street, and undertaking
not to erect any other theatre in London or Westminster
"unless the said place shall be first approved and allowed
by warrant under his Majesty's sign-manual, or by writing
under the hand and seal of the said Right Honourable
Thomas Earl of Arundel and Surrey." That the patent
lay dormant for over a score of years is shown by the fact
that its validity was recognized at the Restoration, and that
it was under its powers that D'Avenant's players began
acting at Salisbury Court. On 9 July, 1660, Charles II
issued

A warrant for a grant to Thomas Killigrew, Groom of the Bed-
chamber, of license to erect a company of players, which shall be
the King's company, and build a theatre; with power to make such
allowances as he pleases to the actors, to oblige them to performance
of their contracts, or to silence and eject such as are mutinous; and
as there has been great licence lately in matters of this nature, no
companies of Actors are now to be allowed, saving this one, and
that granted by the late King to Sir William Davenant ; all others
to be totally suppressed. 2

It is characteristic of D'Avenant's tenacity that the pur-
poses for which the old patent was originally granted were
ultimately fulfilled. On 16 May, 1 661, the King exemplified
under the Great Seal the license granted twenty-two years
previously by his royal father, and it was virtually under its
authority that the Duke's Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields,
the first picture-stage theatre, was opened, and that operas
were then given for the first time since the Restoration. 3

Synchronizing with his abandonment of the Fleet Street
scheme, D' Avenant was appointed by the Lord Chamberlain
governor of the company acting at the Cockpit in Drury
Lane, 4 but it cannot be found that during his period of
authority he made serious innovation there. While he was
still maturing his ideas on the subject of opera, the Civil

1 For which see Collier, op. cit. ii. 96-7.

2 State Papers, Dom. Ser., Charles II, 1660-61, p. 114.

3 For the exemplification, see Fitzgerald's New History of the English Stage, i. 73-4.

4 For the warrant, see Collier, op. cit. ii. 101 footnote.



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TJbe Origin of the English Picture-Stage 129

War intervened, delaying the accomplishment of his pur-
poses another fifteen years. After winning his knighthood
at the Siege of Gloucester, and retiring for a time to France,
he was for long a prisoner in the Tower, but on his release
in the meridian of the Commonwealth, he, possibly with the
view of replenishing his exhausted resources, strove to effect
some realization of his long-nursed scheme. Proceeding
cautiously, so as to allay suspicion as to his intent, he began by
giving at Rutland House in Aldersgate Street, late in May,
16565a series of oratorical-cum-musical entertainments, the
first of which was billed as "The Entertainment by music
and declamations after the manner of the ancients." The
new departure consisted of a number of long and tedious
disputations, not really dialogues, though Socratic in form,
intermixed with appropriate original vocal and instru-
mental music. 1 It does not appear to have been particularly
successful, judging from the fact that on the first day only
150 people assembled in a room capable of accommodating
400. 2 But it probably did all it was intended to do. Rightly
or wrongly, one surmises that it was devised partly, in its
decorous dulness, to allay suspicion as to the nature of
D'Avenant's whole project, and partly, by the speech of
Aristophanes, to make defence of the rationality, not
of plays, but of musical entertainments embellished with
scenery. In a word, he used it as a stalking horse. Already
vigorous preparations were being made for the production
of the first English Opera. This was The Siege of Rhodes,
announced as "a Representation by the art of Prospective
in Scenes and the Story sung in Recitative Musick." The
exact date of its production at Rutland House is unknown,
but it can be approximated through a letter of D'Avenant's,
addressed to Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, the Lord Keeper,
under date 3 September, 1656, in which we read:

When I consider the nicety of the times, I fear it may draw a
curtain between your Lordship and our opera; therefore I have
presumed to send your Lordship, hot from the press, what we mean

1 For the text, see Maidment and Logan's U Avenant, Vol. iii. 193 ff.

2 State Papers, Dom. Ser., Interregnum (1656), Vol. cxxviii, No. 108.

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130 The Origin of the English Picture-Stage

to represent, making your Lordship my supreme judge, though
I despair to have the honour of inviting you to be a spectator. 1

Viewing the conditions under which it was written and
produced, one is not surprised to find that The Siege of
Rhodes bears no particular resemblance to the Italian operas
of its period. Up to this time writers of dramma per musica
had limited themselves to mythological themes the better
to give right of existence to the magical surprises effected
by the machinists, whose resourceful ingenuity gave great
vogue to effects of descending palaces, expanding clouds,
and flights of divinities. Debarred from indulging in these
scenic extravagances, through sheer lack of the necessary
mechanical equipment, D'Avenant had to fall back on a
sober, historical theme. Intercalated ballet-dancing, so
characteristic a feature of contemporary Italian opera, was
equally out of the question. By way of recompense for
these shortcomings, the music in The Siege of Rhodes was
written by no fewer than five composers, Henry Lawes,
Captain Cooke, Matthew Lock, Dr. Charles Coleman and
Henry Hudson. 2 Scenery of an unobtrusive kind had
been provided by John Webbe, Inigo Jones's nephew and
son-in-law. Of the harassing limitations of the place of
performance, D'Avenant has much to say in his Address
to the Reader :

Yet I may forewarn you that the defects which I intend to excuse
are chiefly such as you cannot reform but only with your Purse ;
that is, by building us a larger Room; a design which we began and
shall not be left for you to finish because we have observed that
many who are liberal of their understanding when they would issue
it out towards discovery of imperfections, have not always Money
to expend in things necessary towards the making up of perfection.

It has been often wisht that our Scenes (we have oblig'd our-
selves to the variety of Five Changes, according to the Ancient
Drammatick distinctions made for time) had not been confin'd to
eleven foot in height, and about fifteen in depth, including the place

1 Whitelocke's Af emorials, p. 6^ 9. D' Avenant's address to the reader, in the first edition
of the opera, evidently printed before the performance, is dated "August 17, 1656."

2 Cf. The Musical Antiquary, January, 191 1, p. 68, article on "A Great English
Choir-trainer : Captain Henry Cooke." It is noteworthy that Cooke and Lock also took
part in the opera as performers.



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The Origin of the English Picture-Stage 131

of passage reserv'd for the musick. This is so narrow an allowance
for the fleet of Solyman the magnificent, his Army, the Island of
Rhodes, and the varieties attending the Siege of the City ; that
I fear you will think we invite you to such a contracted Trifle as
that of the Caesars carv'd upon a Nut.

As these limits have hinder'd the splendor of our Scene, so we are
like to give no great satisfaction in the quantity of our Argument,
which is in story very copious; but shrinks to a small narration
here, because we could not convey it by more than seven Persons ;
beingconstrain'd to prevent the length of Recitative Musick, as well
as to conserve, without encumbrance, the narrowness of the place.

In its original form, The Siege of Rhodes was divided into
five acts, called entries, after the method followed in the
French ballets de cour. As in the court masques of the
Caroline period, a special emblematic frontispiece was
provided with a title-inscription at the top. On the two
sides columns of "gross rustic work supported a large
frieze in the midst of which there was an escutcheon bear-
ing in bold letters the word Rhodes." The whole had an
embellishment of crimson drapery on which divers trophies
of arms were fixed. Although nine changes of scene were
made in the five entries, or acts, always with a clear stage,
only five different scenes were shown, as explained by
D'Avenant in his address to the reader. Most of the vital
characteristics of each scene were expressed on the back
flats, which had more the aspect of a latter-day panorama than
of theatrical scenery in the current acceptation of the term.
On the small stage of Rutland House the introduction of
a host of supernumeraries was wholly impracticable, and
D'Avenant followed French precedent 1 and established an
English one 2 in representing his crowds on canvas.

What measure of support was given to The Siege of
Rhodes at Rutland House one cannot say, but it would
appear that shortly after its production, D'Avenant, irritated
beyond endurance by the cramped conditions under which
performances had to be given, abandoned the room and

1 Cf. The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), p. 194 footnote.

2 For later English examples, see Crowne's History of Charles the Eighth of France
1672), ii. 2, and Lee's Tbcodosius, description of scene at beginning of Act i.



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132 The Origin of the English Picture-Stage

shelved his scheme. Nothing further is to be gleaned
until 15 October, 1658, when we find Dr. Thomas Smith,
writing from Cockermouth to his friend Sir Daniel Fleming,
"Sir William D'Avenant the poet-laureate, has obtained
permission for stage plays and the Fortune Playhouse is
being trimmed up." 1 To adopt a proverbial Irish saying,
Smith, "if he did not knock it down, at least he staggered
it." It was the dismantled Cockpit in Drury Lane that
was being fitted up for D'Avenant, and the permission
was for operas, not plays. There can be little doubt that
the poet had obtained this concession by holding the candle
to the devil. In 1662, Sir Henry Herbert, the rapacious
Master of the Revels, in connexion with his dispute with
D'Avenant, delivered a statement of his claims to the Lord
Chancellor and Lord Chamberlain, in which he characterized
his antagonist as

A person who exercised the office of Master of the Revells to
Oliver the Tyrant, and wrote the First and Second Parts of Peru^
acted at the Cockpit in Oliver's tyme, 2 and solely in his favour;
wherein hee sett of the justice of Oliver's actinges, by comparison
with the Spaniards, and endeavouring thereby to make Oliver's
crueltyes appear mercyes, in respect of the Spanish crueltyes ; but
the mercyes of the wicked are cruell.

That the said Davenant published a poem in vindication and
justification of Oliver's actions and government, and an Epithala-
mium in praise of Oliver's daughter, M. Rich ; — as credibly
informed. 3

It was probably at the beginning of December, 1658,
that D'Avenant opened the Cockpit with his new opera,
The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru. 4 The opening is not
likely to have occurred much earlier as, although Cromwell

1 Hist. MSS. Comm. Report, 12, Pt. vii.

3 It is doubtful if Cromwell were living at the time of the production of either
The Cruelty of the Spaniards, etc., or Sir Francis Drake; but one at least was likely written
considerably beforehand and submitted for approval.

3 Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. 219. Frances Cromwell was married to
Rich on 1 1 November, 1657.

4 The books of the Cockpit operas appear to have been issued while they were being
performed, seeing that two of them bear on the title page, "represented at the Cockpit
in Drury Lane at three afternoone punctually." As The Cruelty of the Spaniards, etc.,
was printed in 1658, and The History of Sir Francis Drake and The Siege of Rhodes in
1659, the dates would roughly indicate the order of production.



The Origin of the* English Picture-Stage 133

died on 3 September, his funeral did not take place until
the 23 November. Great outcry arose amongst the Presby-
terians, and on 14 December, Rachel Newport wrote to
her brother, Sir R. Leveson, "it is thought the opera will
speedily go down ; the godly party are so much discontented
with it." The consequence was that nine days later a war-
rant was issued from Whitehall under Richard Cromwell's
protectorate, appointing a commission to inquire into the
nature of the performances at the Cockpit and to demand on
what authority they were being given. 1 That the outcome
was not disastrous to D'Avenant's fortunes is shown by the
fact that under date 5 May, 1 6 5 9, Evelyn writes in his Diary :

I went to visit my brother in London and next day to see a new-
opera after the Italian way in recitative musiq and sceanes much
inferior to the Italian composure and magnificence : but it was
prodigious that in a time of such public consternation such a vanity
could be permitted. I being engaged could not decently resist the
going to see it though my heart smote me for it.

As to the merits of the opera, Evelyn could speak with
authority. Had he not seen Ercole in Lidia magnificently
performed at the Teatro Novissimo, in Venice, in 1645 - ?
Although The History of Sir Francis Drake formed the
first part 2 of the Peru story, it seems, oddly enough, to have
been produced after The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru.
This conclusion is derivable on a double count. In the first
case it is indicated in the order of printing. Then again, we
find it pointed out in the quarto of Sir Francis Drake, that
the frontispiece was the same as that used for The Cruelty
of the Spaniards, the excuse being that "it was convenient
to continue it, our Argument being in the same country."
It would appear from this that Sir Francis Drake was a pure,
afterthought. Note that when the two operas came to
be revived in 1663, as portions of D'Avenant's curious
composite piece, A Playhouse to be Let, the proper sequence
was followed, the Drake opera comprising the third act and
The Cruelty the fourth.

1 For the order, see R. W. Lowe, Thomas Betterton, p. 10.

2 It is called "The First Part" on the title page of the quarto of 1659.



134 2fe Origin of the English Picture-Stage

For the Cruelty of the Spaniards, D'Avenant employed
the old proscenium arch made for the original version of
The Siege of Rhodes, merely altering the title-inscription and
adding a couple of emblematic shields :

An arch is discern'd rais'd upon stone of Rustick work ; upon
the top of which is written, in an Antique Shield, Peru ; and two
Antique Shields are fixt a little lower, on the sides, the one bearing
the Figure of the Sun, which was the Scutchion of the Incas, who
were Emperors of Peru ; the other did bear the Spread Eagle, in
signification of the Austrian Family. The designe of the Frontis-
piece is, by way of preparation to give some notice of that argument
which is pursu'd in the Scene.

The book reveals that the curtain was drawn up at the
beginning: and fell at the close, but we have no hint that
it was let down between the acts, or entries. The opera
was divided into six entries, at the end of each, possibly
by way of intermedii, dancing and acrobatic feats were given.
Thus at the end of the first entry we read :

After the song, a Rope descends out of the Clowds, and is stretcht
to a stifness by an Engine, whilst a Rustick Ayre is played, to which
Apes from opposite sides of the Wood come out, listen, return ; and
comming out again, began to dance, then, after awhile, one of them
leaps up to the Rope, and there dances to the same Ayre, whilst
the other moves to his measures below. Then both retire into
the Wood. The Rope ascends.

Between the two Peru operas a considerable difference in
structure is to be noted. Whereas Sir Francis Drake really
partook of the nature of music drama, having dialogues in
song, The Cruelty of the Spaniards merely consisted of a series
of panoramic backgrounds, one to each entry, accompanied
by illustrative songs and dances. In the latter, at the begin-
ning of each entry, while the scene was being (doubtless,
visually) changed, music was played, mostly symphonies
arranged in four sections. Once the change was made
the stage remained for some time clear, in order that
the audience might note all the details of the paintings.
This was vitally necessary, seeing that most of the scenes
presented a host of figures, one of them, indeed, showing



Tife Origin of the English Picture-Stage 135

the great Peruvian army put to flight by a small body of
Spaniards. Here, for example, is the official description
of the scene of the first entry :

A lantdchap of the West Indies is discern'd ; distinguish^ from
other Regions by the parcht and bare Tops of distant Hills, by Sands
shining on the shores of Rivers, and the Natives, in feather'd Habits
and Bonnets, carrying, in Indian Baskets, Ingots of Goldand Wedges
of Silver. Some of the Natives being likewise discern'd in their
naturall sports of Hunting and Fishing. This prospect is made
through a wood, differing from those of European Climats by
representing of Coco Trees, Pines and Palmetas ; and on the boughs
of other Trees are seen Munkies, Apes and Parrots ; and at further
distance Vallies of Sugar-Canes.

In connexion with the wood, which, it is plain to be seen,
was expressed on the wings, an interesting point remains
to be noted. Although a different scene was used for each
entry, no scene being repeated, these tree wings remained
stationary throughout. As the scenes, with one exception
(that of the fifth entry "a dark prison at great distance"),
are all exteriors, there was nothing seriously discordant
about this arrangement. Proof of the permanence of the
wings is afforded by the fact that at the end of each entry
the dancers always come out from "opposite sides of the
Wood." This statement is made even at the end of the scene
representing the prison, with its racks and other engines
of torment. Odd as it seems to us now, this system of the
partial change was one of the several scenic systems then in
vogue on the Continent, and it had already been followed
in England in a few of the Caroline court masques and
pastorals. 1 Among the designs by Inigo Jones preserved
in the Lansdowne MSS. 2 in the British Museum is one
inscribed :

Ground platt of that kind of scene with triangular frames on the
sides, when there is but one standing scene, and ye scene changes
only at ye back shutters, as imparted for the scene for ye Pastorall
of Florimen* in the hall at Whitehall in 1635.

1 For indication of its popularity in France, circa 1 647, see Ludovic Celler, Let Decors,
les Costumes, et la Mise en Scene au Dix-Septieme Steele, p. 71. 2 No. 1 171, design x.

3 For which, see The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), p. 136.



136 The Origin of the English Picture-Stage

Like all the scenic systems of the period, the principle of
the partial change was Italian in origin. Some relics of its
former employment are to be noted on the Post-Restoration
stage. Thus, in Dryden's opera, Albion and Albanius (168 5),
we have, near the close of Act i, the direction, "Part of
the Scene disappears, and the Four Triumphal Arches,
erected at his Majesty's Coronation, are seen." Again, at
the beginning of Act ii, we read, "The Scene is a Poetical
Hell. The Change is Total. The Upper Part of the House
as well as the Side Scenes." This indicates that even then
the wings were not always changed with the flats.

Much that is here said about the mounting of The Cruelty


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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 12 of 22)