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May 08 , 2009

Shakespearean Playhouses

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Foreign Opera at the London Playhouses

In the early nineteenth century over forty operas by foreign composers, including Mozart, Rossini, Weber and Bellini, were adapted for London playhouses, often appearing in drastically altered form. Such changes have been denigrated as 'mutilations'. The operas were translated into English, fitted with spoken dialogue, divested of much of their…

THE method of dramatic representation in the time of Shakespeare has long received close study. Among those who have more recently devoted their energies to the subject may be mentioned W.J. Lawrence, T.S. Graves, G.F. Reynolds, V.E. Albright, A.H. Thorndike, and B. Neuendorff, each of whom has embodied the results of his investigations in one or more noteworthy volumes. But the history of the playhouses themselves, a topic equally important, has not hitherto been attempted. If we omit the brief notices of the theatres in Edmond Malone's The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (1790) and John Payne Collier's The History of English Dramatic Poetry (1831), the sole book dealing even in part with the topic is T.F. Ordish's The Early London Theatres in the Fields. This book, however, though good for its time, was written a quarter of a century ago, before most of the documents relating to early theatrical history were discovered, and it discusses only six playhouses. The present volume takes advantage of all the materials made available by the industry of later scholars, and records the history of seventeen regular, and five temporary or projected, theatres. The book is throughout the result of a first-hand examination of originalviii sources, and represents an independent interpretation of the historical evidences. As a consequence of this, as well as of a comparison (now for the first time possible) of the detailed records of the several playhouses, many conclusions long held by scholars have been set aside. I have made no systematic attempt to point out the cases in which I depart from previously accepted opinions, for the scholar will discover them for himself; but I believe I have never thus departed without being aware of it, and without having carefully weighed the entire evidence. Sometimes the evidence has been too voluminous or complex for detailed presentation; in these instances I have had to content myself with reference by footnotes to the more significant documents bearing on the point.
In a task involving so many details I cannot hope to have escaped errors—errors due not only to oversight, but also to the limitations of my knowledge or to mistaken interpretation. For such I can offer no excuse, though I may request from my readers the same degree of tolerance which I have tried to show other laborers in the field. In reproducing old documents I have as a rule modernized the spelling and the punctuation, for in a work of this character there seems to be no advantage in preserving the accidents and perversities of early scribes and printers. I have also consistently altered the dates when the Old Style conflicted with our present usage.ix
I desire especially to record my indebtedness to the researches of Professor C.W. Wallace, the extent of whose services to the study of the Tudor-Stuart drama has not yet been generally realized, and has sometimes been grudgingly acknowledged; and to the labors of Mr. E.K. Chambers and Mr. W.W. Greg, who, in the Collections of The Malone Society, and elsewhere, have rendered accessible a wealth of important material dealing with the early history of the stage.
Finally, I desire to express my gratitude to Mr. Hamilton Bell and the editor of The Architectural Record for permission to reproduce the illustration and description of Inigo Jones's plan of the Cockpit; to the Governors of Dulwich College for permission to reproduce three portraits from the Dulwich Picture Gallery, one of which, that of Joan Alleyn, has not previously been reproduced; to Mr. C.W. Redwood, formerly technical artist at Cornell University, for expert assistance in making the large map of London showing the sites of the playhouses, and for other help generously rendered; and to my colleagues, Professor Lane Cooper and Professor Clark S. Northup, for their kindness in reading the proofs.
Joseph Quincy Adams
Ithaca, New York

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