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1 For date and details of the production, see The Elizabethan Playhouse and other
Studies (First Series), p. 139.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 79

difficulty by printing it as a broadside and distributing it
to the house ! This was indeed a heroic remedy.

On 10 February, 1668-9, we find Mrs. Evelyn, the
diarist's wife, writing to her friend Mr. Terryll :

The censure of our plays comes to me at second hand. There
has not been any new lately revived and reformed, as Cataline,
well set out with clothes and scenes ; Horace, with a farce and
dances between every act composed by Lacy, and played by him
and Nell, which takes ; one of my Lord of Newcastle's for which
printed apologies are scattered in the assembly by Briden's
[PDryden's] order, either for himself who had some hand in it,
or for the author most; I think both had right to them. 1

The play last referred to was undoubtedly The Heiress,
produced at the Theatre Royal on 30 January previously,
and attributed by Pepys to the Duke of Newcastle. As
Kynaston was beaten by hired hooligans for his mimicry of
Sir Charles Sedley in this piece, it is probable the "printed
apologies" repudiated the insinuation of personal satire on
the part of the authors.

About this period, or possibly a little earlier (one cannot
say exactly when the practice began), it became customary
to issue the prologues and epilogues of new plays, as
well as addresses of this kind written for special occasions,
as broadsides for sale in the street. 2 The persistence of
this practice, which lasted to the middle of the eighteenth
century, and quickly spread to Ireland, might possibly
have suggested the eventual development of the playbill
into a programme. This would account for the fact that
programmes were at first sold outside the theatres, a
custom long maintained — long, indeed, after they began
to be vended inside.

Not much can be gleaned as to the methods of issuing
playbills in the latter half of the seventeenth century, but
there is at least a sufficiency of evidence to show that no
list of characters was as yet provided. In Chamberlayne's
tragi-comedy, Wits Led by the Nose, or a Poet's Revenge, as

1 Evelyn's Diary (edited by Wm. Bray, 1852), iv. p. 14.

2 A broadside of the epilogue to Mitbridates, as spoken at the Theatre Royal, circa
October, 1681, is preserved in the British Museum (press-mark "644-1-20-9").

80 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

acted at the Theatre Royal in 1677, the Prologue-speaker
comes on before the curtain in the guise of a country
gentleman and proceeds to read a playbill attached to the
proscenium entering door, as if posted in the street. He sees
there the name of the play, and notes that it was "never
acted before ". l Early in 1672 a troupe of French players,
acting somewhere in London, attracted some attention by
using red posters, and of a size somewhat larger than usual.
From Dryden's reference 2 to this circumstance it is plain
that coloured bills were then a novelty in England. The
innovation does not seem to have borne immediate fruit.
Of recent years some valuable evidence has come to
light showing that the playbill of the later seventeenth
century still maintained its pristine brevity. According to
the Historical Manuscripts Commission Report on the Verney
Papers, 3 there are preserved at Claydon House, Co. Bucks,
three old undated playbills all, apparently, belonging to
this period. One sees no reason why these bills (not being
actual programmes) should have been so preserved unless,
as seems highly probable, it was customary to deliver day-
bills at the houses of distinguished patrons of the play. If
the Report is to be credited 4 the three bills are only about
6 inches by 3 : surely too small a size for use as posters.
And yet it is difficult to believe that two kinds of day-
bills were issued at the period. 5 None of the three bills
now being available, it is unfortunate that only one of them
was reproduced in the Historical Manuscripts Commission

1 For other evidence testifying to the posting of bills in Restoration times, see
The Wild Gallant (1669), ii. 1, where Failer's name is said to have been on more posts
than playbills were; also The Rehearsal (1671), end of last act.

2 Cf. The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), p. 142.

3 Report vii, p. 509.

4 About eight years ago I made formal application for permission to inspect and
photograph these bills, but was informed by Lady Verney in a courteous reply that
they had unaccountably disappeared.

5 In the third decade of the eighteenth century we find large and small bills being
issued in connexion, with the one performance, the large as posters, the small as pro-
grammes. See the article on "The Present State of the Theatrical War in the British
Dominions," quoted in The London Magazine, March, 1734, p. 105, wherein it is
whimsically said of "Duke Giffard", the manager of Goodman's Fields, that "he has
likewise exerted himself in an extraordinary manner, as appears by his printed manifesto,
which is duly posted up on the Gates, and other noted places of this Metropolis, being
at least four feet in length."

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 81

Report. Although undated, it is fairly certain that two at
least belong to the period of 1692-3. One deals with The
Indian Emperor, another with Henry II, King of England,
and a third with All for Love and Theodosius. l A clue to the
dating of the bills is afforded by the fact that Bancroft and
Mountford's tragedy of Henry II, King of England was first
brought out at Drury Lane on 9 November, 1692, and
published a few weeks later. The Indian Emperor had
been revived at the same house, with new music by Henry
Purcell, late in the December previous. 2 The bill for this
play, as reproduced in the Historical Manuscripts Commission
Report, runs as follows :

At the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane this present Wednesday,
being the last day of November will be presented

a Play called

The Indian Emperor, or

The Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards.

No money to be return'd after the Curtain is drawn.

By Their Majesties servants.

Vivant Rex et Rcgina.

As The Indian Emperor 'was originally produced in 1665,
and frequently revived, it is vital to note that the "Vivant
Rex et Regina" at the end of the bill limits it to the reign
of William and Mary, or between 1689 and 1694. The only
year within that period in which 30 November fell on a
Wednesday was 1692, the probable date of the bill.

That bills in 1695 na ^ not y et been furnished with casts
is shown by a story told of the theatrical rivalries of that
year by Colley Cibber in his Apology. On a certain Monday
morning the Drury Lane company resolved suddenly to
change their bill for the evening, and, for strategical pur-
poses, to play The Old Bachelor, a popular comedy at the
opposition theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

1 It is somewhat remarkable to find two tragedies being played on the one night.
But Malone writes, "I have seen a playbill printed in the year 1697, which expressed
only the titles of the two pieces that were to be exhibited, and the time when they
were to be represented." Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. p. 114 note.

2 Cf. Quart. Mag. International Musical Society, Year v, Pt. IV, 1904, p. 528,
W. Barclay Squire's article, " Purcell's Dramatic Music."


82 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

This motion was agreed to, nemine contradicente; but upon inquiry
it was found that there were not two persons among them who
had ever acted in that play. But that objection, it seems (though
all the parts were to be studied in six hours) was soon got over;
Powell had an equivalent in petto that would balance any deficiency
on that score, which was, that he would play the Old Bachelor
himself, and mimic Betterton throughout the whole part. This
happy thought was approved with delight and applause, as what-
ever can be supposed to ridicule merit generally gives joy to those
that want it. Accordingly the bills were changed, and at the bottom
inserted " The part of the Old Bachelor to be performed in imita-
tion of the original." Printed books of the play were sent for in
haste, and every actor had one, to pick out of it the part he had chosen.
Thus, while they were each of them chewing the morsel they
had most mind to, some one, happening to cast his eye over the
dramatis personae, found that the main matter was still forgot, that
nobody had yet been thought of for the part of alderman Fondle-
wife. Here they were all aground again ; nor was it to be conceived
who could make the least tolerable shift with it. This character
had been so admirably acted by Dogget, that though it is only seen
in the fourth act, it may be no dispraise to the play to say it
probably owed the greatest part of its success to his performance.
But as the case was now desperate, any resource was better than
none. Somebody must swallow the bitter pill, or the play must
die. 1

At length it was agreed that Cibber should be cast for
Fondlewife, and between eleven and twelve that morning
the part was put into his hands. Since the oversight regard-
ing the character was not observed until after the bills were
printed, it is evident that bills then did not present any
details of the cast. But their brevity was an advantage,
as it admitted of their being readily changed. In this
connexion it is worthy of note that another four years
were to elapse before the name of the author of the play
was to be regularly announced. Curiously enough, this
change was mainly due to Jeremy Collier's attack on the
profanity and indecency of the stage. When The Double
Dealer came to be revived on 4 March, 1699, some altera-
tions had to be made in deference to the prevailing tone of

1 Cibber's Apology (edit. 1826), Chap. vi. pp. 119-20.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 83

thought, and the play was accordingly announced as "written
by Mr Congreve; with several expressions omitted." This
marks the hour of innovation but not the period of regular
usage. Lowe, in his monograph on Thomas Betterton^ 1 cites
a bill for 27 February, 1 700, which goes to show that at the
dawn of the new century the old terseness and sobriety still
ruled, if soon to be broken in upon :

w. R.

At the Desire of several Persons of Quality.

At the


in Little Lincoln's-Inn Fields, this present Tuesday being the

27th of February, will be presented,

a Tragedy call'd


[The Moorish] Entry perform'd by

[The Littl]e Boy.

Vivat Rex. 2

From the time when Jeremy Collier had put a spoke into
the Thespian cart, those "dressed in a little brief authority"
had been unceasing in their harassments of the players. On
Tuesday, 2 1 May, 1700, Luttrell 3 records :

The Grand Jury of this Citty last week presented to the court
at the old Baily, that for any person to goe to play houses was a
publick nusance : and that the putting up bills in and about this
citty for playes was an encouragement to vice and prophanesse;
and prayed that none be suffered for the future.

Within the next two or three weeks, the Mayor and
Aldermen, acting on this instruction, issued an order
forbidding the playhouse bills to be affixed in any part

p. 14.


2 The bill as cited by Lowe is slightly defective, and the bracketed portions have
been added by me from a contemporary newspaper advertisement. Note that from 1698
onwards it had been customary to mention the French dancers engaged, at the bottom
of the Lincoln's Inn Fields bills. Cf. The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First
Series), p. 152, under "Wright".

3 A Brief Relation of State Affairs, &c. (1857), iv. 647.

84 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

of the city or liberties thereof. l Although this embargo
continued to operate for some time, it did not wholly
prevent the printing of playbills, which continued to be
exposed in coffee houses and taverns, and probably to be
delivered to leading patrons of the play. In The London
Post for Friday, 28 June, to Monday, 1 July, 1700, we
find a paragraph setting forth that :

It being put on the Playhouse bills 2 on Friday last, that each
company were to act that day, and the whole profits to go to'ards
the Redemption of the English now in Slavery at Machanisso in
Barbary, we are credibly informed that pursuant thereunto, the
Treasurers of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane did on Saturday
last pay into the hands of the Churchwardens of St. Martin's the
sum of 20I. out of the receipts of the play acted by that company
towards the Relief of those our natives from slavery, which good
example 'tis hoped may move others to be speedy and generous
in the Charity for the same purpose. What the other Company
gave I do not hear.

Three years later the interdict against playbill-posting
was still in force, although attempts were being made to
evade it. In 1703, when a proposal was on foot to refit
the disused theatre in Dorset Gardens, the Grand Jury of
Middlesex made a presentment for

The having some effectual course taken, if possible, to prevent
the youth of this city from resorting to the playhouses, which we
rather mention because the playhouse bills are again posted up
throughout the city, in contempt of a former presentment and a
positive order of the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen to the
contrary, dated June, 1700 ; as also because we are informed that
a playhouse within the liberties of this city, which has been of late
disused and neglected, is at this time refitting in order to be used
as formerly. We do not presume to prescribe to this honourable
court, but we cannot question but that, if they shall think fit

1 The Post Man, of 25 June, 1700, as cited in The Gent's Magazine, July, 18 14,
p. 9. The prohibition is referred to in the epilogue to Mrs. Centlivre's tragedy, The
Perjured Husband ; or the Adventures of Venice, as delivered shortly afterwards at Drury

2 The regular phraseology of the period. So Pope : —

" Shakspeare, whom you and every playhouse bill
Style the divine, the matchless, what you will — ."

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 85

humbly to address Her Majesty in this case, she will be graciously
pleased to prevent it. 1

One result of the sustained prohibition against bill-
posting was that brief theatrical advertisements began to
appear in the newspapers with greater frequency. During
the last two or three years of the old century occasional puffs
preliminary and advertisements of special performances had
been inserted in The Post Boy and The Post Man, but these
were of a naive, wholly primitive order. For example, in
The Post Boy, of 8 July, 1 700, we read :

This Day at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane will be pre-
sented a play called Sophonisba or Hannibal's Overthrow, not
performed by the Publick Actors, but by all young gentlemen and
ladies for their own Diversion. The Benefit for the Young People
of the House.

Since the prohibition of bill-posting lasted at least a couple
of years, it maybe that the players in drafting their privately
distributed handbills sought to gain by floridity what they
had lost by the old embargo. This would account for the
charge levelled against them in 1 704, of having entered
into a confederacy to ruin the mummers of Bartlemy Fair
" by outdoing them in their bombastick bills, and ridiculous
representing their plays." Some evidence, however, exists
to show that the outbreak of verbiage was but transient,
and that to it cannot be ascribed the introduction of the pro-
gramme, or bill with cast. Preserved in the British Museum,
in Smith's voluminous compilation for a History of the
English Stage, 2 is a small playbill of the Queen's Theatre,
Haymarket, for 6 November, 1705. Brief announcement
is made of The Confederacy, but no cast is given.

Within the succeeding six or seven years the theatre pro-
gramme sprang into existence. A statement of Malone's

1 Quoted from Percy Fitzgerald's Neiv History of the English Stage, i. 315, where,
however, no reference is cited and the date only given obliquely. But the prohibition
certainly lasted some time, as Farquhar, in his Discourse Upon Comedy, published in
Love and Business (1702), replying to the parrot-cry of the degeneracy of the times,
says, "true downright sense was never more universal than at this very day; . . .
'tis neither abdicated the court with the late Reigns, nor expell'd the City with the
Play-house bills."

2 Press-mark " 1 1826 r ", Vol. iv, near middle (no pagination). This is the oldest
playbill in the British Museum.

86 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

enables us to approximate the period. " Notices of plays ",
he writes, cc to be performed on a future day, similar to those
now daily published, first appeared in the original edition
of the Spectator in 1 7 1 1 ." 1 Theatrical advertisements in the
newspapers at the time this was written generally included
a full cast of the performance. Hence the reference. The
evidence presented by the appended advertisements from
the original edition of The Spectator seems to imply that the
programme was gradually arrived at, first by giving on the
bills the names of the principal players, and afterwards by
specifying what particular parts they were to play. One
assumes that most of these advertisements were fairly full
reproductions of the bills of the time. Two examples may
be cited in support of this contention. The first is from The
Spectator \ of 1 1 August, 171 1, No. 141 : — 2

By her Majesty's Company of Comedians.

At the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, on Tuesday next, being
the 14th Day of August, will be presented, A comedy call'd The
Lancashire Witches. Written by the Ingenious Mr Shadwell,
late Poet Laureat. Carefully Revis'd. With all the Original
Decorations of Scenes, Witche's Songs and Dances, proper to the
Dramma. The Principal Parts to be perform'd by Mr Mills, Mr
Booth, Mr Johnson, Mr Bullock, Sen, Mr Norris, Mr Pack, Mr
Bullock, Jun:, Mrs Elrington, Mrs Powel, Mrs Bradshaw, Mrs
Cox. And the Witches by Mr Buckhead, Mr Ryan, Mrs Mills,
and Mrs Willis. It being the last time of acting it this season.

The second, showing progression towards a full cast, is
cited from The Spectator \ of 5 May, 1712, No. 370 : —

For the Benefit of Mr Penkethman. At the Desire of Several
Ladies of Quality. By Her Majesty's Company of Comedians.
At the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, this present Monday being
the 5th of May, will be presented a Comedy called Love makes
a Man, or The Fop's Fortune. The Part of Don Lewis, alias
Don Choleric Snap Shorto de Testy, by Mr Penkethman; Carlos,
Mr Wilks; Clodio, alias Don Dismallo Thick-Scullo de Half
Witto, Mr Cibber; and all the other Parts to the best advantage.
With a new Epilogue, Spoken by Mr Penkethman, riding on an

1 Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. 114.

2 Cited from Henry Morley's recension as issued by Routledge, without date.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 87

Ass. By her Majesty's Command no Persons are to be admitted
behind the Scenes, And To-Morrow, being Tuesday, will be pre-
sented, A Comedy call'd The Constant Couple, or A Trip to the
Jubilee. For the Benefit of Mrs Bickncll.

From this to a bill with a full cast of characters (a bill
answering indifferently as placard or programme) was but
a step, and it was very quickly taken. Once the programme
was reached, very little alteration or extension of its charac-
teristics took place for over a century. It told the spectator
what pieces were to be played and who were the players ;
and it also comprised a list of whatever dances, songs and
addresses were to be given between the acts or between the
pieces. There it stopped. The whole was in bold type,
suitable for reading in a dimly lit theatre, and unburdened
with advertisements. It was not until the latter half of the
nineteenth century that the practice of giving a synopsis
of the scenery and details of the inter-act music came into
vogue. But even at an early period its defectiveness as a
guide became felt, and had to be repaired in other ways.
Thus when Colley Cibber's new musical masque of Venus
and Adonis was produced at Drury Lane, on 1 2 March, 1 7 1 4,
it was announced that "A Printed book will be given to each
person who pay to the Pit or Boxes." The non-provision
of a programme of the inter-act music led to the prolonga-
tion of an old Elizabethan custom, the calling for tunes
on the part of the audience, a demand long conceded, and
occasionally the source of riot and disorder through the
calling for party tunes.

Bills in the old days were drafted by the prompter, and
the task was one of considerable difficulty and delicacy. In
discussing the period of 17 14, Chetwood, who had been
twenty years prompter at Drury Lane, Writes :

Distinguished Characters in Bills were not in Fashion, at the
Time these Plays were performed ; they were printed in Order
according to the Drama as they stood, not regarding the Merit of
the Actor. As for Example, in Macbeth, Duncan King of Scotland
appear'd first on the Bill, tho' acted by an insignificant Person ;
and so every other Actor appear'd according to his Dramatic

88 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

Dignity, all of the same-siz'd Letter. But latterly, I can assure
my Readers, I have found it a difficult Task to please some Ladies,
as well as Gentlemen, because I could not find Letters large enough
to please them ; and some were so very fond of Elbow-room, that
they would have shoved everybody out but themselves, as if one
Person was to do all, and have the Merit of all, like Generals of
an Army ; such a Victory was gained by such a King, and such a
Prince, while the other Officers and Soldiers were forgot. 1

Very different was the attitude of the French comedians.
In 1789 (when the principle of the programme had not yet
come into vogue in Paris) we find them petitioning monsieur
le maire not to permit their names to be put on the affiche, an
innovation deemed by them very contrary to their interests.
They were, however, but kicking against the pricks, and in
less than two years the principle had been generally adopted. 2

In 1788, when John Kemble was appointed manager of
Drury Lane, he sought to abolish all playbill distinctions,
either in matter of type or in priority of place. But his praise-
worthy example was not followed, and at Covent Garden
at the end of the century the players' names were printed
according to their rank in the theatre, and in new pieces,
according to salary. 3 At a later period Kean and Macready
were avid for big type, and ever ready to fight " for an hour
by Shrewsbury clock " for the maintenance of the star's
prerogative. The play was no longer the thing. No player,
save Dowton, rose superior to his surroundings. " I am
sorry you have done this," he wrote to Elliston, when his
name had been announced in a riot of capitals. " You know
well what I mean. This cursed quackery. These big letters.
There is a want of respectability about it, or rather a
notoriety, which gives one the reeling of an absconded
felon, against whom a hue and cry is made public." 4

Although the eighteenth-century French player, as we
have seen, was by no means amorous of playbill notoriety,
it is none the less true that "display" advertisements were

1 W. R. Chetwood, A General History of the Stage (London, 1749), p. 59.

2 V. Fournel, Curiositcs The'atrales, p. 127.

3 Cf. The Monthly Mirror (1799), Vol. vii. p. 178 note a .

4 Dutton Cook, A Book of the Play (1881), p. 57.

For the Benefit of Mr.LEVERID <
Theatre Royal in C

is urcfcr.t Wednfifdaj, b&n« the

The City Wives Confederacy.

(7'V; f i *7 t&t **tt Sir I » h H V A NllCD

The Part of dan s a to be perriorm'd


Gripe bv Mr D U N S T A L L,

■ Monty-trap by Mr. ARTHUR,

D/V* by : DYE R,

Bra/s bv Ms M A G K L I N,

The Part of W Mrs. MACK LIN,

Arammta by L R 1 N G TON,

Cor inn a by !t R I S O N,

And the Part of FL1PTANTA to be performed

By Mrs, V I N C E N T,

#7/& Etertalnments of Singing and Dancing,

End ofc Adl. rf Cafitata, ea/M 77w Lover's Le (Jon,

End of Aft 4. *« Anacron tic 'by Mr. L E V K ! ID G E,

End of A« 1 1 L '-' *#*»* ' ***

/VK Baildofl, <?-

End i- >\& '■ U

'- 9. d

Bv r, -A




(Covent Garden, 1745). [To face p. 88.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 89

first introduced into England from France. In an undated
satirical paraphrase of Horace's Ars Po erica, entitled An Essay

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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 8 of 22)