The Irish national theatre movement developed in the ferment of cultural nationalism at the turn of the century, but it was not at all clear what form a national theatre should take: an Ibsenian model of critical realism, favoured by Edward Martyn, George Moore, and John Eglinton, the mythological poetic drama of Yeats, or the peasant plays that came to be written by Yeats and Gregory. Apart from the playwrights, the company of actors formed around the Fay brothers, nationalist groups such as Maud Gonne’s Inghinidhe na hEireann, and the Abbey’s English patron Annie Horniman all had ideas of their own. This chapter analyses the national and theatrical politics of the period up to the death of Synge in 1909, paying particular attention to the ways in which debates of the period centred around the idea of an Irish theatre in ways that were to influence future generations.
The aesthetic principles of education and representation that Yeats and Gregory set out at the founding of the Abbey Theatre enabled the directorate to cultivate a relationship with the state that ensured the theatre’s place as the Irish National Theatre. Yet this was a relationship that demanded compromises on both sides—in the negotiation for a state subsidy, finally granted in 1925, in issues of censorship over controversial plays such as The Plough and the Stars in 1926, and in the uneasy relationship with the Fianna Fáil government that came to power in 1932. Even so, at least during Yeats’s lifetime, the Abbey directors were able to resist the complete ideological co-option of the theatre, and any compromises to artistic freedom were made willingly in order to ensure the continued alliance of the theatre and the state.
When Quince first meets his actors in A Midsummer Night's Dream, he tells them who they will be playing and a little about their fictional characters. He also distributes to the actors their ‘parts’, the pieces of paper on which their words are written. Walking away from the meeting, the actors take their paper parts with them for memorising at home: by the time they next gather together, each player must be word-perfect. So the players are going to learn from a text that is only ‘part’ of the play — an idea so strange to scholars that it is still regularly called into question. Passages in plays of the time referring to what is rehearsed often suggest that the verbal content of a play is not the emphasis of collective rehearsal; that a general rehearsal is largely intended to determine action that affects the group. Parts had their effect on the way a performance was watched. With parts informing so fundamentally the way actors performed and audiences watched, they must also have affected the way playwrights wrote.
Despite the fact that the London theatre companies were suspended from playing by order of Parliament in September 1642, an inhibition that lasted (with minor infractions) down to 1660, the seventeen years of theatrical activity during the Caroline period was a time of comparative prosperity and stability. The stability of Caroline playing was in some respects more apparent than real, since before the onset of the political crisis there were various factors that troubled theatrical activity (plague, competition between companies, conflicts between companies and managers, complaints from local residents). Nonetheless, around 1630 the total theatrical economy had achieved what we might think of as a steady state. When in that year the Salisbury Court playhouse in Whitefriars was opened as a new venture, the number of theatres and playing companies operating was at its peak and would remain stable for the next decade. During this period, five companies were active, performing at six venues. The dominant company was the King's Men, who alternated between two playhouses.
Two pivotal events bookend the decade 1583–1593 in Elizabethan theatre history. In March 1582 to 1583, the careers of several leading acting companies were disrupted by the formation of a large new company with a formidable list of principal players. No actor would have resisted the casting call by Edmond Tilney, Master of the Revels, acting under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham, Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I. And none of the patrons of these acting companies would have questioned the departure of their players to join the new Queen's Men, a company that was to dominate the court's annual festive revels as well as the provincial performance calendar across the country for most of the following decade. Available evidence suggests that 1583–1593 was a period of transition in business practices of adult playing companies in England. There was some resilience in patronage of acting companies after the initial shock to the system in 1583. There are several primary sources to consider in piecing together information about company repertories, including the Revels accounts of performances by acting companies at court.
Roslyn L. Knutson
By any measure, 1593 was a very bad year for the playhouse business in England. The late summer outbreak of plague in 1592 continued in the suburbs of London. Adult playing companies took to the road, visiting towns as widespread as Newcastle upon Tyne, Lyme Regis in Dorset, and Norwich. Strange's Men mounted a tour in the summer of 1593 along a route apparently plague-safe and financially rewarding. The company of Pembroke's Men was not so lucky. Also, companies were geographically estranged from their playwrights, who for the most part stayed in London. One in particular, William Shakespeare, apparently considered a change of focus for his skills from drama to poetry. No one therefore could have predicted that the business of playing would enjoy unprecedented commercial success and expansion in the next decade. Theatre historians construct differing narratives about this decade in the theatrical marketplace, but they generally agree that the salient issues are the companies' business models; patrons and political critics; playing venues; the repertory; the book trade; and audiences.
The year 1603 ushered in a new chapter in the history of early modern theatre companies in England. First, it marks the end of one reign and the beginning of another: Elizabeth died on March 24, and James was crowned on July 25. More specifically, as far as the adult playing companies were concerned, it brought a wholesale change in theatrical patronage. These changes of patronage had significant repercussions for the playing companies over the decade that followed. This article examines patronage in relation to other factors that affected the companies' business structures and commercial fortunes between 1603 and 1613, notably the security that two of the companies enjoyed at their playhouses from the turn of the century, the revival of the children's companies around the same time, and the prevalence of plague throughout much of the decade. It also looks at the companies' core product, the plays in their repertories, identifying two further and conflicting influences on dramatic production: the need for playing companies to be competitive, and the evolution of distinctive company styles.
James J. Marino
On June 29, 1613, at the first performance of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's All Is True, the Globe playhouse burned to the ground. The destruction of this iconic theatre might be imagined as a conveniently catastrophic mark for the end of an era. But the conflagration led to nothing more than a piece of colorful London news and a substantial expense for the actors who owned the Globe; none of the audience was hurt, and nothing fundamental about the Jacobean theater changed. The Globe was promptly rebuilt, and improved, while the King's Men continued performing in their Blackfriars venue. The King's Men's consolidation of its dominance limited the prospects for the other adult playing companies, and oddly diminished the general level of competition between the London playhouses. This article traces the history of adult playing companies in England for the period 1613–1625. It looks at playhouse repertories, the causal relationship between the decline and the loss of patronage, boy companies, clowning on the Jacobean stage, and the decline of Palatine's Men and Queen Anne's Men.
W. R. Streitberger
In March 1583, Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, asked Edmond Tilney, then Master of the Revels, to choose a new company of players to serve under the Queen's patronage. Tilney drafted players from several sophisticated companies to create the largest and most talented playing company of the era, one that dominated in the Queen's Revels throughout the 1580s and continued to play in the provinces until the end of her reign. Professional theatre in England dates from as early as the fourteenth century, when groups of players who earned their livelihood from their performances travelled the countryside in search of audiences. Some early playing companies were independent, known by the names of their leading players, but by the late fifteenth century others were under community sponsorship. Between 1572 and 1583, there were at least thirty-five companies with known patrons, but the adult playing companies that offered all fifty-six plays in the revels during this period were patronised by only ten of them, all members of the Queen's family or close personal friends.
Kathy A. Perkins
This essay traces the efforts of African American women to establish new voices in the American theater during the period from 1910 to 1945. It discusses the role of the Federal Theatre Project Negro Unit in providing opportunities for both African American playwrights and actors, and it highlights some “signal moments” during this period. These include the development of the Little Negro Theatre movement, the staging of Angelina Grimké’s groundbreaking play Rachel, and the establishment of African American acting troupes such as the American Negro Theatre and the Lafayette Players. This essay also considers the works of Mary Burrill, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Zora Neale Hurston.