English Restoration Theatre

Mark Fox

By Society of London Theatre & UKT

Rel. Chri. Sects. Puritans.LIFE Photo Collection

The English Civil War and subsequent Puritan rule saw the closure of all theatres for 18 years, from 1642 until 1660.

Charles Mosley, The Modern Duel, etching and engraving (1747/1747)British Museum

The restoration of Charles II, the merry monarch, allowed for a re-birth. The new King granted two patents to William Davenant and Thomas Killigrew to open theatres and present legitimate drama. In 1663 Killigrew opened what was to become The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, making it the first West End Theatre.

King Charles II actively encouraged theatre development, allowing women to appear on the British stage for the first time, encouraging new writing and the use of scenery and costumes as he had seen in court masques as a young man.    

Killigrew ThomasLIFE Photo Collection

The two theatres, owned by William Davenant and Thomas Killigrew, had a monopoly.  The spread of radical and political ideas to mass audiences needed to be controlled to avoid riots and insurrection.  The old plays of Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher and Jonson were the core of the repertoire.

Benefit Ticket for Joe Miller (1794–99) by Samuel Ireland|William Hogarth|Joseph Miller|Joseph Sympson, Jr.|Sir William CongreveThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

New writers like Farquhar, Wycherely, Vanbrugh and Congreve emerged creating their own 'comedy of manners', generally referred to as Restoration Comedy.  Mistaken identity, cuckolding and fortune hunters were often repeated themes.  Aphra Behn is known to be the first woman to earn a living as a writer.

KenwoodOriginal Source: Kenwood

Our next story, the Georgian Era, discusses the theatre boom and how censorship became part of the arts.

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