The Play’s the Thing

The first Covent Garden theatre (1728-1808), drawn for The London Microcosm shortly before it burnt down on 20th September 1808.
It’s been pointed out to me that I don’t read enough fiction nowadays. This is a fair point: a lot of recent work has been on acting manuals, editorial debates, press cuttings, pamphlets and so on. To remedy this, but also t improve my understanding of the eighteenth-century theatre, I decided to read more plays from the period. I started by rereading some Sheridan (post forthcoming), but soon decided on something more structured: to read all the plays put on in London in one theatre season.

I chose the 1753-4 season for this purpose. Not only were performances at this time helping John Hill to illustrate his new edition of The Actor, this season was also, to quote the editor of The London Stage, “one of the most ‘regular’ on record”. On top of this, 1753-4 also records the largest staff and the longest series of acting nights for Garrick since he had taken over the management of Drury Lane (in 1747), and contains the first performances of seven new plays there: Richard Glover’s Boadicia, Henry Crisp’s Virginia, William Whitehead’s Creusa Queen of Athens, Samuel Foote’s The Englishman in Paris, Henry Woodward’s Fortunatus, Theobald Cibber’s The Humorists and Catherine Clive’s The London Prentice. In contrast to this, Garrick’s rival manager, John Rich, only staged two new tragedies at Covent Garden: MacNamara Morgan’s Philoclea and Philip Francis’s Constantine.

I began with the intention of making a checklist of all the plays performed in the 1753-4 season. There were, however, too many, so I present here instead a list and a table, which all cover September and October 1753.

First, the list of plays I will be reading, in order:

  1. The Beggar’s Opera
  2. The Lying Valet
  3. The Provok’d Husband
  4. The Lover his own Rival
  5. The Miser
  6. The Anatomist
  7. The Mock Doctor
  8. As You Like It
  9. The Chaplet
  10. The Suspicious Husband
  11. The Contrivances
  12. The Non-Juror
  13. The Devil to Pay
  14. Damon and Phillida
  15. The Revenge
  16. The Tragical History of Richard III
  17. The Careless Husband
  18. The Provok’d Wife
  19. The Busy Body
  20. The Shepherd’s Lottery
  21. The Funeral
  22. The What d’ye Call It
  23. Richard III
  24. Scapin
  25. She Wou’d and She Wou’d Not
  26. Much Ado about Nothing
  27. The Committee
  28. The Stratagem
  29. The Double Gallant
  30. The Orphan
  31. The Way of the World
  32. The King and the Miller of Mansfield
  33. Macbeth
  34. The Intriguing Chambermaid
  35. Romeo and Juliet
  36. Harlequin Sorcerer
  37. The Old Batchelor
  38. King Henry VIII
  39. The Funeral
  40. The Recruiting Officer
  41. Harlequin Ranger
  42. Oroonoko
  43. The Conscious Lovers
  44. The Country Lasses
  45. The Suspicious Husband
  46. A Duke and No Duke
  47. Othello, the Moor of Venice
  48. Hamlet
  49. The Lottery
  50. Queen Mab
  51. The Englishman in Paris
  52. Merope
  53. Lethe
  54. Venice Preserv’d
  55. The Fair Penitent

Second, a table to show what was performed where during September and October 1753-4. Also included are a few plays put on at Southwark Fair.

Date Theatre Main Piece Afterpiece

September 1753

Saturday 8th Drury Lane (DL) The Beggar’s Opera The Lying Valet
Monday 10th Covent Garden (CG) The Provok’d Husband The Lover his own Rival
Tuesday 11th DL The Miser The Anatomist
Wednesday 12th CG The Beggar’s Opera The Mock Doctor
Thursday 13th DL As You Like It The Chaplet
Friday 14th CG The Suspicious Husband The Contrivances
Saturday 15th DL The Non-Juror The Devil to Pay
Monday 17th CG The Miser Damon and Phillida
Tuesday 18th DL The Revenge The Lying Valet
Tuesday 18th Southwark Fair (SF) The Royal Slave The Witch of Endor
Tuesday 18th SF The Sham Physician The Distress’d Sailor
Wednesday 19th CG The Miser The Contrivances
Wednesday 19th SF The Sham Physician The Distress’d Sailor
Thursday 20th DL The Careless Husband The Chaplet
Thursday 20th SF The Royal Slave The Witch of Endor
Thursday 20th SF The Sham Physician The Distress’d Sailor
Friday 21st CG The Tragical History of Richard III The Lover his own Rival
Friday 21st SF The Sham Physician The Distress’d Sailor
Saturday 22nd DL The Busy Body The Shepherd’s Lottery
Saturday 22nd SF The Royal Slave The Witch of Endor
Monday 24th CG The Provok’d Wife The Devil to Pay
Monday 24th SF The Royal Slave The Witch of Endor
Tuesday 25th DL King Richard III Scapin
Wednesday 26th CG The Funeral The What d’ye Call It
Thursday 27th DL Much Ado About Nothing The Anatomist
Thursday 27th SF King Richard III The Old Witch of Endor or, Harlequin Turn’d Beau
Friday 28th CG The Funeral The Contrivances
Saturday 29th DL The Stratagem Scapin

October 1753

Monday 1st CG She Wou’d and She Wou’d Not The Lover his own Rival
Tuesday 2nd DL The Orphan The Chaplet
Wednesday 3rd DL Macbeth The Intriguing Chambermaid
Wednesday 3rd CG The Committee The What d’ye Call It
Thursday 4th DL Romeo and Juliet The Lying Valet
Friday 5th DL Romeo and Juliet The Shepherd’s Lottery
Friday 5th CG The Double Gallant The King and Miller of Mansfield
Saturday 6th DL King Henry VIII Scapin
Monday 8th CG The Way of the World The King and the Miller of Mansfield
Tuesday 9th DL The Recruiting Officer Harlequin Ranger
Wednesday 10th DL Oroonoko Harlequin Ranger
Wednesday 10th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Thursday 11th DL King Henry VIII The Chaplet
Thursday 11th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Friday 12th DL The Conscious Lovers Harlequin Ranger
Friday 12th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Saturday 13th DL The Suspicious Husband A Duke and no Duke
Saturday 13th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Monday 15th DL The Orphan Harlequin Ranger
Monday 15th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Tuesday 16th DL Hamlet The Anatomist
Tuesday 16th CG The Miser Harlequin Sorcerer
Wednesday 17th DL The Careless Husband Queen Mab
Wednesday 17th CG The Old Batchelor Harlequin Sorcerer
Thursday 18th DL The Way of the World Queen Mab
Thursday 18th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Friday 19th DL Romeo and Juliet Queen Mab
Friday 19th CG The Funeral Harlequin Sorcerer
Saturday 20th DL The Provok’d Husband The Englishman in Paris
Saturday 20th CG Beggar’s Opera The King and the Miller of Mansfield
Monday 22nd DL The Revenge The Englishman in Paris
Monday 22nd CG As You Like It Harlequin Sorcerer
Tuesday 23rd DL Merope Lethe
Tuesday 23rd CG Romeo and Juliet  
Wednesday 24th DL The Old Batchelor The Englishman in Paris
Wednesday 24th CG The Country Lasses Harlequin Sorcerer
Thursday 25th DL Venice Preserv’d The Devil to Pay
Thursday 25th CG Romeo and Juliet  
Friday 26th DL King Richard III Queen Mab
Friday 26th CG The Provok’d Wife Harlequin Sorcerer
Saturday 27th DL The Old Batchelor The Englishman in Paris
Saturday 27th CG Othello the Moor of Venice Harlequin Sorcerer
Monday 29th DL Venice Preserv’d The Lottery
Monday 29th CG The Committee Harlequin Sorcerer
Tuesday 30th DL The Old Batchelor The Englishman in Paris
Tuesday 30th CG Hamlet The Lottery
Wednesday 31st DL The Fair Penitent The Rehearsal
Wednesday 31st CG The Recruiting Officer Harlequin Sorcerer

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