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date: 04 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter shows how the growth of political theatre in the 1730s provoked Walpole to take decisive action against the new-found freedom of the stage. His Licensing Act of 1737 gave the Lord Chamberlain absolute statutory powers to censor all plays as he saw fit and to license only those theatres that were patent houses in London. The essay then explores the aftermath of this legislation. Managers of the patent theatres neglected contemporary work in preference to plays from the past, especially by Shakespeare. And actors acquired more status and importance than playwrights. The chapter then traces the growth of theatrical activity outside London. Pressure from the minor theatres in and around London led eventually to the 1843 Act for Regulating Theatres. This permitted the building and licensing of new theatres, but censorship was retained. Finally, the chapter suggests how the 1737 Act still shapes aspects of modern British theatre.

Keywords: political theatre, censorship, Licensing Act, patent theatres, minor theatres, Shakespeare

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