William John Lawrence.

The Elizabethan playhouse and other studies online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the eighteenth century, and, for a time, existed cheek
by jowl with the employment of playbills. Indicating the
period of 1 740, in his account of the early Birmingham
stage, Gilliland 2 writes :

The first regular theatre was erected ten years afterwards in
Moor-street, which gave another spring to the proceedings: in the
day-time a drummer paraded the town, who beat his rounds,
delivered his bills, and roared out encomiums on the entertain-
ments of the evening, which, however, had not always the desired
effect. We have been informed that the celebrated Yates had
sustained this office ; and when we reflect that both himself and
Shuter exercised their talents in a booth in Bartholomew fair,
astonishment ceases. . . .

In 1 75 1 a handsome Theatre was built in King-street, and
opened in 1752 by a company announcing themselves "His
Majesty's Servants " from the Theatres Royal, London. These
persons expressed a wish that the townsmen would excuse the
ceremony of the drum, alleging as a reason — the dignity of a London
company. The novelty had a surprising effect; the performers
pleased, and the house was continually crowded : the general con-
versation turned upon theatricals ; and the town seemed to exhibit
one vast theatre.

Curiously enough, old Tate Wilkinson 3 tells a story to the
exact contrary. Writing in 1 790 of his country experiences
of thirty years or so earlier, he says :

Another strange custom they had at Norwich, and if abolished
it has not been many years, which was for a drummer and a
trumpeter (not the King's) in every street to proclaim in an audible

1 For fuller details, see Collier's Hist. Eng. Dram. Poetry (1S31), ii. 279-80. In
France the progression from oral advertisement to playbills and thence to programmes
affords a striking parallelism. For details of the announcement of a Mystery at Paris
in 1540, see Hone's Ancient Mysteries Described (1823), pp. 177-9.

2 The Dramatic Mirror (1808), i. p. 203.

3 Memoirs of His Oivn Life (Dublin, 1791), ii. 250-2.

The Origin of the 'Theatre Programme 59

voice, having been assisted by his shrill notes to summons each
garreteer, without which ceremony the gods would not submit to
descend from their heights into the streets to inquire what play
was to be acted, nor ascend into the gallery.

A custom of this kind prevailed so far with a Mr. Herbert's
Lincolnshire company in the time of our revered, well-remembered,
and beloved Marquis of Granby, that when at Grantham the
players determined to omit the usual ceremony of the drum,
wishing to grow more polite ; and by obstinate perseverance, Lady
Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots, King Henry the Eighth, the
King of France, nay even Cardinal Wolsey had no command,
attraction, or power over the populace when they lost their accus-
tomed and so much loved sound of the drum and trumpet. . . .
The Marquis of Granby sent for the manager of the troop, and
said to him, " Mr. Manager, I like a play; I like a player; and
shall be glad to serve you : — but my good friend, why are you so
suddenly offended at and averse to the noble sound of a drum ? —
I like it," said the Marquis, "and all the inhabitants like it. Put
my name on your playbill, provided you drum, but not otherwise.
Try the effect on tomorrow night; if then you are as thinly
attended as you have lately been, shut up your playhouse at once ;
but if it succeeds, drum away." The manager communicated this
edict to the princes, princesses, peers and peeresses ; and not only
they, but even the ambitious stepmother^ gave up all self-considera-
tion for the public weal ; and it was after some debate voted nem
con in favour of the drum: they deigned to try Lord Granby's
suggestion and to their pleasing astonishment their little theatre
was brim-full on the sound of the drum and Lord Granby's name ;
after which night they row-didi-dow'd away, had a very successful
season and drank flowing bowls to the health of the noble Marquis.

One notes from both Gilliland and Tate Wilkinson that
London had never taken kindly to the itinerant drummer-
cum-crier. Doubtless any attempts that were made in the
mid-sixteenth century to introduce the practice there met
with stern disapproval from the Common Council. 1 Even
in the distinctively inn-yard era it was not a question of one
company but several; and a multiplicity of drummers would
mean the distraction of prentices and the ready gathering of

1 The drummer and crier (two individuals working together) were institutions in
Paris early in the seventeenth century. Cf. Eugene Rigal, Le Theatre Franfais avant la
Periode Classique, p. 197 note 5.

60 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

riotous, stall-looting mobs. Hence the origin, in or about
1560, 1 of the playbill as poster. Possibly only a few bills
would be required for each performance in the beginning,
not more than half a dozen, and the necessity for going to
the expense of printing would therefore be obviated. Seeing
that the announcement would be of the briefest, merely the
date, hour and place of performance and the title of the play,
it would not be a severely irksome task for the Book-holder
to execute them by hand. One surmises that the primitive
playbill was in manuscript from the fact that at the close
of the century, when the excessive rivalry of the numerous
theatres on both sides of the river led to the printing of
bills through a vastly increased issue, the MS. bill is found
persisting side by side with the printed bill. 2 The monopoly
which John Charlewood enjoyed from the Stationers' Com-
pany of printing playbills did not hinder any person from
writing his own. In the induction to A Warning for Faire
Women (1599), Tragedy, after a dispute, lays her whip about
the shoulders of Comedy and History in saying :

'Tis you have kept the Theatres so long,
Painted in playbills upon every post,
That I am scorned of the multitude.

Here "painted" seems to imply resort to the brush rather
than the printing press in the execution of bills. At best,
however, no great stress can be laid on the evidence, con-
sidering that MS. bills in 1 599 must have been the exception,
not the rule. On the other hand it can be clearly shown that
at a slightly later period MS. bills of various kinds were still
posted. Preserved among the Alleyn Papers at Dulwich is
aBear-Garden poster 3 of the time of James I (before 1614),
written in a large coarse hand, after the manner doubtless
followed in all manuscript bills. The wording runs :

1 Cf. Collier, op. cit. iii. 382, extracts from Strype's Life of Grindall. The affichc
was utilized in France at least as early as 1556. See Eugene Rigal, op. cit. p. 197
note 2.

2 In the country strollers had no option but to resort to manuscript bills. In 1 59-
the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge wrote to the Privy Council complaining that the
Queen's Players had set up "writings about our College gates" (Collier, op. cit. i.

3 Warner's Dulwich Catalogue, p. 83.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 61

Tomorrowe beinge Thursdaie shalbe seen at the Bear-gardin on
the banckside a greate mach plaid by the gamsters of Essex, who
hath chalenged all comers whatsoever to plaie V dogges at the
single beare for V pounds, and also to wearie a bull dead at the
stake ; and for your better content shall have plasent sport with
the horse and ape and whiping of the blind beare. Vivat Rex !

The loyal flourish at the end not only helps to date the bill
but serves opportunely to refute a hitherto uncontroverted
conjecture of Steevens' upon which Malone has put his
endorsement. l Steevens' idea was that the custom of placing
"Vivat Rex" at the foot of a playbill originated by way of
substitute for the older system of praying for the King and
Queen at the end of the play. But the prayer was woven
into the epilogue of Locrine in 1595, before which time the
conventional flourish had certainly been added to the bills. It
cannot be pretended that prayers for the reigning monarch
were ever offered up after a bullfight or a bear-baiting, and
yet we find the "Vivat Rex" at the end of a Bear-Garden
poster. The truth is that, time out of mind, the loyal flourish
was a feature of all proclamations, and that the playbill, being
purely an outgrowth of the oral announcement, was to all
intents and purposes a proclamation. In dismissing the
subject one may point out that what had originally been a
characteristic of the poster eventually became the inheritance
of the programme. With necessary variants, and sometimes
rendered into English, "Vivat Rex" held its place at the
foot of the bills to the close of the reign of William IV.

By complex reasoning one arrives at the conclusion that
the normal playbill of the Elizabethan era was characterized
by its brevity. To be stuck on a street-post it had to be small,
and to attract the passer-by it had to be bold. Displayed
matter on a moderate-sized bill could not be very verbose.
One recalls that when Belch, in the fifth act of Histriomastix
(1598), is asked by the Captain what he is setting up, he
replies, "Text-bills for plays." This either means bills
written in a large round hand or bills printed in prominent

1 Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. p. 105.

6i The Origin of the Theatre Programme

capitals. At the foot of his list of properties in The Fairy
Pastoral! or Forrest of Elves (circa 1 600), Percy notifies the
players :

Now if it be so that the Properties of any of These, that be
outward, will not serve the turne by reason of concurse of the
People on the Stage, Then you may omitt the sayd Properties
which be outward and supplye their Places with their Nuncupa-
tions onely in Text Letters.

While there is good reason to believe, as I shall presently
show, that the title of the play stood out prominently on
the poster, Collier's theory that "the names of tragedies,
for greater distinction, were ordinarily printed in red ink" !
must be scouted. His evidence is the prologue to The
Cardinal, a Blackfriars play of 1641. My quotation from
this must be more liberal than his :

The Cardinal! 'Cause we express no scene,

We do believe most of you, gentlemen,

Are at this hour in France, and busy there,

Though you vouchsafe to lend your bodies here ;

But keep your fancy active, till you know,

By the progress of our play, 'tis nothing so.

A poet's art is to lead on your thought

Through subtle paths and workings of a plot ;

And when your expectation does not thrive,

If things fall better, yet you may forgive.

I will say nothing positive; you may

Think what you please ; we call it but a Play :

Whether the comic Muse, or ladies' love,

Romance, or direful tragedy it prove,

The bill determines not ; and would you be

Persuaded I would have 't a Comedy,

For all the purple in the name, and state

Of him that owns it.

Dutton Cook's mild protest, " but this may be a reference
to the colour of a cardinal's robes," 2 sufficing as it is by way
of rejoinder, hardly expresses one's irritation over Collier's

1 op. cit. iii. 3S6. Obviously basing on this, J. Churton Collins, in his imagina-
tive picture of the Elizabethan Theatres (Posthumous Essays, p. 16), conjures up visions
of posters in red !

2 A Book of the Play (3rd edit., 1881), p. 55.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 6 2

momentary stupidity. There was doubtless a spice of truth in
Tragedy's plaint in A Warning for F "aire Women that History
and Comedy had beaten her out of the field, and that being
so, the players were not likely to set up invidious distinctions
in their bills. Quaere, was it the ill vogue of tragedy or mere
affectation that urged Shirley to bill The Cardinal vaguely as
"a play" ?

The point is altogether new and may fail to win acceptance
simply because of its novelty, but it seems to me that many
of the insignificant titles of old comedies were mere catch-
titles designed to arrest the attention of — perhaps even
momentarily to deceive — the wayfarer. What other purpose
could be served in giving plays such titles as Look About You;
Come, See a Wonder; News from Plymouth ; As Tou Like It;
If You know not me, You know Nobody ; A Mad World, my
Masters ? The list might be multiplied indefinitely. To my
mind, these catch-titles indicate that in the bills the name of
the play was given excessive prominence, so that they might
possess attraction even at a distance. Showmanship did not
begin with Barnum !

The chances are there were two sorts of Elizabethan play-
bills or posters, the mysterious and the elucidative. The
mysterious would be the Comedy bills, in which the catch-
titles were left in the vague. The elucidative would be
the Tragedy or History bills in which a straightforward
title would be explained to the vulgar. In the first edition
of his Historical Account of the English Stage, Malone inclined
to the opinion that the long and whimsical titles of the
Shakesperean quartos were transcribed from the playbills
of the period. Subsequently he changed his mind on finding
that the booksellers were prone to disfigure other books and
pamphlets with "long-tailed titles ". He points out that
Nashe, in the second edition of his Supplication to the Devil
(1592), commands the printer to delete the discursive title
page which had appeared in the first issue, "and let mee not
in the fore-front of my booke make a tedious mountebanks
oration to the reader." 1 But, despite Malone's conclusions,

1 Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. pp. 1 14-5.

64 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

there is some reason to believe that discursive sub-titles
were not altogether foreign to the Tragedy and History
(and sometimes even the Comedy) bills. I base here
on the persistence of theatrical custom, that great main-
stay of the deductive historian. In the first half of the
eighteenth century, when the playbill and the programme
were identical, one occasionally finds Shakespearean bills
with long-tailed titles. These bear some resemblance in
structure to the title pages of the old quartos, and seem
otherwise to imply the dying struggles of a hoary convention.
By way of example let us take the early title page of The
Tragedy of King Richard the Third, which runs on "Contain-
ing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence :
the pittieful murther of his innocent nephewes : his tyran-
nicall vsurpation : with the whole course of his detested
life, and most deserued death." In early eighteenth-century
playbills dealing with the tragedy this wording is departed
from, for the very good reason that Colley Cibber's version
had ousted the genuine play from the field. But, if a trifle
more diffuse, the structure is much the same. Thus, in a
Dublin playbill of the Theatre Royal, Smock Alley, for
22 March, 1 730-1, one finds it announced that there

Will be acted the True and Ancient History of King Richard
the Third, Written by the famous Shakespear. Containing the
distresses and death of King Henry the Sixth ; The artful acquisi-
tion of the crown by King Richard, The cruel murder of young
King Edward the Fifth, and his brother the Duke of York, in the
tower, The fall of the Duke of Buckingham, The landing of the
Duke of York at Milford Haven, The death of King Richard in
the memorable battle of Bosworth-field, being the last that was
fought between the contending Houses of York and Lancaster,
With many other historical passages. 1

As indicative of the persistence of playhouse formulae,
and the inter-relationship of the old London and Dublin
theatres, it may be pointed out that in the bill of Garrick's

1 Robert Hitchcock, An Historical View of the Irish Stage (1788), i. 53, where a
corrupt and incomplete copy of the bill is given. In the above excerpt I have followed
the wording in the advertisement published in Faulkner's Dublin Journal for 20 March,

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 6$

first appearance on the London Stage, 1 an event that
occurred at Goodman's Fields on 19 October, 1741, the
long-tailed title of Cibber's play is almost word for word
with the above. It may be, however, that in seeing in all
this the long-sustained influence of an unproved conven-
tion 1 am speaking beyond my brief. Evidence might be
advanced to show that the discursive bill dated no further
back than the dawn of the eighteenth century. Lowe points
out that

In the Key to the Rehearsal, published in 1704, the publisher
states that his author declaimed against the practice of the English
stage, saying that he believed that the regular theatres were in a
confederacy to ruin the Fair of Smithfield, " by outdoing them in
their bombastic bills, and ridiculous representing their plays." 2

In this connexion it is noteworthy that Cibber's showy
perversion of King Richard III had first seen the light
at Drury Lane only two or three years previously. If
Colley really introduced the bombastic bill, then my idea
of the persistence of an old convention must fall to the

In his valuable work on Shakespeare in Germany, Albert
Cohn gives in an appendix an interesting playbill, issued
in German by a troupe of English players who were acting
on the Continent in or about 1 6 1 3 . Making due allowance
for the fact that it is the opening bill of a travelling com-
pany, this bill probably preserves something of the form
and phraseology of the early Jacobean posters. Cohn's
appended translation reads :

Know all men, that a new Company of Comedians have arrived
here, who have never been seen before in this country with a right
merry Clown, who will act every day fine Comedies, Tragedies,
Pastorals, and Histories, intermixed with lovely and merry Inter-
ludes, and today Wednesday the 21st of April 3 they will present
a right merry Comedy called Love's Sweetness turned into Death's
Bitterness. After the Comedy will be presented a fine Ballet and

1 Reproduced in Joseph Knight's David Garrick, p. 22.

2 R. W. Lowe, Thomas Betterton, p. 13.

3 This date fell upon a Wednesday in 161 3 and 161 9.


66 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

laughable Droll. 1 The Lovers of such plays must make their
appearance at the Fencing-house in the afternoon at 2 o'clock,
where the play will begin at the appointed hour precisely.

To some extent this bill apparently justifies the impres-
sion that the phraseology of the old play-titles in quarto
was adopted from the playbills. In reading it one's mind
instinctively reverts to "A Most pleasaunt and excellent
conceited Comedie, of Syr John Falstaffe, and the merrie
Wiues of Windsor. Entermixed with sundrie variable and
pleasing humors, of Syr Hugh" etc. 2 It may be, as argued
by Mantzius, 3 that Shakespeare girds mockingly at the play-
bill formula in making Philostrate read out about "a tedious
brief scene of young Pyramus, And his love Thisbe ; very
tragical mirth."

Erroneous inferences have been drawn from the entry
in the books of the Stationers' Company recording the
license granted to Charlewood for the printing of playbills.
It. runs thus :

October, 1587, John Charlewood. Lycensed to him by the
whole consent of the Assistants the onlye ymprinting of all manner
of billes for players. Provided that if any trouble arise herebye,
then Charlewood to beare the charges. 4

"All manner of billes for players" has been widely
interpreted by latter-day inquirers. Some think it refers to
different sizes of playbills '\ and some that it points to the
existence of programmes. 6 All, to my mind, are wrong. On
close examination it would appear that the word "players"
was here used in a very loose sense, and that the passage is
elucidated by another in the abstract of the Letters Patent
granted in 1620 to Roger Wood and Thomas Symcocks,

1 Read " some excellent dancing and a laughable Jig."

2 Quarto of 1602. 3 History of Theatrical Art, iii. p. 108.

4 Collier, op. cit. iii. 382 note.

5 Cf. Gent's Mag., June, 1900, p. 532, Percy Fitzgerald's article on "The Play-
bill ; Its Growth and Evolution." Mr. Fitzgerald confuses the issue by speaking of
" all manner of bills for plays"

6 Cf. Sir Sidney Lee, Life of Shakespeare, 1899, p. 303, where James Roberts,
Charlewood's successor, is spoken of as having the right to print "the players' bills or

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 67

"for the sole printing of paper and parchment on the one
side." Among other things they were granted a monopoly
of the printing of "all Billes for Playes, Pastimes, Showes,
Challenges, Prizes or Sportes whatsoever." l Some of these
challenges and sports, such as fencing matches and cock-
fights, were often given in the early public theatres. On
ti February, 1602-3, we find Chamberlain writing to
Dudley Carleton :

On Monday last here was a great prise and challenge performed
at the Swan betweene two fencers Dun and Turner, wherein Dun
had so ill lucke that the other ran him into the eye with a foile,
and so far into the head that he fell downe starke dead, and never
spake word nor once moved.

Bearing the principle of the post in mind, it is unthink-
able that playbills of widely varying sizes should have been
issued; and for other reasons equally unthinkable that two
different kinds of bills (say a placard and a programme)
should have been printed for the one performance, ^pos-
teriori argument is here legitimate, for the principle of the
maintenance of theatrical custom again asserts itself. It
will be shown later that when the programme or playbill
with cast of characters came into existence it had for long no
separate identity, being merely an improved placard made
to do double duty.

To maintain this idea of "one performance one playbill"
it will have to be conceded that about the middle of the
reign of James I the conventional poster was put to more
extended use. It seems to have been delivered to well-to-do
patrons of the play, and may, perhaps, have been put up in
certain kinds of shops. Later on we shall find evidence
in the Post-Restoration period of the delivery of the bill
(while still devoid of any suspicion of cast) to private people
of good standing. So far as Jacobean times are concerned
the custom seems to be indicated in The Devil is An Ass
(161 6), i. 2, where Engine hands Fitzdottrell the playbill
for the day.

1 Collier, op. cit. iii. 383.

68 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

Only one approximation to a programme is known of in
Pre-Restoration times, and that appears to be the exception
proving the rule. It fails to present a cast of characters, with
the names of the players, and is wholly taken up with an
elaborate synopsis of a proposed performance. I refer to
a broadsheet (of which I give a reduced facsimile) preserved
in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London,
and bearing title, "The Plot of the Play called England's
Joy. To be Played at the Swan this 6 of November, 1 602." 1
Neatly printed within an ornamental border and headed
by the royal arms, this measures I2f inches by 7 J inches.
Whether or not it was intended for use as a programme, it
certainly was designed for distribution as a lure. From the
extent of the matter and the comparative smallness of the
type one can readily divine it was not intended for a poster,
a conclusion confirmable by other evidence (shortly to be
advanced), which shows that a separate poster must also have
been issued. Exactly a hundred years have elapsed since
this remarkably interesting broadside was first reprinted
in The Harleian Miscellany 2 , and, strange to say, it has only
once been reproduced since. 3

The sequel to the distribution of this enticing broadsheet
is told in a gossippy letter from Chamberlain to Dudley
Carleton, written 1 9 November, 1 602 :

And now we are in mirth, I must not forget to tell you of a
cousening prancke of one Venner, of Lincoln's Inne, that gave out
bills of a famous play on Satterday was sevenight on the Bancke-
side, to be acted only by certain gentlemen and gentlewomen of
account. The price at cumming in was two shillings or eighteen-
pence at least ; and when he had gotten most part of the mony
into his hands he wold have shewed them a faire paire of heeles,
but he was not so nimble to get up on horsebacke, but that he was
faine to forsake that course and betake himselfe to the water, where
he was pursued and taken, and brought before the Lord Chicfe
Justice, who wold make nothing of it but a jest and a merriment,
and bounde him over in five pounds to appeare at the sessions. In

1 No. 98 in Lemon's Catalogue of 1866. 2 Vol. x. 198.

3 See Dr. Wm. Martin's article "An Elizabethan Theatre Programme," in The

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 6 of 22)