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is a euphemism somewhat akin to Ibsen's "vineleaves in
the hair."

1 Katharine Philips, Letters of Orinda to Poliarchus, second edition, 1709.



Irish Players at Oxford in 1677 *95

Evidence as to the capacity of the Smock Alley players at
a time nearer to their Oxford visit is to be found in Sir Ellis
Leighton's letter to Arlington, under date 4 May, 1670,
acquainting him of Lord Berkeley of Stratton, the new
Viceroy's, first visit tp the Dublin theatre :

Tuesday, in the afternoon, his Excellency went to the Theatre,
where The Loyal Subject by Beaumont and Fletcher, first played in
16 1 8, was acted. The house was full of the ladies and nobility in
town. The actors, most of them, act very well. They want good
clothes. But his Excellency's bounty and the advantage they will
have by his countenance will soon make both them and the scenes
very fine. 1

This opinion, in a'letter written to Arlington at the same
period, his Excellency confirmed. For any raggedness and
disorganization that then existed there was very good reason,
for Berkeley's highly unpopular predecessor, John, Lord
Robarts, had silenced the Smock Alley players for some time,
and left them in a state of painful uncertainty as to their
future livelihood. 2

Nothing was lacking to the success of the Irish players
at Oxford but the presence of their patron. According to
Carte, Ormonde had purposely abstained from attending
the Act so as to avoid the necessity of conferring honorary
degrees upon persons he considered unworthy of the distinc-
tion. Be that as it may, we find Thomas Dixon, on 1 August,
1677, writing to his friend, Sir Daniel Fleming, setting forth
that

the Duke of Ormond, our Chancellor, was expected at the Act,
as may appear from the lower end of the Friday scheme, but he did
not come ; yet we look for him still this week or the next. His
players, who were with us at the Act, and twenty days after, carried,
it is said, 600/. or 700/. clear gains out of Oxford. They acted
much at the same rate the King's and Duke's used to do. 3

A comparison of the reputed profits of the Irish players
in 1677 with the reputed profits of the Red Bull company

1 Cal. State Papers, Ireland, Charles II, p. 327.

2 Gilbert's History of the City of Dublin (1861), ii. p. 68.

3 Hist. MSS. Comm. Report, 12, App., Part vii. p. 139 (MSS. of S. H. Le Fleming,
Esq., of Rydal Hall). Wood is silent regarding the visit.



196 Irish Players at Oxford in 1677

in 1 66 1 5 assuming that both acted the same number of times,
would give the impression that the former met with but
indifferent success. It is doubtful, however, what credence
may be placed in hearsay evidence of this order. The only
sound inference that can be drawn is connected with another
matter. Seeing that it had been customary before this, as
it was for thirty-five years after, for the players attending
the Act to perform twice daily, it seems reasonably assured
that the Smock Alley company followed the old routine.
Apparently, on Colley Cibber's showing, it was not until
Cato was acted at Oxford by the Drury Lane players in
1 7 1 2 that the precedent was disregarded. Apropos of this
visit, he writes :

It had been a custom for the Comedians, while at Oxford, to act
twice a day ; the first play ending every morning before the college
hoursof dining, and the other never to break into the time of shutting
their gates in the evening. This extraordinary labour gave all the
hired actors a title to double pay, which at the act in King William's
time I had myself accordingly received there. But the present
managers considering, that by acting only once a day, their spirits
might be fresher for every single performance, and that by this means
they might be able to fill up the term of their residence without the
repetition of their best and strongest plays; and as their theatre was
contrived to hold a full third more than the usual form of it had done,
one house well filled might answer the profits of two but moderately
taken up ; being enabled too, by their late success at London, to
make the journey pleasant and profitable to the rest of their society,
— they resolved to continue to them their double pay, notwith-
standing this new abatement of half their labour. 1

Double pay for a week or two at a time when the theatres
were closed came like manna in the wilderness to the London
players; and one can conceive their feelings on being ousted
from their pride of place by a cry of players from over sea.
Due allowance must be made for all this when we come
to consider Dryden's virulent attack on the Smock Alley
company.

After the summer of 1 677, no further visits of players to
Oxford can be traced for three years. In the middle of May,

1 Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber y Cotncdian, Chap. xiv.



Irish Players at Oxford in 1677 197

1680, we find Ormonde writing from Dublin to John Fell,
Bishop of Oxford, informing him that he had recommended
a set of players to the acceptance of the University for the
period of the Act, but that he thought the inconveniences
they brought in their train so grave that he would be glad of
an excuse, provided no other were admitted, and he besought
his lordship to convey his mind to the Vice-Chancellor. 1 In
a letter written on 22 June following, the Bishop replied:

As to the other affair of comedians, the King's players having
had cold reception from Mr Vice Chancellor in their desires to be
received here this Act, obtained a solemn recommendation from His
Majesty, and that not taking the desired effect they have procured
a second letter. What the event will be I know not, but I think if
the Vice Chancellor be forced to receive them, he will so shorten
their time as may discourage them from coming on such terms. 2

Discouragement proved of no avail, for we find Anthony
Wood recording that in July, 1680, "the King's players
began to act in my brother Robert's tennis court." Whether
it was that the players feared to offend Ormonde, no caustic
allusion was made to the visit of the Smock Alley company
in Dryden's introductory prologue 3 as spoken before the
performance of Lee's tragedy of Sophonisba, or Hannibal 's
Overthrow. That was reserved for a later and less apposite
occasion. In the succeeding autumn, the Duke of York
left London for a lengthened stay in Edinburgh, and many
of the players followed in his train. To this circumstance
allusion is made in the prologue to Crowne's tragedy of
Tbyestes, which was apparently produced by the prentice
hands of the Drury Lane company in the Lent of 1681. 4
One consequence of the defection was that when the King's
players attended the Parliament at Oxford in March, 168 1,
they were in a highly crippled state. It was thought better
to make confession of their weakness at the outset, and
Dryden took advantage of the opportunity to defame the

1 Ormond Papers, Vol. v. p. 320. 2 Ibid, v. p. 338.

3 For which see Dryden's Poetical Works (Globe edition, 1904), p. 442. It was first
published in the Miscellany Poems of 1 684, and afterwards reprinted, with slight variations,
in the quarto of Sophonisba issued in 1685.

4 The play was published in April or May of the same year.



198 Irish Players at Oxford in 1677

Irish players. Here is the greater part of his inaugural
prologue : —

Discord and plots, which have undone our age,

With the same ruin have o'erwhelmed the stage.

Our House has suffered in the common woe,

We have been troubled with Scotch rebels too.

Our brethren are from Thames to Tweed departed,

And of our sisters all the kinder-hearted

To Edenborough gone, or coached or carted.

With bonny bluecap there they act all night

For Scotch half-crown, in English three-pence hight.

One nymph to whom fat Sir John Falstaff's lean,

There with her single person fills the scene.

Another, with long use and age decayed,

Dived here old woman, and rose there a maid.

Our trusty door-keepers of former time

There strut and swagger in heroic rhyme.

Tack but a copper lace to drugget suit,

And there 's a hero made without dispute ;

And that which was a capon's tail before

Becomes a plume for Indian emperor.



But why should I these renegades describe,
When you yourselves have seen a lewder tribe ?
Teague 1 has been here, and to this learned pit
With Irish action slandered English wit;
You have beheld such barbarous Macs appear
As merited a second massacre ;
Such as, like Cain, were branded with disgrace,
And had their country stamped upon their face.
When strollers durst presume to pick your purse,
We humbly thought our broken troop not worse.
How ill soe'er our action may deserve,
Oxford 's a place where wit can never sterve. 2

Notwithstanding that the Drury Lane players gave
Saunders' new tragedy, Tamerlane the Great, before the
King at this period, they met with a very indifferent

1 The generic name for the Irish in the seventeenth century. It is so used in
Shirley's Hyde Park (1632), iii. 1.

2 Dryden's Poetical frforks (Globe edition), p. 450. First published in the Miscellany
Poems of 1684.



Irish Players at Oxford in 1677 J 99

reception. When they returned again to the University,
probably for the Act in the ensuing summer, Dryden girded
mordantly at the "busy senates", whose presence might
possibly have been of some slight advantage to the neigh-
bourhood :

Whereas we cannot much lament our loss
Who neither carried back nor brought one cross.
We looked what representatives would bring,
But they helped us, — just as they did the King. 1

It probably never occurred to Dryden, except as a painful
afterthought, that in abusing the Irish players he was finding
serious fault with that high taste in dramatic matters for
which the University was remarkable, a taste which he
himself had extravagantly eulogized in some of his earlier
prologues. 2 These " barbarous Macs " who had " slandered
English wit " were the especial favourites of the Chancellor,
and had entertained the University for three weeks on end.
Is it likely that an audience, for whose judgment Cibber
had so profound an esteem, would have endured for so long
a time a troupe of barnstormers ? Hearken to Cibber's
testimony :

A great deal of that flashy wit, and forced humour, which had
been the delight of our metropolitan multitude, was only rated there
at its bare intrinsic value ; applause was not to be purchased there,
but by the true sterling, the sal atticum of a genius; unless where
the skill of the actor passed it upon them with some extraordinary
strokes of nature. Shakspeare and Jonson had there a sort of Classical
authority; for whose masterly scenes they seemed to have as implicit
a reverence as formerly for the ethics of Aristotle; and were as incap-
able of allowing moderns to be their competitors as of changing their
academical habits for gaudy colours or embroidery. 3

For the aspersions cast upon her players Ireland took
a noble revenge in contributing many able recruits to the
English stage. Blot out the records of Wilks, Quin, Peg
Woffington, Spranger Barry, Macklin and Miss O'Neill
from English theatrical annals, and you rob them of much

1 Vide ibid, p. 449.

2 Note especially his Prologue to The Silent Woman in 1673 (Globe edition), p. 420.

3 Cibber's Apology, Chap. xiv.



2oo Irish Players at Oxford in 1677

of their picturesqueness and not a little of their glory. But
it is curious to note for how long after the Oxford visit of
1677, Irish players came over, not in companies, but as single
spies. After a lapse of sixty-five years, in August, 1742,
another Smock Alley company sailed for Liverpool "in order
to entertain the nobility and gentry at Preston at the Jubilee,
which is said to be held there once in 20 years." 1 But it
was not until May, 1903, that the first organized troupe of
Irish players was seen in London. Happily at that time
the critics, sitting in judgment on the acting of the Irish
National Theatre Society at the Queen's Gate Hall, were
able to turn one of Dryden's strictures inside out, and to tell
the Abbey Players (as they are now more familiarly known)
that they "had their country stamped upon their face."

1 Faulkner's Dublin Journal for 24 August, 1742, as cited in Broadbent's Annals of
the Liverpool Stage, p. 18.



Louis XIVs Scene Painters



Louis XIV's Scene Painters

French theatrical history, generally so luminous, so accu-
rate, so painstaking, has blundered terribly in its records of
two great scene painters, father and son. By some extra-
ordinary initial error, never yet detected, the stories of
Gaspare and Carlo Vigarani have been fused into one, and
a composite figure created as harmful in its way as the
Monster in Frankenstein. Truth now demands that this
artificial being, all compact of falsity, should be dissolved
into its original elements.

One must needs preface this narrative by pointing out
that the scene painter perse is purely a product of latter-day
specialization. In remoter times the artist seldom worked
in a single medium or confined himself to the one class of
work. Thus it is that if you seek the history of the great
scene painters you will have to look for it in the records of
the great architects and sculptors and of the masters in
fresco and in oils. Begin at the Renaissance and you will
find that the progress of stage mounting is summed up in
the careers of men like Bramante, Peruzzi, Aristotile da San
Gallo, Ferdinando Bibiena, Inigo Jones and the Chevalier
Servandoni. Half a century or so ago the superfine art
critics sniffed when Stanfield and Roberts were made Royal
Academicians. They did not know, poor creatures, that
infinitely greater men had been associated with the theatrical
paint frame. The fact had escaped them that in the glorious
days when the artist recognized but one art, and made no
nice distinctions, the divine Raphael had painted scenery
for the court of Pope Leo X. l

It is in keeping with the story of that art upon which he
left his impress that Gaspare Vigarani should have pursued
the calling of an architect and engineer. Born at Reggio
nell' Emilia about the year 1586, his services were much in
demand in his native country during a very considerable

1 Cf. The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), p. 116.



204 Louis XIV s Scene Painters

period. Distinction, however, did not begin to crown his
career until he was long past middle age. In 1 652 he went
to Mantua to superintend the fete given in honour of
the coming of the Archduke Ferdinand and of Francesco
Sigismondo, brothers of the Duchess Isabella Chiara. Two
years later his services were requisitioned by Francesco I,
of Modena, in connexion with the celebrations held over
the Duke's marriage with Lucrezia Barberini. While there
he designed and superintended the building of a fine theatre,
subsequently taken as the model of the vast Theatre des
Machines erected in the Tuileries. 1

Early in 1660 Giacomo Torelli, the great French court
scene painter and theatrical wonder-worker of his age (was
he not once attacked at Venice by bravoes as an emissary of
the devil?), became smitten with home-sickness, and, having
amassed a comfortable fortune, decided to retire to his native
city of Fano. The Grand Monarch, nothing if not connois-
seur, and keenly appreciative of Torelli's services, regretted
this decision, and all unwillingly cast about him for a suit-
able substitute. The result was that the Duke of Modena,
on hearing of Louis' dilemma, sent him old Gaspare
Vigarani.

Torelli's successor had some unenviable characteristics
which the circumstances of the hour immediately brought
to the surface. Although he was an artist of commanding
ability and had little reason to dread comparison, Gaspare
was consumed by an unreasoning jealousy. He determined
so far as it lay in his power to stamp out the memory of
his illustrious predecessor. Brought in haste to France to
officiate at the Louvre in connexion with Cavalli's opera of
Serse, whose performance had been arranged by Mazarin in
celebration of the King's marriage, Gaspare found there was
no time to provide the necessary scenery. The opera had
six new intermedii and called for elaborate mounting. Some
old scenery by Torelli remained available and might have

1 Tiraboschi, Notizie di Pittori, Scultori, Incisori e Arcbitetti, natii degli State del
Seren. Sig. Duca di Modena (Modena, 1786), p. 350 ; also A. Ademollo, / Primi Fasti
Delia Musica Italiana a Parlgl (1645-62), Milan, no date, p. jj note.



Louis XIV s Scene Painters 205

served at a pinch, but Gaspare refused all compromise.
Before a court habituated to a high degree of scenic luxury
Cavalli's opera had to be performed on 2 2 November, 1 6 60,
with no more fitting background than a number of rich
tapestry hangings. *

Such was the elder Vigarani's jealousy of his great pre-
decessor that it did not suffice to him merely to avoid using
any of Torelli's old scenes and machines. He had determined
upon starting with a clean slate, and had made up his mind
to destroy all the relics of his eminent compatriot. An
opportunity soon came. It is revealed to us by the Register
of Lagrange that in October, 1660, the theatre of the Petit
Bourbon was demolished, much to the discomfiture of
Moliere whose company acted there, and who had difficulty
in getting another asylum. On obtaining leave to act in the
Palais Royal, the great comedian begged that all the audito-
rium fittings and stage accessories of the old house should
be granted him. To this the King graciously consented, but
meanwhile "le Sr. de Vigarani, machiniste du Roy, nouvel-
lement arrive a Paris " had taken possession of the old
scenery and machinery, under pretext of turning them to
advantage in the palace of the Tuileries, and that Torelli's
memory should be blotted out, had lost no time in consign-
ing the whole to the flames. 2

Concerning a remarkable feature of the Ballet of the
Seasons at Fontainebleau in July, 1661, Madame de la
Fayette writes :

L'on repetoit alors a Fontainebleau, un ballet que le roi et
Madame danserent, et fut le plus agreable que ait jamais ete, soit
par le lieu 011 il se dansoit, qui etait le bord de l'etang, ou pour
l'lnvention qu'on avait trouvee de faire venir du bout d'une allee
le theatre tout entier charge d'une infinite de personnes qui
s'approchoient insensiblement, et qui faisoient une entree en dan-
sant sur le theatre. 3

1 Nuitter et Thoinan, Les Origines de VOpera Francais, Introd. pp. lviii-lxi.

2 Nuitter et Thoinan, p. lxi. footnote ; see also Mantzius, History of Theatrical
Art, iv. pp. 1 36-8.

3 Ludovic Celler, Les Decors, les Costumes, et la Mise en Scene au Dix-Septieme Siecle,
p. 123.



206 Louis XIV s Scene Painters

In the absence of indications to the contrary, one is justi-
fied in supposing that this mysterious huge machine, which
glided towards the audience with its freight of capering
courtiers, and (like the ghost in The Corsican Brothers) con-
trived to conceal its method of progression, one makes no
doubt that this masterpiece of ingenuity was the work of
Gaspare Vigarani. In association with his friend Amandini,
Gaspare was at this time vigorously engaged upon the erec-
tion of the grandiose Salle des Machines in the Tuileries,
a court theatre which derived its title from the fact that it
had been specially designed for the exploitation of striking
spectacular effects. Nothing quite so vast and ornate had
been seen in Modern Europe ; and the glories of the great
TeatroFarnese of Parma were now to be eclipsed. Some idea
of the immensity of the Salle des Machines may be derived
from the measurements given by the Abbe de Pure. l The
stage was 132 feet deep, and the height of the wings to the
bottom of the sky borders was 24 feet. From the borders to
the roof was an unseen space for the working of the scenes
and machinery of some 37 feet. Below was a cellar 1 5 feet
in depth. The width of the proscenium opening was 32
feet. The auditorium was constructed on an equally vast
scale. In height and breadth it was the same measurement,
viz., 49 feet (not reckoning the space occupied by the lateral
corridors) ; and its depth was 93 feet. The whole building
was in the form of an ellipse. The auditorium held over
seven thousand spectators, and was magnificently decorated
with golden sculptures and allegorical paintings. The fres-
coes on the ceiling had been designed by Le Brun and
executed by Noel Coypel.

To aid in the construction of the scenery and machinery
Gaspare Vigarani brought from Italy his son Carlo, a bril-
liant architect-mechanician whose notable work in France
has, through the bungling of the historians, been entirely
placed to his father's credit. 2 The Salle des Machines was

1 Idie des spectacles anciens et nouveaux (1668), as cited at length by Pougin,
Le Thehtre h V Exposition Universelle de 1889, pp. 62-3.

2 For evidence of this confusion, see Germain Bapst Essai sur 1'Histoire du Thehtre,
pp. 389-90; V. Fournel, Curiositcs The&trales y p. 275 Pougin, op. cit. p. 62; Nuitter
et Thoinan, op. cit. passim.



Louis XIV s Scene Painters 207

duly inaugurated on 7 February, 1 662, by the performance
of an Italian opera called Ercole Amante, which, after the
approved manner of the time, was packed with surprising
mechanical effects, among which swiftly changing scenery
and descending clouds with living freights played a promi-
nent part. 1 What rendered the occasion memorable was the
appearance of the King and Queen on the stage in the pro-
logue. The fifth scene, a finely conceived Inferno, long
haunted the imagination of the Grand Monarch, and to
get rid of the obsession His majesty finally commanded
Moliere to compose Psyche for its further exploitation. One
thinks in this connexion of Mr. Crummies and his famous
pump and tubs. But the outstanding feature of Ercole
Amante, if we are to place credence in the Abbe de Pure as
chronicler, 2 was Carlo Vigarani's great machine, showing
the apotheosis of Hercules and Beauty and their ascent to
regions divine. This immense moving platform was 60 feet
long by 40 broad, and to the astonishment of the vast audi-
ence, bore upwards in easy progression all the members of
the royal household, or no fewer than a hundred souls.
One wonders more at the sublime confidence of the court
than at the daring and the ingenuity of the great mechanist.

Feeling the weight of years pressing upon him, and
fully assured that none but his son would be his successor,
Gaspare Vigarani took his farewell of the French court, and
in June, 1 662, returned to Modena. 3 Out of gratitude for
his strenuous labours Louis XIV wrote a warm letter of
thanks and praise to the Grand Duke, a testimony of merit
which has been preserved in the works of Tiraboschi. 4 The
incident formed a fitting close to a memorable career ; and
on 9 September, 1663, the elder Vigarani passed quietly
away at Modena, aged about 77. 5

Equal as the father and son were in merit, it cannot be
gainsaid that the younger Vigarani was, par excellence, the
great stage artificer of the golden days of Moliere. Hence

1 Nuitter et Thoinan, pp. lxii-iii ; Celler, pp. 124-8.

2 Pougin, op. cit. p. 62. Note that this is the first definite record of "le Sieur
Charles Vigarany" in Paris. The exact date of his arrival is not readily determinable.

3 Tiraboschi, op. cit. p. 354. 4 ibid. loc. cit. 5 ibid.



20 8 Louis XIV s Scene Painters

it is with feelings of pleasure and pride that one sets about
redeeming his memory from the obscurity into which,
through the irony of circumstance, it has fallen. A not
inconspicuous figure amid the brilliant galaxy of a glorious
era, Carlo Vigarani devoted his talents and the remainder
of his days to the upholding of the French theatre. In due
process of time he took out letters of naturalization and
was appointed by royal warrant "inventeurdes machines des
theatres, ballets, et festes royalles." 1 Ever a court favourite,
he received from time to time many handsome presents from
the king. In 1 664 he distinguished himself at Versailles by
the notable scenic work done in connexion with the produc-
tion of the PrincesseD' Elide. 2 The fashion of the times, based
on a noxious Italian principle, ordained that the comedies
of Moliere should be interspersed with costly interludes or
allied with fantastic ballets ; an illusion-marring system all
compact of painful artifice which made of the scene painter
a man of equal importance with the dramatist. Thus the
relationship of Inigo Jones to Ben Jonson at the court of
Charles I was precisely the relationship of Carlo Vigarani to


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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 18 of 22)