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“ The Playhouse to be let," although not mentioned by Downes in his list of “ plays acted from 1662 to 1665 both old and modern”- Poscius Anglicanus, p. 36-was without doubt produced, at the Theatre in Lincolns' Inn Fields, within a short time after Sir William Davenant became its possessor. Mr Halliwell, in his Dictionary of old English Plays, sets it down as “ first acted in 1663." That it was performed prior to the Stepmother, a tragicomedy by Sir Robert Stapylton, 1664, which is in Downes' list, seems evident, as the prologue to that play says :
“What's here? So many noble persons met ?
Nay, then I see this house will not be let." The Biographia Britannica thus notices the piece :“This was another very singular entertainment, composed of five acts, each being a distinct performance The first act is introductory, shows the distress of the players in the time of vacation, that obliges thein to let their house, which several offer to take for different purposes; amongst the rest a Frenchman, who had brought over a troop of his countrymen to act a farce. This is performed in the second act, which is a translation of Moliere's Sganarelle, or the Cuckold in Conceit ; all in broken French to make the people laugh. The third act is a sort of comic opera, under the title of the History of Sir Francis Drake. The fourth Act is a serious opera, representing the Cruelties of the Spaniards in Peru. The fifth act is a burlesque in Heroicks on the Amours of Cæsar and Cleopatra; has a great deal of wit and humour, and was often acted afterwards by itself.”
With exception of the first act, all the others, which are separate and distinct but short dramatic pieces, were written in the time of Oliver Cromwell, and two of them at least were performed at the Cockpit, when Sir William Davenant had obtained permission to present his Entertainments of Music and perspective in Scenes. The first act was afterwards introduced for the purpose of stringing together, as it were, those several little pieces so as to form a play of five acts, which was then the conventional length.
The only edition of “ the Playhouse to be let” is that printed in the Collected Works of Sir William Davenant, folio, 1673. “ Sir Francis Drake" and " The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru," which form the third and fourth acts, appeared separately when first produced. Their titles run thus:-" The History of Sir Francis Drake: exprest by Instrumentall and locall Musiek, and by the Art of Perspective in Scenes, etc. The first part. Represented daily at the Cockpit in Drury Lane at Three afternoon punctually. London, Printed for Henry Herringham, and are to be sold at his Shop at the Anchor in the Lower Walk, in the New Exchange, 1659," 4to, pp. 37. Although styled “The first part," there was no subsequent continuation of the piece.
"The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru ; exprest by Instrumentall and locall Musick, and by Art of Perspective in Scenes, etc. Represented daily at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, at three afternoon punctually. London, Printed for Henry Herringham, and are to be sold at his Shop at the Anchor in the Lower Walk, in the New Exchange," 1658, 4to.
To the end of the latter this note is appended :“Notwithstanding the great expense necessary to scenes, and other ornaments in this entertainment, there is a good provision made of places for a shilling. And it shall begin certainly at three afternoon."
From the dates, it will be observed that “The Cruelty of the Spaniards” was acted prior to “The History of Sir Francis Drake.”
“ The British Theatre, containing the Lives of the English Dramatic Poets, with an account of all their Plays, Lond. 1752, 12mo," in noticing the Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, has this note :-“We are told that Cromwell not only allowed this piece to be performed, but actually read and approved of it; and the reason given was, that it reflected on the Spaniards, against whom he was supposed to have formed great designs."
• Malone has adopted this view of the case, which in all probability is true. Speaking of the Cruelty of the Spaniards he says :-"A performance which Cromwell, from his hatred to the Spaniards, permitted, though he had prohibited all other theatrical exhibitions." See Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 18.
There is "a ballad against the Opera, callid, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, writ by Sir W. D'avenant" in the third part of “Miscellany Poems. By the most eminent hands. Published by Mr. Dryden. Lond. 1716, 12mo." but without any mention as to who was the Author. This ballad which consists of fourteen stanzas, is an attempt, but not a happy one, to ridicule the Scenery, Actors, and the Music of the piece. Take for example the following:
“ The next thing was the Scene,
And that as it was lain,
Of raw-hear and bloody-bones,
Neither must I here forget
The musick, how it was set,
All the rest was such a gig,
Like the squeaking of a pig,
Or cats when they're making their love."The second act of “The Playhouse to be let," consists of a very clever translation of Joliere's Coçu Imaginaire. It is from the same source that Murphy's excellent coinedy “ All in the Wrong" has emanated.
Langbaine has this notice of another comedy from this source:
“ Tom Essence, or the Modish Wife: A comedy acted at the Duke's Theatre, 4to. Lond. 1677. This Play is founded on two French Plays, viz. Moliere's Syanarelle, ou le Coçu Imaginaire; and Tho. Corneille's D. Cæsar D'Avalos, in the part of Love-all's intrigue with Luce ; without the reader will suppose that he followed a Spavish novel called the Trepanner Trepanned: and for the business of Tom Essence and his wife copied Sir William D'Avenant's Playhouse to be let, Act 2d, which is a translation from the former. This play is said to be writ by one Mr. Rawlins."