Pamela

RichardsonThis week we have reached Richardson’s novel Pamela, or virtue rewarded, the sole novel on this course’s reading list. For those who have not gone through the reading experience themselves, we will first introduce you shortly to the main narrative and the most important themes in this novel. A few key elements will be more elaborately discussed further and we hope we can convince every one of the novel’s highly dubious status concerning its moral.

The protagonist of Pamela, or virtue rewarded is Pamela, a fifteen year old servant who shares her life-story through letters and diary entries. The main narrative deals with Mr B who tries to seduce Pamela, but she shows determination to refuse him. The novel is correctional and Mr B evolves to finally propose marriage to Pamela, thus having gained an interest in both her mind and body, rather than merely her body. Pamela then attempts to adapt to high society and builds up a successful relationship with her husband. There are a number of themes we can distinguish in the novel, the most important ones are love, virtue, money, gender and class distinctions.

Different notions of love are distinguished in this ‘love story’.  Pamela engages in familial love towards her parents, in her letters and continuously throughout her writing. Sisterly love is found between Pamela and Mrs Jervis, who share a deep friendship. The false love of Mr B for Pamela  finally transforms into true love hereby granting a ‘fairy-tale-ending’.

Pamela is above all very much concerned with the preservation of her virtue, which she keeps on repeating constantly. While Mr B wants to fulfil his ‘needs’, Pamela continues to refuse any offers of money or goods in exchange for sexual pleasures, therefore keeping herself virtuous. The moral of the novel would be that this virtuous behaviour turns out to be rewarded, since Mr B loves Pamela all the more for her consistency in the end.

The notion of money in the novel is very ambiguous. We most certainly link this to Mr B who tries to persuade Pamela to give up her virtue in return for money, clothes and jewellery, and furthermore bribes and manipulates everyone else around him. However, Pamela’s attitude towards money and material objects in general is not always straightforward.

Pamela is continuously stressing how poor her parents are which supposedly prides her. This sharply distinguishes her from  her master, who is evidently better off. Between the two there is an enormous gap, since their class differences separate them. The gender difference complicates their relationship even further since Pamela is powerless in comparison to her master.

Preface: by the editor

The first two editions of Pamela were published anonymously. The title page stated Richardson to be the printer of the book – he was a successful printer and printed all his own novels – but the letters were supposedly found and edited by an anonymous editor. This contributed to the alleged authenticity of the letters as a “found manuscript”  and constituted the figure of Pamela as a soap opera-like character that people could really identify with. Since she was put forward  to be an example of good behaviour and virtue, it was necessary that as  many readers as possible could identify with her. When Pamela was first published, however, it not only evoked a wave of admiration and swooning amongst its esteemed readers, it also inspired a series of parodies and what were, according to Samuel Richardson, misreadings of the novel. Richardson was unpleased to learn that part of his audience doubted Pamela’s good intentions, her sincerity and even her virtue. Highly upset about these interpretations of his work, Richardson edited the next editions of Pamela. He continuously attempted to guide the reader through the novel and control the conclusions that he thought should be drawn after reading this work. He added a preface that stated which moral values the reader should read into Pamela. He also enclosed a summary of the letters that the book consists of, stressing the main issues they touch upon.Additionally, he altered the manner of speech of the protagonist, Pamela, after having received  comments that since she was to be an example for young ladies, she should speak and write in a way that was to be admired by everyone. All his attempts at controlling the readers’ interpretations were in vain: the interpretation of the novel remains a controversial topic today.

Epistles

Pamela’s letters serve as a catalyst to reform both the character of Mr B and the reader of the novel, who is supposed to evolve with Mr B as he reads them. Within the novel, these letters provide Pamela with a means to pour out her heart and seek the much-needed guidance of her parents. She uses her letters as a platform to record her true feelings and her version of the encounters between herself and her master. To Mr B the letters are items of both frustration and admiration. He increasingly values Pamela, who wrote the letters, but is at the same time slightly tormented by the fact that he cannot control what she writes. When she is imprisoned, the letters evolve into diary entries. This symbolises how she increasingly loses freedom and is therefore forced to rely upon herself as an authoritative figure more and more.

 Pamela’s virtue revealed

 Pamela was intended to function as a communal code of conduct or, at least, provide guidelines in terms of letter-writing. There seem to be a number of problems in Pamela’s behaviour that indicate multiple possible interpretations of the novel’s moral, therefore many works have been written as a response to Richardson’s. Some of the works inspired by Pamela were probabilistic sequels, whereas others gave proof of a mocking undertone. A well-known work in this respect is An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, written by Henry Fielding. Shamela was published less than a year after Richardson’s Pamela and offers a satirical version of the latter. It represents the self-proclaimed real account of the events which took place in the novel by Richardson. Shamela, which is Pamela’s so-called real name, is said to be the actual seducer instead of Squire Booby, who represents the character of Mr B, such as is illustrated in the next section:

(…) ‘thank your Honour for your good Opinion,’ says I and then he took me by the Hand, and I pretended to be shy: ‘Laud,’ says I, ‘Sir, I hope you don’t intend to be rude’; ‘no’, says he, ‘my Dear’, and then he kissed me, ’till he took away my breath—-and I pretended to be Angry (…) [Fielding, eBook]

By rewriting Richardson’s novel, Fielding reveals his frustrations with the hypocrisy of the main female character. Pamela is represented as the very essence of chastity and humility, but as becomes clear in Shamela, her behaviour is nothing but false pretence. She projects a virtuous image of herself in order to seduce Squire Booby and climb the social ladder. In the introduction to Shamela, Fielding explains what inspired him to write a satire:

An apology for the life of Mrs Shamela Andrews. In which, the many notorious falsehoods and misrepresentations of a book called ‘Pamela’ are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless arts of that young politician, set in a true and just light. [Fielding, eBook]

Pamela repeatedly feels the need to express her pride in respect to her parents’ poverty and her own virtuousness. According to her, poor living conditions are to be preferred above selling one’s virtue to the highest bidder. What is strange, however, is the frequency at which she repeats this matter over and over. She regularly inserts people’s words of praise for herself and at times this comes across as presumptuous such as the section below, which originates from one of Pamela’s letters, illustrates:

She told me I was a pretty wench, and that every body gave me a very good character, and loved me; and bid me take care to keep the fellows at a distance; and said, that I might do, and be more valued for it, even by themselves. [Richardson, 12]

Another example of Pamela’s need to justify her actions and acquire praise for them occurs at the moment when she is allowed to leave the house of her late mistress. With her future life in mind, she divides her belongings into three piles. One pile is consecrated to gifts of her former mistress, a second one consists of the luxurious presents her master offered her and the final pile contains her own personal belongings. Almost dramatically Pamela declares that she cannot take any objects from the first two piles with her and strongly emphasizes to be proud of her poor origins. Despite her affirmed pride, she does take a few gifts with her for so-called practical reasons. The reason why Pamela does not take more presents with her seems to be her concern for what other people might think: ‘(…) for poor folks are envious as well as rich (…)’ [Richardson, 63]. Pam 1VII: Pamela in the Bedroom with Mrs Jewkes and Mr B. 1743-4 by Joseph Highmore 1692-1780Furthermore, Pamela proves to be very materialistic throughout the novel. She constantly stresses that here poor origins and low status are something to be proud of, IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 by Joseph Highmore 1692-1780 it  appears as if she needs to convince herself of that exactly. Her materialistic attitude is apparent in her behaviour regarding clothes and appearance in general. On all occasions Pamela tries her very best to wear the nicest clothes she thinks suitable for the occasion. Not only nowadays do we consider her interestin fine clothing  to be not so virtuous and innocent at all, but Mr B implies that in those days her attitude was ambiguous too:

‘who is it you put your tricks upon? I was resolved never to honour you again with my notice; and so you must disguise yourself, to attract me, and yet pretend, like an [sic] hypocrite as you are-’ ‘I beseech you sir,’ said I, ‘do not impute disguise and hypocrisy to me. I have put on no disguise.’ ‘What a plague’ said he, for that was his word, ‘do you mean then by this dress?’ [Richardson, 90].

The main cause of Pamela’s virtuous behaviour is her Christian upbringing. God appears to be the only higher power to which she submits. Pamela claims that her main concern is to remain chaste, so that her soul would not be lost. She resolutely wards off Mr B.’s impure intentions, which ultimately results in him asking for her hand in marriage. However, as indicated there are some serious flaws in Pamela’s behaviour that clash with religious ideals.

conclusion

The moral lesson to be deduced seems to be that chaste behaviour leads to a marriage with a wealthy man. Pamela’s virtue is rewarded, because her master realises the errors of his ways after reading her letters and starts developing romantic feelings for her instead of mere lust. Nevertheless, the implied guidelines are far from those in Christian faith. In Pamela the ultimate achievement seems to be a beneficial marriage, whereas, in terms of religion, it would be to obtain a place in heaven. Therefore it could be said that the intended morality of the story is somewhat overshadowed by a materialistic fairy-tale-style ending, like Cinderella but with a touch of Beauty and the Beast. Another anti-Christian element in Pamela is to be found in a not always subtle sexual undertone. The sole purpose of Mr B.’s flirtatious actions towards his servant is to lure her into profligate behaviour and despite the didactic purpose of inserting such behaviour, its presence would be disapproved of by religious standards. According to Christianity, the body is to be erased until marriage, after which sexuality should solely serve as a means to procreation. To make matters worse, Pamela seems to be highly concerned with wearing fine clothes in order to please her master, whom she still occasionally compliments despite his initial vile behaviour. In short, the intended morality in Pamela is at times ambiguous, because the authority of Pamela as an example for virtue is repeatedly undermined. The faith she invests in God is not represented in her strong wish to be accepted by members of the higher social classes, nor in her materialistic tendencies.

Sources:

Fielding, Henry. An apology for the life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews: In which, the many notorious falsehoods and misrepresentations [sic] of a book called Pamela, are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless arts of that young politician, set in a true … light. …Oxford: Printed for A. Dodd, 1741. Print. digitalized: 3 Oct. 2007.

Hammerschmidt, Sören. “Week 11 The Media Event.” Ghent University. Auditorium M, Rozier. 5 Dec. 2012. Lecture.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_Richardson_by_Joseph_Highmore.jpg

http://www.anglistik.uni-kiel.de/tl_files/Englisches%20Seminar/Fachbereiche/Kultur-%20und%20Medienwissenschaften/Projekte/18th_century_london/pam.html#products

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00775dh

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks?gid=65649%21&ws=acno&wv=list

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela, or virtue rewarded. New York: Penguin, 1980. Print.

Advertisements

Eighteenth century popular ballads

In this week’s blog we will discuss eighteenth century popular ballads. When someone says ‘ballad’, we automatically think of love songs, such as the classical “Everything I do, I do it for you,”. In the twenty-first century we conceptualise ballads as prototypical romantic, often involving and accompanied by glorified romantic scenery. Yet, if we look at ballads in the 18th century, this is not very much so.

ballad

The ballad, which has its origins in the late Middle Ages, ‘is a song that tells a story in popular style, which traditionally, relied on oral tradition for transmission. In the middle ages, ballads were generally composed to accompany a dance’. (Broadview Anthology of British Literature, 610) Mostly they were sung by minstrels, who moved from town to castle to sing. The function of the ballad could have been on the one hand pure amusement, singing and dancing, with the stress on the musical. On the other hand, its function could have been narrative, with the focus on the storytelling. Though the ballad became highly formulaic later on, the early ballads were very loose in terms of meter, theme and song.  Love as the most important theme in ballads is only a recent development, which dates from the twentieth century. Literary ballads developed at the end of the eighteenth century (think of Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge). Under the influence of Romanticism, ballads became an international phenomenon.

In the eighteenth century ballads, especially broadsheet ballads, were very popular. Often these broadsheets were used as wallpapers and decoration. As a part of a musical piece, they were mostly sung while sold. In general, these ballads deal with a whole range of topics within the romantic and the traditional. The function of the ballad was to recollect pieces of a decaying past; authors trying to conserve a social heritage. These fading popular traditions of a forlorn past were captured within these ballads. The revival of these traditions in everyday life was very popular in 18th century Scotland and consequently popular broadsheet ballads (which were quite cheap) were sold like hotcakes. Nonetheless, a great number of ballads do have social and political implications. These ballads are of course the ones that matter up to today, and consequently the ones we will discuss. In this blog, we will henceforth try to describe the difference in the reception of these ballads.

Jacobite Uprisings in ballad: Lady Nairne

Eighteenth-century writers engaged political issues in their ballads and songs. Many writers of the 18th century aimed at conveying sympathy and support for a political cause through their ballads. In other words, their songs and ballads stirred up feelings of shared pride by commemorating and lamenting, for instance, acts of bravery during a past upheaval. As mentioned in class, many of these ballads were part of ‘fan writing.’ Furthermore, it seems that, over time, these political ballads served different functions. In what follows, we compare how the Jacobite Uprisings are commemorated in two different ballads. The first ballad, “A hymn, to the Victory in Scotland” retells the 1719 Uprising whereas the second song, “The 100 Pipers” retells part of the history of the 1745 Uprising. You can take a look at the website of the BBC for a brief history of the Jacobite Uprisings:

  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/scotland_jacobites_01.shtml

In 1719, the Uprising was a very serious issue. As a result, the ballads written immediately after this riot differ in tone compared to ballads which recount parts of the history a century later. One of the Broadside ballads written in this period is “A hymn, to the Victory in Scotland,” which recounts the Jacobite Uprising at Glen Shiel. Take a look at the transcription of this ballad:

 http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/ballad/31597/transcription

This song is the English reaction to the Glenn Shiel battle and mocks the Scottish and Spanish Jacobite army who claimed that all of the men escape from the hands of the government alive. The ballad contrasts this claim by describing the violence during this battle that lasted for hours:

Because none of their men were slew / And, which our reason most has shaken / Not one poor single Rebel taken: / Three hours beaten and none die / Yet no man knows the reason why / Tis very strange tween you and I

Even though the ballad is quite similar to “The 100 Pipers” in its laudatory aspects, the mocking tone and the vivid description of the battle differentiates it from the latter. “The Hundred Pipers” is probably one of the best known ballads of the 18th century that depicts part of the history of the last big Uprising of 1745. The song was written by the Scottish Lady Nairne, about 50 years after the ’45 Rebellion.

Lady Nairne Lady Nairne (1799 – 1845)

It retells how, in the early days of the Uprising, Bonnie Prince Charlie entered the defeated city of Carlisle with a hundred pipers leading the way. You can listen to the recording here:

http://www.clpgs.org.uk/Sound_lib_scottish_page.htm

By the time Lady Nairne wrote “The hundred Pipers,” the riots were not as big of an issue anymore. Therefore, the undertone of this ballad is much more nostalgic than “A hymn, to the Victory in Scotland.” In the lines ‘the Esk was swollen sae red and sae deep / But shouther to shouther the brave lads keep[…],’ it is clear that the song praises the bravery of the Scottish soldiers, yet in contrast to “A hymn, to the Victory in Scotland,” the song remains very subtle about the blood-shedding that preceded this victorious moment. Thus, we see that, even though these ballads narrate parts of the same history, they differ in perspective and function: “A hymn, to the Victory in Scotland” gives an English perspective of the facts and, following the immediate events, it is more mocking in its tone than “The hundred Pipers” which is a nostalgic recounting of Scottish bravery.

Scottish for literary purpose: Allan Ramsay

In 1603, after the death of Elizabeth I of England, the Crowns of Scotland, England and Ireland were united under the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who from that point onwards is referred to as King James I of England. Scotland did not just lose its crown and separate parliament, but the unification also had a negative impact on Scottish culture as a whole. Cultural life became more and more centralized and Scots a as literary language was sidelined in favour of English. Although Scots was their native tongue, Scottish writers were now obliged to write in English in order to acquire some literary significance. Scots obtained a dialectal status and became a less valued form of language for literary purposes.

In the 18th century, in response to this situation, several Scottish writers, including Allan Ramsay, made use of the literary ballad form to discuss their concerns regarding the loss of their native tongue as a literary language. From a regional/nationalistic perspective they proved that it was still possible to write (elevated) poetry in the Scottish vernacular. By drawing upon a sense of national culture, they excavate old traditions and reshape them. Their ballads picture a bygone time, used by the poet to collect the country’s cultural heritage.

Ramsay

Allan Ramsay’s (1686-1758) poetry is closely linked to the oral tradition. The inferior status of the Scots language in the 18th century made it quite difficult to write in Scots, in particular because the language had been neglected for almost a century and predominantly possessed an oral status.  In Give Me a Lass With a Lump of Grass, Ramsay constantly switches back and forth between Scots and Standard English. One may think that Ramsay in a way adheres to the dominant tradition of writing Standard English, but seemingly “normal” lines or phrases are can be made Scots by vocalizing them in a Scots pronunciation. In this way, Ramsay revives old Lowland Scots and makes reference to the heyday of Scottish literature in bygone times, before the unification with England. He wants his readers to have a look at Scottish literary heritage as a source of inspiration. Ramsay turns very local interests into elevated poetry, simply because he believed that these local interests were important enough to be expressed. Ramsay’s Up in the Air for example represents a drinking song, written for his contemporaries to use during their regular everyday actions. Other poetry like Give Me a Lass With a Lump of Grass and Polwart on the Green are written to celebrate specific social events (e.g. a wedding), producing a very practical kind of culture that perfectly reflects the poet’s intentions: re-establish Scots as a literary language (for poetical expression).

Scots nationalism: Robert Burns

As this week’s blog deals with popular romantic poetry of the 18th century, in particular ballads, one cannot omit the very famous Robert Burns, who has only recently been nominated as The Greatest Scot of all time according to STV:

‘The Greatest Scot of all time is Robert Burns. STV viewers and online users around the world voted in their thousands for the Ayrshire Ploughman who narrowly outscored William Wallace, the great independence campaigner. The winner was announced on STV on St Andrew’s night’. (http://scotland.stv.tv/greatest-scot/)

The reason why Robert Burns has been elected, is immediately linked to our view on popular ballads in the 18th century. The Heaven-taught Ploughman did not always write prototypical ballads, instead most of his poetry dwells within Scots nationalism. His poetry is marked by a return to earlier oral traditions of the folklore and the traditional Scots poetry, written in the Scots dialect of England. His poetry and his ballads are therefore not old fashioned and traditional without social and political significance. No, he was inspired by the democratic and ‘an outspoken admirer of the republic revolutions in America and France.’ (Norton Anthology 130). His nationalism and patriotism are exemplified by his literary activities in his last years. Burns was the editor of various collections of Scottish folks, and he devoted ‘all his free time to collecting, editing, restoring, and imitating traditions songs’ (130).

Burns

In his time, Robert Burns was hailed as a natural genius. His poetry and ballads sought to evoke traditions of a bygone past. These traditions are linked with the Scots nationalism. Through the conservation of old traditions, the Scots clung to their own past, to something they could call theirs. In that time, the Scottish nation itself lost its crown, but tried to hold on to their traditions to maintain a sense of difference with the English. In that sense, these ballads have a national and political significance.

Up until this day, Burn is still seen as a ‘container’ of Scots nationalism. The reason he has been nominated as The Great Scot is exemplary. The way in which Burns has entered Scottish culture nowadays is exemplary as well for the modern reception of Burns and his ballads. Even now the Scottish try to maintain a sense of self by looking at old traditions and putting them back into practice: Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, Burns night on 25th of January.

Sources:

Black, F., et.al. (2006). The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, Volume 3. P. 610, 855, 872, 873, 893. United Kingdom: Broadview Press.

Greenblatt, S., et.al. (2006). The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2: The Romantic Period through the Twentieth Century. P 129-131. New York: ww Norton & Company.

The 18th-century theatre experience: Henry Fielding’s The Author’s Farce

What was English theatre like in the eighteenth century? How did it feel to be there – either on stage or as a member of the audience?

We, as a class, took the test and performed parts of Henry Fielding’s The Author’s Farce, just to get acquainted with the style, habits, and livelihood of a stage comedy.

Fielding & The Author’s Farce

Let us begin by introducing the playwright. Henry Fielding (1707-1754) was born at Sharpham Park, Somerset, and belonged to a wealthy and respected family. Though not an aristocrat himself, he was related to the Earl of Denbigh, and his mother belonged to a powerful family of lawyers. Fielding’s father sent him off to the prestigious Eton College, where he learned to appreciate the classics. In 1728, he went to Leiden, in the Netherlands, to study law and the classics. When he came back, he devoted himself to writing for the stage. His first two plays were performed at Drury Lane, one of London’s leading theatres at that time. Fielding wrote mostly comedies, some of which were very critical of the political and literary establishment. In particular the contemporary government of Sir Robert Walpole was the aim of a great deal of Fielding’s satire.

The year 1730 was of great success for Fielding. That year, he had four plays produced, among which we find The Author’s Farce, a farce “with a puppet-show, call’d the Pleasures of the Town.” Arguably, this play was Fielding’s first great success in the London theatres. That same year, another now famous work was staged: Tom Thumb. It is perhaps best known in the 1731 expanded version entitled The Tragedy of Tragedies; or, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great.

The front page of the printed version of The Author’s Farce
(as found on http://archive.org/details/authorsfarcewith00fiel)

Criticizing and laughing with the political establishment, of course, could not go on forever. The Walpole administration initiated the infamous Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737, probably in response to (primarily) Henry Fielding’s plays. Also John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is often mentioned in this context. The play that triggered the act, however, was – we believe – not written by Fielding. The Golden Rump, as it was called, could even have been commissioned by Walpole himself, to give him a valid reason to institute censorship. Although we shall probably never know what happened, we know for certain that Fielding’s critical plays had set the tone. After the Act had been passed, all plays were censured and adapted (though implicit satirical messages were sometimes overlooked) before they could be staged in one of the only two ‘licensed’ playhouses, Drury Lane Theatre or Covent Garden Theatre (both called Theatre Royal later).

For a while, the playwright retired from the theatre and began working as a barrister. However, he never stopped writing satirical pieces for newspapers and in letters. Nowadays, Henry Fielding is also well known for his novels. The first of these, Shamela, was triggered by Samuel Richardson’s scandalously popular novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Both were written in the epistolary form, but Shamela was of course harshly satirical in nature. The novel was then followed by Joseph Andrews (1742) and several other novels. Fielding’s number-one success was The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), a foundling’s tale discovered on the property of a very wealthy, benevolent landowner.

Not only was Fielding a successful author and playwright, he also had a notable career in law and order. Thanks to a political appointment, he became Chief Magistrate for London. He also founded the ‘Bow Street Runners’, London’s first professional police force.

Eighteenth-Century Theatre

When we read a printed play dating from the eighteenth century, it is hard to imagine how the actual performance may have looked like. From written sources dealing with the theatre at the time, we know that performing or watching a play was certainly very different from what we are used to nowadays. To get an idea of just how different it was, we travelled back in time to the old era in our “English literature: literary texts of the eighteenth century” class. In our lecture theatre, we staged the first few scenes of Henry Fielding’s The Author’s Farce (viewable here) in an attempt to reconstruct an eighteenth-century performance as a whole, certain characteristics of which would bewilder most twenty-first-century theatre-goers.

As for going to the theatre in the eighteenth century, the most crucial difference is that this, as opposed to nowadays, was primarily a social event. Therefore, audience members were not quietly sitting in a chair in a dark theatre, attentively watching the play. The actors had to fight to captivate the noisy audience. Illustrative is the fact that the whole theatre was equally lit, signalling that there was no rigid boundary between actors and audience, and that both were considered equally important.

A performance of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera; here, it can be seen
that wealthier people could buy their seats on the stage itself.
(as found on http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/0-9/18th-century-theatre/)

Spectators were  walking around during the play, chatting with friends or even talking to the actors. Wealthy audience members could sit on stage and display their status by giving clever remarks, talking with actors or actresses, and showing off their nice clothing. As became clear during our class performance, the ‘interactive audience‘ situation could easily culminate in anarchy, especially if the play was not appreciated. Audience members would shout critique or insults, or even throw things at the actors. Actor Edward Cape Everard draws the line at potatoes: “Our situation on the stage, from being often rendered unpleasant, was sometimes dangerous; apples and oranges we got pretty well used to from their frequency of appearing; but when our unthinking spectators would sometimes salute us with a potatoe, or even a pint or quart bottle, it was above a joke.” (Memoirs of an unfortunate son of Thespis, Edinburgh 1818, p. 104).

There was also always more than just a play on these social nights. Other forms of entertainment were offered on the side. The play would be preceded by a musical performance and there was generally an interlude during which a great variety of entertainment could be offered, from songs to dog tricks. Finally, the night would be closed by a musical performance. Audience members also ate and drank during the play, hence the flying apples and pint bottles. So-called orange wenches – a role played by our very own professor Hammerschmidt during the class performance – walked through the theatre and provided the audience with fruit, and often also other services (‘orange wench’ soon became a euphemism for prostitute).

Theatre-going might have been a very different experience in the eighteenth century, other theatre-related phenomena which started around that time seem much more familiar to twenty-first-century audiences. Like with our contemporary Hollywood films, the entertainment did not stop at the theatre walls. Next to the actual theatre performance, which was accessible for a very wide range of people, there were of course also printed versions of the play, mainly bought by richer people. These scripts were usually bought as a collection of loose sheets, but these could be bound as well.

A new phenomenon at that time was that certain actors became stars. They were not only helping to promote a play, but they also gave rise to merchandising: fans could buy porcelain statues, portraits, engravings and other products. One of the most popular stars of the eighteenth-century theatre was David Garrick, who was among the first to adopt a less affected, more natural acting style. Furthermore, costumes were introduced in Garrick’s days; previously, actors wore contemporary (i.e. eighteenth-century) clothing.

A tea caddy featuring David Garrick
(as found on http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/0-9/18th-century-theatre/)

To conclude this post on eighteenth-century theatre, we can only advise you to watch the video made in class, as it will hopefully enable you to understand how the staging of a play in playhouse actually may have been like. Most of the elements summed up above are included in this performance (or, in any case, an attempt was made to do so), and all of these make the video worth watching, especially in combination with the actual staging of Fielding’s The Author’s Farce: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.