1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Theatre

THEATRE (θέατρον, "a place for seeing," from θεᾶσθαι), a building specially devised for dramatic representations. The drama arose from the choric dances in honour of Dionysus, which were held in a circular dancing-place (ὀρχήστρα, Lat. orchestra) in his precinct at the foot of the Acropolis at Athens. When the leader of the chorus held a dialogue with the remaining choreutae he mounted the table which stood beside the altar of Dionysus in the centre of the orchestra; but as the number of actors and the importance of the dialogue increased, it became necessary to erect a platform at the side of the dancing-place and a booth in which the performers could change their dresses and masks. At the same time temporary wooden stands (ἴκρια) were set up for the spectators, who no longer ranged themselves around the whole ring, but only on the slope of the Acropolis, facing southward. We are told that the collapse of the ἴκρια, in 499 B.C. led to the erection of a permanent theatre; this was not, however, a stone building. Embankments were made for the support of the spectators' benches: the stage buildings were of wood, and, although some traces of a stone theatre belonging to the end of the 5th century have been pointed out, the "theatre of Dionysus," whose remains may still be seen (Pl. I. and II.), is in the main a work of the 4th century. It was completed soon after 340 B.C. under the administration of the statesman and financier Lycurgus. Alterations were made in the stage-buildings in the Hellenistic period, under Nero, and again in the 3rd century A.D. Although the prototype of Greek theatres, it is not the most perfectly preserved. Amongst those of purely Greek design the most typical is that of Epidaurus (Pl. I.), which was built in the latter part of the 4th century B.C. by Polyclitus the Younger. The largest known to Pausanias was that of Megalopolis, excavated by the British School at Athens in 1889–91, in which the stage buildings were replaced by the Thersilion, a large council-chamber. Others of importance for the study of the ancient theatre have been excavated at Delos, Eretria, Sicyon and Oropus. None of these, of course, is contemporary with the classical period of the Greek drama, and their stone stage-fronts belong to the Hellenistic period.

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Fig. 1.—Diagram showing the principle on which the Greek theatre was planned according to Vitruvius.

In Asia Minor we find a type of theatre (belonging to a somewhat later date) with a broader, lower and deeper stage; and the Roman theatre (see below) carries these changes still further. Before discussing their significance it will be best to describe the parts of the ancient theatre, the fullest account of which is to be found in the fifth book of Vitruvius (written in the Augustan period).

Its three main divisions were the auditorium (Lat. cavea; it had no technical name in Greek), the orchestra, and the stage buildings (σκηνή, literally "tent" or "booth" Lat. scena). As the orchestra was the germ of the theatre, so it determined its shape, and in the Greek theatre preserved its circular form in many instances (as at Epidaurus). In the scheme of proportions given by Vitruvius, however (see fig. 1, which carries its own explanation), a segment (ihgf) was cut off by the stage-front (προσκήνιον, proscenium). The auditorium was divided by flights of seats into wedge-shaped blocks (κερκίδες, cunei) and also longitudinally by a gangway (διάζωμα, praecinctio). In Greece the slope of a hill was always chosen for the auditorium and furnished with stone seats in tiers like steps. The slope of the Acropolis faces south, which (as Vitruvius points out) was the worst aspect for the spectators; but this was unavoidable for religious reasons, since the performances had to be held in the precinct of Dionysus. At Athens the inner boundary was a semicircle with the ends prolonged in parallel straight lines, which gave the spectators in the wings a better view of the stage than that obtainable in those theatres where (according to the Vrtruvian rule) the boundary was segmental. At Epidaurus a compromise was effected by prolonging the ends of the semicircle as segments of a curve with a longer radius. The best seats were in the lowest row; at Athens this was formed by a series of marble thrones assigned to various priests or officials whose titles may be read on those (60 out of 67) which are now preserved. The priest of Dionysus occupied the central throne. In some theatres benches with backs took the place of separate thrones. The right of sitting in reserved places was called προεδρία.

Britannica Theatre 2.jpg
Fig. 2
From Dorpfeld and Reisch, Das griechische Theater.
ab, double western wall.
bc, single wall.
aa, gg, walls terminating wings of auditorium.
b, f, entrances.
c, the "katatome" (where the rock of the Acropolis was met by the walls).
d, e, diazoma.
fg, eastern boundary wall.
hh, front wall of Neronian stage.
i, fragment 5th-century orchestra.
klm, ancient masonry (? of supporting walls).
nn, oldest stage buildings.
oo, stone proscenium (1st or 2nd century B.C.).
p, foundations of Neronian side wings.
qr, fragments 5th-century orchestra.
s, 4th-century portico.
t, old Dionysus temple.

The orchestra, which was separated from the auditorium by a gutter and kerb and generally paved with slabs, contained an altar of Dionysus called the θυμέλη, whence the choral or musical contests which took place in it were called ἀγῶνες θυμελικοί. At Athens this altar stood in the middle of a lozenge-shaped marble pavement. In a few theatres subterranean passages have been found, leading from the stage-buildings to the middle of the orchestra, which may be supposed to have been used for the appearance of actors (e.g. as ghosts) in the orchestra: they do not exist, however, at Athens or Epidaurus, so that no general argument can be founded on their remains.

The stage buildings of the earliest Greek theatres have been destroyed save for the foundations and architectural fragments, and the interpretation of their remains presents a difficult problem. Whether built on level ground or (as at Sicyon and elsewhere) excavated in rock or earth they consisted of a rectangular structure two stories high, usually with projecting side wings (παρασκήνια). Between these wings was the προσκήνιον (stage), which at Athens and indeed in all early theatres was built of wood, but was afterwards reconstructed in stone, with a front formed by a row of columns from 10 to 13 ft. high; its depth varied from 8 to 10½ ft. It has been argued by Dörpfeld that the προσκήνιον was not a stage, but a background, which could be characterized as a palace, temple, &c., by means of painted πίνακες set up in the intervals between the columns, and that throughout the history of the Greek drama actors as well as chorus performed in the orchestra. This theory has been supported by arguments drawn from passages of the classical dramatists, which seem to imply that actors and chorus were on the same level, and by a priori considerations regarding the unfitness of so high and narrow a platform, unconnected with the orchestra by stairs (except such temporary wooden steps as may have left no trace in extant remains), for a stage. But these arguments are outweighed by the positive testimony of ancient writers and inscriptions that the actors in the Greek drama mounted on a platform (ὀκρίβας) which was also called the λογεῖον ("speaking-place"), and the description of the Greek theatre by Vitruvius, who tells us that the λογεῖον (Lat. pulpitum) was narrower than that of the Roman theatre, and was from 10 to 12 ft. high. Moreover the background afforded by the Hellenistic προσκήνια would have been diminutive in its proportions—it must be remembered that Greek actors stood some 6 ft. 6 in. high when wearing the cothurnus and tragic mask—and quite unlike a palace or temple. They never have more than one doorway in the centre, though Vitruvius prescribes three, and in some theatres (where the stage buildings were partly excavated) there are no rooms at the back of them, but either virgin rock or earth. We may therefore dismiss Dörpfeld's theory: but it is more than probable that the wooden stage of the 5th century B.C. was much lower than that of Hellenistic times, when the chorus had either disappeared from dramatic performances or performed musical interludes unconnected with the action of the play. Horace, in fact, says of Aeschylus: "Aeschylus . . . modicis instravit pulpita tignis," and doubtless preserves a fragment of genuine tradition. When chorus and actors came into contact, wooden steps could be used, and that such were employed even in the later drama is proved by the evidence of South Italian vase-paintings which represent the Phylakes or burlesques popular at Tarentum.

The façade of the σκηνή furnished an architectural background, and this was supplemented by painted scenery, which, according to Aristotle, was introduced by Sophocles: Vitruvius, however, tells us that the first scene-painter, Agatharchus, worked for Aeschylus. In their days the σκηνή was, of course, a mere booth. Changes of scene were very rare—there are only two in the extant classical tragedies—and were brought about by the use of revolving prisms (περίακτοι). Other appliances used in the Greek drama were the (ἐκκύκλεμα, a low platform on rollers which was pushed forward in order to show an action supposed to take place in the interior of the σκηνή (the scene in a Greek play was always laid in the open air), and the μηχανή, a crane by which an actor representing a god could be suspended in mid-air (hence the phrase deus ex machina). In the upper part of the σκηνή was a balcony called the διστεγία ("second story"), and at the top a narrow platform called the θεολογεῖον, upon which gods supposed to be stationary in heaven could appear. Ghosts ascending from the underworld mounted the χαρώνιοι κλίμακες, whose position is uncertain. The βροντεῖον was a machine for imitating thunder by means of stones rolled in metal jars. It is far from certain whether a drop-scene was used in the classical period of the Greek drama; in later times and in the Roman theatre a curtain (αὐλαία, Lat. aulaea, siparium) was let down into a narrow slit in front of the stage before the play began and drawn up at the end.

It has been mentioned above that in the later Hellenistic theatres the stage was made broader, lower and deeper, and in the Roman theatre, the principle of whose construction, as explained by Vitruvius, is illustrated by fig. 3, the orchestra is reduced to a semicircle (acd). The line ef is that of the background (scenae frons) and its limits are those of the cavea or auditorium.

The Romans, by their use of the arch in construction and also of concrete for vaulting, were enabled to erect theatres on level ground, such as the Campus Martius at Rome, where an elaborate structure, usually in three stories of arcades,[1] took the place of the natural hill-slope of Greek theatres. The Roman theatre thus became an organic whole; the auditorium and stage buildings were structurally connected, and the orchestra was entered from the wings, not by open passages (παρόδοι) as in Greece, but by vaulted corridors. The orchestra was no longer used for the performances (whether dramatic, musical or merely spectacular), but was reserved for senators and other persons of distinction. Hence (as Vitruvius points out) arose the necessity for lowering and enlarging the stage. It is hard to say when this change was made or at what date it was first introduced into Italy (if it did not originate in the west). The larger of the two theatres at Pompeii dates from the Hellenistic period, but was thrice reconstructed, and it is not clear to what date we are to assign the low stage of Roman pattern; possibly it belongs to the earliest period of the Roman colony at Pompeii founded by Sulla (B.C. 80). The theatre of Pompey (see below) is said by Plutarch to have been copied from that of Mytilene, which suggests that the Roman theatre was derived from a late Greek model; and this is made probable by the existence of transitional forms.

Britannica Theatre 3.jpg

Fig. 3.—Diagram showing the principle on which the Roman theatre was planned according to Vitruvius.

During the Republican period the erection of permanent theatres with seats for the spectators was thought to savour of Greek luxury and to be unworthy of the stern simplicity of the Roman citizens. Thus in 154 B.C. Scipio Nasica induced the senate to demolish the first stone theatre which had been begun by C. Cassius Longinus ("tanquam inutile et nociturum publicis moribus," Liv. Epit. 48). Even in 55 B.C., when Pompey began the theatre of which remains still exist in Rome, he thought it wise to place a shrine to Venus Victrix at the top of the cavea, as a sort of excuse for having stone seats below it—the seats theoretically serving as steps to reach the temple. This theatre, which was completed in 52 B.C., is spoken of by Vitruvius as "the stone theatre" par excellence: it is said by Pliny to have held 40,000 people.[2] It was also used as an amphitheatre for the bloody shows in which the Romans took greater pleasure than in the purer intellectual enjoyment of the drama. At its inauguration 500 lions and 20 elephants were killed by gladiators. Near it two other theatres were erected, one begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus in 13 B.C., under the name of his nephew Marcellus,[3] and another built about the same date by Cornelius Balbus (Suet. Aug. 29; Pliny, H. N. xxxvi. 59). Scanty remains exist of this last theatre, but the ruins of the theatre of Marcellus are among the most imposing of the buildings of ancient Rome.

A long account is given by Pliny (H. N. xxxvi. 5 and 114) of a most magnificent temporary theatre built by the aedile M. Aemilius Scaurus in 58 B.C. It is said to have held the incredible number of 80,000 people, and was a work of the most costly splendour. Still less credible is the account which Pliny gives (H. N. xxxvi. 116) of two wooden theatres built by C. Curio in 50 B.C., which were made to revolve on pivots, so that the two together could form an amphitheatre in the afternoon, after having been used as two separate theatres in the morning.

All Roman provincial towns of any importance possessed at least one theatre; many of these are partly preserved. On
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Photo, W. Leaf.


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Photo, R. Elsey Smith.


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Photo, R. Elsey Smith.


Britannica Theatre Plate IIb.jpg
Photo, A. M, Woodward.


Britannica Theatre Plate IIc.jpg
Photo, A. M, Woodward.


Britannica Theatre Plate IId.jpg
Photo, Mansell & Co.


Pl. II. will be found reproductions of two of the most important —that of Aspendus in Pamphylia, which illustrates the Eastern type showing Hellenistic influence, and that of Arausio (Orange) in South Gaul. Covered theatres were sometimes built, whether on account of climatic conditions (as at Aosta) or more commonly for musical performances. These latter were generally called Odea. (Gr. ᾠδεῖον, a place for singing). The best preserved is the Odeum of Herodes Atticus, at the south-west angle of the Athenian Acropolis, which has a semicircular orchestra. It was built in the reign of Hadrian by Herodes Atticus,[4] a very wealthy Greek, who spent enormous sums in beautifying the city of Athens, in honour of his wife Regilla. Its cavea, which is excavated in the rock, held about 6ooo people; it was connected with the great Dionysiac theatre by a long and lofty porticus or stoa, of which considerable remains still exist, probably a late restoration of the stoa built by Eumenes II. of Pergamum. It was also a common practice to build a small covered theatre in the neighbourhood of an open one, where performances might take place in bad weather. We have an example of this at Pompeii. The Romans used scenery and stage effects of more elaboration than was the custom in Greece. Vitruvius (iii. 7) mentions three sorts of movable scenery:—(1) for the tragic drama, façades with columns representing public buildings; (2) for comic plays, private houses with practicable windows and balconies;[5] and (3) for the satyric drama, rustic scenes, with mountains, caverns and trees.

Bibliography.—By far the fullest account of the Greek theatre is given in Dörpfeld and Reisch, Das griechische Theater (Athens, 1896). Its main thesis is, however, rejected by many archaeologists on the grounds stated above. Puchstein, Die griechische Bühne, endeavours to prove that a stone theatre was built at Athens in the 5th century B.C., and that the proscenium usually supposed to be Hellenistic dates from the time of Lycurgus (above). For English readers the best account of the Greek theatre is to be found in A. E. Haigh's Attic Theatre (3rd ed., revised by A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, 1907), where a bibliography of the voluminous literature of recent times is given. Albert Müller's Lehrbuch der griechischen Bühnenaltertümer (Freiburg, 1886) is indispensable to the student. For the Roman theatre reference may be made to Durm, Baukunst der Römer, ed. 2, pp. 645 ff.

 (J. H. M.; H. S. J.) 

The Modern Theatre

During the middle ages miracle plays with sacred scenes were the favourite kind of drama; no special buildings were erected for these, as they were represented either in churches or in temporary booths. In the 16th century the revival of the secular drama, which, in the reign of Elizabeth, formed so important a part of the literature of England, was carried on in tents, wooden sheds, or courtyards of inns, mostly by strolling actors of a very low class. It was not till towards the close of the century that a permanent building was constructed and licensed for dramatic representations, under the management of Shakespeare and Burbage.

The first building specially erected in London for dramatic purposes was built in 1576–77 by the actor James Burbage. It was constructed of timber, and stood in Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, till 1598, when it was pulled down; it was known as "The Theatre" par excellence. Of almost equally early date was the "Curtain" theatre, also in Shoreditch; so called from the plot of ground, known as "The Curten," on which it stood. It probably continued in use till the general closing of theatres by order of the parliament in 1642. The "Globe" theatre, famous for its association with Shakespeare, was built by James Burbage, who used the materials of "The Theatre," in the year 1599. Its site was in Southwark, in the Bankside, near the "Bear Gardens." It was an octagonal structure of wood, with lath and plaster between the main framework. It was burnt in 1613, rebuilt, and finally pulled down and its site built over in 1644. Its name was derived from its sign of Atlas supporting the globe. Near it were two less important theatres, "The Rose," opened in 1592 by Henslowe, and "The Swan" (see below), opened in 1598 and partly owned also by Henslowe, like the Globe, the latter was an octagonal wood-and-plaster building. The "Blackfriars" theatre, another of the Burbages' ventures, was built in 1596, near the old Dominican friary. The "Fortune" theatre was built by Edward Alleyn, the actor, in 1599, at a cost, including the site, of £1320. It stood between Whitecross Street and Golding Lane. It stood as late as 1819, when a drawing of it was given by Wilkinson (Londina illustrata, 1819). The "Red Bull" theatre was probably originally the galleried court of an inn, which was adapted for dramatic purposes towards the close of Elizabeth's reign. Other early theatres were the "Hope" or "Paris Garden" theatre, the "Whitefriars" and "Salisbury Court" theatres, and the "Newington" theatre. A curious panoramic view of London, engraved by Visscher in 1616, shows the Globe, the Hope and the Swan theatres.

The plan of the first English theatres appears to have had no connexion with those of classical times, as was the case in Italy: it was evidently produced in an almost accidental way by the early custom of erecting a temporary platform or stage in the middle of the open courtyard of an inn, in which the galleries all round the court formed boxes for the chief spectators, while the poorer part of the audience stood in the court on all sides of the central stage. Something similar to this arrangement, unsuitable though it now seems, was reproduced even in buildings, such as the Globe, the Fortune and the Swan, which were specially designed for the drama. In these and other early theatres there was a central platform for the stage, surrounded by seats except on one side, where there was a "green-room" or "tireynge-howse." The upper galleries or boxes completely surrounded the stage, even the space over the green-room being occupied by boxes. This being the arrangement, it is easy to see why the octagonal plan was selected in most cases, though not in all—the Fortune theatre, for example, was square. An interesting specification and contract for the building of the Fortune theatre (see below) is printed by Halliwell-Phillipps (op. cit. infra, p. 164). In all its details the Fortune is specified to be like the Globe, except that it is to be square in plan, and with timbers of heavier scantling. The walls are to be of wood and plaster, the roof tiled, with lead gutters, the stage of oak, with a "shadow" or cover over it, and the "tireynge-howse" to have glazed windows. Two sorts of boxes are mentioned, viz., "gentlemen's roomes" and "twoo-pennie roomes." A woodcut showing this arrangement of the interior is given in a collection of plays edited by Kirkman in 1672. The vexed question of the construction of these theatres has been much discussed in recent years. In 1888 a drawing of the Swan theatre (fig. 4), apparently copied from a rough drawing in a London letter from the traveller Johannes de Witt, was discovered by Dr Karl Gaedertz in a manuscript volume in the Utrecht University library, consisting of the commonplace book of Arend van Buchell (1565–1641). While undoubtedly authentic, and probably broadly accurate, this copied sketch cannot be accepted, however, as giving the regular or typical plan of the contemporary theatre, as in some respects it does not fulfil the known conditions of the stage. What that typical plan was, if (as is probable) one actually existed, has led to much learned conjecture and great difference of opinion as regards the details required by the interpretation of contemporary stage directions on the necessities of the action in contemporary drama. The ingenious reconstruction (fig. 5), drawn by W. H. Godfrey in 1907, of the Fortune theatre, following the builder's specification, appears to approach very nearly to satisfying all the requirements. (See "The Elizabethan Stage," in the Quarterly Review (London), April 1908.)

In the 16th and 17th centuries a favourite kind of theatrical representation was in the form of "masques," with processions of grotesquely attired actors and temporary scenic effects of great splendour and mechanical ingenuity. In the reigns of James I. and Charles I., Ben Jonson and the architect Inigo ]ones worked together in the production of these "masques," Jonson writing the words and Inigo Jones devising the scenic effects, the latter being very costly and complicated, with gorgeous buildings, landscapes, and clouds or mountains, which opened to display mimic deities, thrown into relief by coloured lights. These masques were a form of opera, in which Ben Jonson's words were set to music. Ben Jonson received no more for his libretto than Inigo Jones did for his scenic devices, and was not unnaturally annoyed at the secondary place which he was made to occupy: he therefore revenged himself by writing severe satires on Inigo Jones and the system which placed the literary and mechanical parts of the opera on the same footing. In an autograph MS. which still exists this satirical line occurs—"Painting and carpentry are the soul of masque" (see Cunningham, Life of Inigo Jones, London, 1848).

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Fig. 4.—Swan Theatre; from Sidney Lee's Life of William Shakespeare, by permission.

In Italy, during the 16th century, the drama occupied a more important position, and several theatres were erected, professedly on the model of the classic theatre of Vitruvius. One of these, the Teatro Olimpico at Vicenza, still exists; it was designed by Palladio, but was not completed till 1584, four years after his death. It has an architectural scena, with various orders of columns, rows of statues in niches, and the three doors of the classic theatre; but the whole is painted with strong perspective effects which are very unclassical in spirit. Scamozzi, Palladio's pupil, who completed the Teatro Olimpico, built another pseudo-classical theatre in 1588 at Sabbionetta for the duke Vespasiano Gonzaga, but this does not now exist.

In France the miracle play developed into the secular drama rather earlier than in England. In the reign of Louis XI., about 1467, the "Brothers of the Passion" had a theatre which was partly religious and partly satirical. In the 16th century Catherine de' Medici is said to have spent incredible sums on the dresses and scenery for the representation of the Italian ballet; and in the middle of the 17th century the regular opera was introduced at Paris.

At the end of the 18th century the theatres of San Carlo at Naples, La Scala at Milan, and La Fenice at Venice were the finest in Europe; all these were rebuilt in the 19th century, but have been eclipsed by the later theatres of London, Paris, St Petersburg and other great cities of Europe and America, both in size and architectural splendour.

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Fig. 5.—The Fortune Theatre; restoration of Walter H. Godfrey.

Authorities.—Much valuable information about the early theatres of London is given by Wilkinson, Londina illustrata (1819), in which are engravings of some of them. See also Collier, Hist. of Dramatic Poetry (1879); Halliwell-Phillipps, Life of Shakespeare (1883); R. Lowe, Life of T. Betterton; Malone, History of the Stage (1790), republished by Boswell in 1821; the publications of the New Shakspere Society; the Ninth Report of the Historical MSS. Commission; and a series of articles on early London theatres, by T. F. Ordish, in The Antiquary, vols. xi., xii. and xiv. (1885–86).

On the problems connected with the construction of the Elizabethan theatre, see Dr Cecil Brodmeier, Die Shakespeare-Bühne nach den alten Bühneranweisungen (Weimar, 1904); Dr Paul Mönkemeyer, Prolegomena einer Darstellung der Englischen Volksbühne zur Elizabeth und Stuart Zeit (Leipzig, 1905); Dr Richard Wegener, Die Buhneneinrichtung des Shakespeareschen Theaters nach dem zeitgenossischen drama (Halle, 1907); George F. Reynolds, Some Principles of Elizabethan Staging (Chicago University, 1905); E. K. Chambers, "The Stage of the Globe," in vol. x. of the Stratford Shakespeare (1904); Victor E. Albright, A Typical Shakesperian Stage (New York, 1908).

 (J. H. M.; H. Ch.) 

Modern Stage Mechanism

A movement known as "Stage Reform" originated in Austria about 1880, with the primary object of encouraging the greatest possible imitation of nature in the presentation of opera and drama. The rudiments of art as understood by painters, sculptors, architects and the cultured public of the day were to be applied to the stage, and a true scenic art was to take the place of the nondescript mounting previously given. To facilitate the efforts of the scenic artist, the fullest application of modern science, notably of mechanics and hydraulics, and the introduction of up-to-date methods of lighting were considered essential. The numerous fatal conflagrations which had originated on the stage caused the question of protection from fire to be closely associated with this movement, and the enterprise made great headway, more particularly on account of the protective measures against tire proposed soon after the burning of the old Ring Theatre at Vienna. The movement gradually developed throughout Austria and Germany and spread beyond the frontiers of these countries. Concurrently, independent movements originated elsewhere, and from 1885 to 1895 a transitional period may be said to have existed for the stage, both in Europe and in the United States, but by the close of the 19th century the necessity for reform was recognized in every country. During the transitional time various unsatisfactory experiments were made, some of the boldest experiments proving costly failures, yet serving, because of such features as were valuable, as a basis for further developments. Great Britain and France were almost the last countries touched by this movement, although in England throughout the 'nineties there was considerable improvement in actual scenic art and stage-mounting, as far as this could be brought about without the aid of improved stage mechanism.

Among those primarily responsible for this new epoch in scenic art in Great Britain were Sir Henry Irving and Mr Beerbohm Tree, both actor-managers, Mr Hubert von Herkomer, R.A., Sir L. Alma-Tadema, R.A., and Mr Edwin O. Sachs, architect. Although almost last in the application of stage reform in its best sense, England really completed the experimental period with the modernization of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where, by the opening of the season of 1902, the directorate were provided with the latest improvements of mechanical skill for the almost complete re-equipment of stage scenery. This work of remodelling was carried out by the Grand Opera Syndicate, with Mr Edwin O. Sachs as technical adviser and architect. Modern mechanism has also been applied at the Apollo Theatre, London, where, however, the stage equipment was bodily imported from the Continent and does not include any mechanically or electrically driven parts. manual labour alone being used. The stage mechanism which was employed in the equipment of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, embodies the Sachs system of dividing the stage-floor into a few large sections and working them with the aid of electrical power, the Brandt system of counter-weighting for the suspension of all scenery from above, the application of light in four colours by electricity, and the designing of all scenery to accord as much as possible with nature, the whole mounting being built up on the basis of a flat stage as distinct from the sloping stage of old.

The classification of stages generally, both home and foreign, whether for the production of opera or plays, should be made as follows: wood stages, wood and iron stages, and ironStage Mechanism. stages, with subdivisions according to the power chiefly employed in working the appliances. These subsections are: manual labour, hydraulics and electricity. Owing to the almost entire absence of steam for motor power in connexion with stage machinery, a separate subdivision for appliances where steam is employed is not required. With the wood stage and the wood and iron stage manual labour alone is utilized. But in the iron stage manual labour, hydraulic power and electric power are either used individually, or a combination of any two or three of these classes is applied. The first series of stages built in accordance with the principles of Stage Reform was erected on what was termed the "asphaleia" system, in which direct hydraulic power was utilized throughout. The stage-floor is divided into innumerable small sections supported on rams (some working telescopically), whilst everything suspended from above is also worked mechanically by hydraulic power. Notable examples are the Budapest Opera House and the Municipal Theatre at Halle.

The next type is that of the stage of the Court Theatre, Vienna, which, although based to a considerable extent on the "asphaleia" system, showed somewhat larger sections. These are suspended by cables and worked indirectly by small hydraulic rams placed at the side, whilst the whole of the top work is manipulated by manual labour with the partial assistance of counter-weights. The next type is the Brandt type, where the number of divisions of the stage is further reduced to a few medium-sized sections, worked by means of a combination of a central hydraulic ram and suspended cables duly counter-weighted. The top work in this case is entirely counter weighted, and requires the least possible manual labour for manipulation. An example will be found at the Wiesbaden Court Theatre. We next have the Sachs system, where electric power is substituted for hydraulic power, the number of stage divisions limited to several large sections, suspended on cables partly counter-weighted and partly worked by electric motors, while the whole of the top work is balanced on a system similar to that of the Brandt, with intermediate electric motors for the manipulation of particularly heavy loads. It is this last system that has been adopted at the Covent Garden Opera House, with the modification that the top work is entirely operated on the latest development of the Brandt system of manual labour and counter-weights. Another example of the Sachs system, as far as individual stage sections are concerned, will be found in a portion of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Regarding the question of expense and practicability, the hydraulic system has generally been found to be expensive and impracticable. The system of the Court Theatre, Vienna, though practicable, is costly both in capital and annual outlay. The Brandt method of equipping the upper stage mechanism has been found particularly suitable for medium-sized theatres, and not expensive. The Sachs system has been found practicable, of moderate initial cost and minimum annual outlay. The advantages of electricity over hydraulic power have been most marked both in capital and in annual expense. There is of course a far greater initial outlay required to-day than with the wooden stage of old, but the saving in staff and wear and tear of the scenery, and the absence of expensive temporary makeshifts, repairs and reinstatements, compensate for this by a material reduction of annual charges. It is known as a fact that upon an overhaul of the Covent Garden equipment being ordered after five years' running, the contractors could not find anything to do in the way of repairs or reinstatements. The stage carpenter has long reigned supreme in England and France, although in England there are already one or two notable exceptions of men who are advancing to the position of engineers rather than carpenters. In Germany and Austria the stage carpenter is already being replaced in most theatres by men of engineering or technical training, as the more complex arrangements of a modern stage demand intelligent and careful control. It is merely a question of time for the engineer to obtain general control in these matters.

Regarding the actual designing and painting of the scenery, the English scene-painter may now be considered in advance of his Continental and American colleagues, althoughScene-painting. productions of some notable ateliers at Vienna and Munich run the English scene-painter's work very closely. In 1890 Vienna was in advance of England in scene-painting, but the English scene-painters have since then rapidly come to the front, and it is to be anticipated that it will never again be necessary to import scenery from Austria, as has been the case, both at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. As a matter of fact, scenery from Covent Garden and Drury Lane is already exported to the United States. The position of the scene-painter is particularly difficult, inasmuch as whilst artistic temperament and thorough knowledge of art are essential for the practice of his vocation, it is equally essential that he should be thoroughly practical and to a considerable extent a mechanic. He lacks recognition among artists and there is unfortunately a tendency to depreciate his work.

During the period of interregnum in stage reform there appeared a number of faddist inventions which, while creating public interest, cannot be considered of lastingModern Inventions. practical utility. Thus in the United States an attempt was made to have a large platform constructed like a lift, bodily rising and falling, with three different tiers or stages on which scenery could be mounted at different levels and then raised or lowered into position. Again, at Munich, a scheme of turn-tables based on the Japanese revolving stage was put forward, but this can only be looked upon as an interesting experiment of little practical value.

Numerous methods of illuminating the stage have similarly been attempted, with the aid of search-lights, and proscenium-lights, or by the absence of foot-lights, and the like, Lights. but the general method of lighting the stage from the top with battens, from the side with wing-ladders, and from below with foot-lights, if carefully regulated and skilfully handled, produces excellent results. The lighting arrangements as practised at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in which building the lighting engineer is Mr Crawshaw and the consulting engineer for the lighting installation was Mr Bowles, leave nothing to be desired from an artist s point of view. The great difficulty of the light coming too strongly from below, i.e. from the foot-lights, can be overcome by the regulation and colouring of the lights.

As examples of modern mechanism, two photographs have been reproduced showing views of the electrical stage "bridges" of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, respectively, both on the Sachs system (see Pl. III.). A small general plan and section of the Covent Garden stage are also shown (see fig. 6), and another illustration (see Pl. IV.) presents the "gridiron" at Covent Garden on the Brandt system.

The following is a detailed description of the Covent Garden installation.

The stage may be described as consisting of a series of six horizontal sections running parallel with the curtain line from front to back, each section being 8 ft. wide, and the whole being followed by a large back or rear stage. The first section contains nothing but a plain "carpet cut," and openings to take the old-fashioned "grave" trap, "star" trap, or other similar contrivances. The second and third sections comprise large bridges, which can be raised 6 ft. above the stage or lowered 8 ft. below the stage, constructed in two levels, on the lower level of which appliances can be installed for the purpose of raising minor platforms above stage level or sinking traps and the like. The fourth, fifth and sixth sections comprise large bridges running right across the stage front, which can be raised 9 ft. above the stage or lowered 8 ft. below it. The back stage has no openings or mechanism beyond certain trap-doors to a scenery store, and the necessary electrical mechanism for raising and lowering scenery for storage purposes. Between the various sections of the stage, long longitudinal flaps, 2 ft. wide, have been formed, which can, be easily opened to allow scenery to be passed through below for transformation scenes and the like. Each section is equipped with what is termed a pair of chariots, to hold "wing" lights placed on so-called wing ladders. All the electrical bridges are worked from the "mezzanine" level and from ordinary switchboards, and can be raised and lowered at various speeds, and take loads up to 2 tons. They can be moved without vibration or noise at a cost of about ¼d. for power on a full rise when loaded.

Above the stage level each section has its series of lines to take cloths, borders, &c. Each section has a batten, from which the electric battens are suspended, and has also a large wooden lattice girder, from which heavy pieces of scenery can be hung. There are, on the average, about ten lines for ordinary battens, a girder batten, and a light batten no each section; besides these lines, there are the equipments of flying apparatus and the like, whilst in front there are, of course, the necessary lines for tableaux curtains, act-drops and draperies. Everything that is suspended from above can be worked at stage level or at either of the gallery levels, every scene being counter-weighted to a nicety, so that one man can easily handle it. No mechanical contrivance is required, and in practice quite a number of scenes can be rapidly changed in a very short time. Throughout the structure and mechanism steel has been used, with iron pulleys and wire cable; and the inflammable materials have been absolutely reduced to the flooring of the gridiron and galleries and the hardwood flooring of the stage and mezzanine. In other words, an absolute minimum of inflammable material replaces what was almost a maximum; and seeing that the electric light has been installed, the risk of an outbreak of fire or its spread has been materially reduced.

Britannica Theatre 6.jpg

Fig. 6.—Plan and Section of Covent Garden Stage.

No mention of stage mechanism would be complete unless mention were made of the necessity of providing a carefully made and easily worked fire-resisting curtain of substantial but light construction. On the Continent metal curtains are favoured. In England the double asbestos curtain is more common. The London County Council prefer a steel framing with asbestos wire-wove cloth on both faces, the intervening space being filled with slag wool, well rammed and packed. Such curtains are somewhat heavy and require counter-weighting to a nicety, but if well made and fitted may be deemed satisfactory. It is advisable to fit drenches above fire-resisting curtains and to so arrange the working of the curtain that it can be lowered from four points, i.e. from both sides of the stage, from the prompt side flies and from the stage door. According to the Lord Chamberlain's rules, fire resisting curtains must be lowered once during a performance. This is a wise measure for testing the efficiency of the appliances.

Authorities.—Modern Opera Hauses and Theatres, 3 vols. grand folio, by Edwin O. Sachs (1896–99); Stage Construction, 1 vol. grand folio, by Edwin O. Sachs (1896); "Engineering": Articles on Stage Mechanism, by Edwin O. Sachs (1895–97); Fires and Public Entertainments, 1 vol. quarto, by Edwin O. Sachs (1897); Le Théâtre, 1 vol. oct., by Charles Garnier (1871); Les Théâtres Anglais, by Georges Bourdon (1902); Die Theater. Wien, 2 vols. quarto, by Josef Bayer (1894).

 (E. O. S.) 
Britannica Theatre Plate IIIa.jpg
From a Photograph by S. B. Bolas & Co.


Britannica Theatre Plate IIIb.jpg
From a Photograph by Alfred Ellis & Walery.


Britannica Theatre Plate IV.jpg
From a Photograph by Alfred Ellis & Walery.



The appeal to the eye has been the essential feature of dramatic production in its many stages of development from the earliest times of the miracle plays and "moralities," mummers and morris-dancers, down through the centuries, in the form of masques and ballets, to the luxuriance of scenic and costume display that is lavished on the latest forms of theatrical entertainment. Considering the enormous advance that has been made in mechanical appliances, more especially in the increased powers of illumination supplied by gas and electricity[6] as compared with oil and candles, we must acknowledge that the artistic achievement of spectacle has hardly kept pace with the times. If we may credit the veracity of contemporary chroniclers, the most elaborate effects and illusions were successfully attempted in the various courtly entertainments that are recorded under the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, and found perhaps their most sumptuous expression in the courts cf Louis XIV. and Louis XV. It would be a difficult task for the most experienced of modern stage managers to rival the splendours of apparel and the ingenious devices that were exploited in increasing magnificence during successive periods, as described by Froissart, Holinshed, Cavendish, Stow, Pepys and other writers. The sums expended on these entertainments were prodigious, and a perusal of the extraordinarily detailed descriptions of such lavishly appointed masques as those designed by Inigo Jones in particular renders credible the statement that a certain masque presented before Charles I. at the Inns of Court in 1633 cost £21,000. Spectacle in its earlier phases appears to have existed chiefly in connexion with court and civic ceremonial: as evidenced in the wonderful pageantry of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; in such princely entertainment as the Revels at Kenilworth, when the Earl of Leicester welcomed Queen Elizabeth in a series of splendid fêtes; and in the more accomplished imaginings of Ben Jonson, decorated by Inigo Jones, such as the Inns of Court masque, already cited. The scenic effects and illusions which had evidently been brought to great perfection in these masques were not devoted to the service of the drama in the public theatres until Davenant introduced them at the period of the Restoration, although simple scenery, probably mere background "cloths," had been seen on the stage as early as 1605. The built-up stage pictures, familiar to us as "set-scenes," are said to owe their origin to Philip James de Loutherbourg, R.A., and to have been first used in 1777; but it is difficult to believe that some such elaborate constructions had not already enjoyed a term of popularity in view of the contemporary paintings and engravings of the epoch of Louis XIV., who was himself not averse from appearing (in 1653) as "Le Roi Soleil" in the midst of an entourage combining much that was artistic and fanciful with the most pompous and most absurd incongruities of character and costume. A greater measure of elegance and refinement distinguished the spectacles of the reign of Louis XV., inspired by the delicate art of Watteau, Boucher and Lancret, and preserved for our delectation in their delightful canvases. Under the French Revolution the spectacular ballet lost much of its prestige; and its decorative features were for a time principally associated with the fêtes inaugurated by the Republic, and presented in the classic costume, which the severity of the new régime adopted as a reaction, or as a protest against the frivolities and furbelows of the obliterated monarchy. The Festival of the Supreme Being, decreed by the National Convention, designed by David and conducted by Robespierre, was perhaps the most impressive spectacle of the close of the 18th century.

The 19th century saw spectacle devoted almost exclusively to theatrical entertainment. In London, melodrama, both of the romantic and domestic description, claimed its illustrative aid. At Drury Lane Theatre (which, with Covent Garden, the Adelphi and Astley's, was first illuminated by gas in 1817–18) the Cataract of the Ganges, with its cascade of real water and its prancing steeds, made a great sensation in 1823, and the same stage in 1842, under Macready's management, displayed the "moving wave" effect in the Sicilian views, painted by William Clarkson Stanfield for Acis and Galatea. The Lyceum Theatre from 1847 to 1855 introduced a long series of elegant extravaganzas from the pen of J. R. Planché, elaborately illustrated by the scenery of William Beverly. The Golden Branch, the King of the Peacocks and the Island of Jewels (Christmas 1849) were the most remarkable of these productions, and were noteworthy as originating the fantastic fairy pictures that became known as "transformation scenes," and were copied and popularized in all directions. Beverly's skilful brush was at a later date employed at Drury Lane to enhance the attractions of a succession of spectacular versions of Sir Walter Scott's novels, Amy Robsart (1870), Rob Roy (with a beautiful panorama of the Trossachs scenery), Rebecca, England in the Days of Charles II., and others. Later still, under the régime of Sir Augustus Harris and his successors, spectacle at Drury Lane assumed even more costly proportions, and modern melodramas, representing well-known localities with extraordinary fidelity and all kinds of disasters from earthquakes to avalanches, have been alternated with sumptuously mounted pantomimes (so-called), in which the nominal fairy-tales were almost smothered by the paraphernalia of scenery and costume. It is remarkable that, for a "run" of ten weeks only, such a sum as £16,000 each can have been profitably expended on more than one of these productions.

London playgoers will recall the processional glories of A Dream of Fair Women, designed by Alfred Thompson; The Land of Fairy Tales, by Percy Anderson; and The Silver Wedding (Puss in Boots), The Paradise of the Birds (Babes in the Wood), and The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus (Jack and the Beanstalk), for which Mr Wilhelm was responsible. The Armada, a historical drama (1888), also deserves to be remembered for the completeness and excellence of its spectacular features. In addition to the names of Clarkson Stanfield and Beverly, already cited as masters of scenic art, it must not be forgotten that the skill of David Roberts was also devoted to the embellishment of the stage; and the names of Grieve, the Telbins (father and son), Hawes Craven, and J. Harker have in successive years carried on the best traditions of the art. Alfred Thompson was one of the first to revise the conventionalities of fanciful stage costume, and to impart a French lightness of touch and delicacy of colour. A ballet, Yolande, which he dressed for the Alhambra in the 'sixties, was the first Japanese spectacle to grace the English stage; and he was also mainly responsible for the attractions of Babil and Bijou, which cost upwards of £11,000 at Covent Garden Theatre in 1872, and was at the time considered to have surpassed all former spectacular accomplishments. It achieved, however, merely a succès d'estime, and has bequeathed to a later generation only the recollections of its "Spring" choir of boys, and of the brilliant danseuse, Henriette d'Or, who revived memories of the great days of the ballet, when Taglioni, Cerito, Elssler, Duvernay and other "Déesses de la Danse," appeared under Lumley's management at the old Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket. Since the memorable tenancy of Sadler's Wells Theatre by Phelps (1844–62), Shakespeare and spectacle have been honourably associated. Charles Kean's revivals at the Princess's Theatre (1850–59) deservedly attracted considerable attention for the splendour and accuracy of their archaeology. Byron's Sardanapalus was also a triumph for the same management in 1853; and the same theatre three decades later witnessed the production (December 1883) by Wilson Barrett of Claudian, a romantic poetic drama of classic days, mounted so exquisitely as to gain Ruskin's enthusiastic praise But undoubtedly the earliest noteworthy alliance of spectacle with Shakespeare was made by Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum. The art of Royal Academicians was happily enlisted to add lustre and distinction to his productions. . Ravenswood and the sumptuously presented Henry VIII. (1892) owed much to the co-operation of Mr Seymour Lucas. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema supervised Cymbeline and Coriolanus (1901), whilst Sir Edward Burne-Jones inspired the decoration of King Arthur (1895). In Tennyson's Cup (produced in January 1881) and in the beautiful revival of Romeo and Juliet it was felt that perfection of stage illusion could scarcely go farther, but the next production, Much Ado about Nothing, with its superb church scene by Telbin, was admittedly Irving's crowning success, alike from the artistic, the dramatic, the spectacular and the financial standpoints. Great praise was equally won by the version of Faust, which was frankly spectacular, and by the more recent Robespierre by Sardou. Shakespeare and the poetic drama were also finely illustrated by Mr Beerbohm Tree, who secured Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's interest for Hypatia at the Haymarket, and Julius Caesar at the new His Majesty's; whilst for his later productions, King John, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Herod (by Stephen Phillips), Twelfth Night (1901), and such later plays as his revival of Antony and Cleopatra (1907), he was assisted by the designs of Percy Anderson, an artist who made his mark in the costumes for a series of the operas at the Savoy Theatre, notably the 15th-century dresses for the Beauty Stone.

Spectacular features of exceptional refinement distinguished the pantomime of Cinderella, presented by Mr Oscar Barrett at the Lyceum Theatre in Christmas 1893, and designed by Mr Wilhelm. This production also enjoyed a prosperous season in New York. The system of international exchange seems to hold good in stage spectacle as in other cases, and in return for English successes that have been welcomed in America, Augustin Daly's Shakespearean productions were greatly admired in London. Other entertainments of a more absolutely spectacular order found acceptance in London. In connexion with Barnum and Bailey's Hippodrome, Imré Kiralfy's show, Nero, constituted a "mammoth combination," and attracted crowds to "Olympia" in 1890. The success of this latter spectacle of colour and movement, which was also designed by Mr Wilhelm, induced Mr Kiralfy to produce a still more ambitious entertainment the following season, Venice, designed by the same artist. A spectacle on these lines may be regarded as the outcome of such ballets as have long been popular on the continent of Europe—especially in Italy, where grace of movement and spontaneity of gesture are natural to the people, and greatly facilitate such an enterprise as the famous Excelsior ballet of Manzotti, which lasted a whole evening, in several acts, and required the services of hundreds of figurantes. Excelsior was originally produced at La Scala, Milan, in January 1881, and was subsequently given with great success at the Eden Theatre, Paris, in 1883. The revived popularity of the modern ballet, as at the Empire Theatre, London, has also been associated with some memorable triumphs of spectacle with which the name of Mr Wilhelm was closely identified as designer.  (C. Wi.) 

Law Relating to Theatres.

It was not until comparatively late in Roman history that acting became a distinct calling. The troops of public actors (ministeria publica) were generally slaves, and their earnings enriched their masters more than themselves.

The regulation of the theatre by legislation (except as to structure) belongs chiefly to the time of the lower empire, in which it depended almost wholly upon constitutions of Theodosius and Valentinian, incorporated in the Theodosian Code (Tit. xv. 5, 6, 7), and a century later to a large extent adopted by Justinian. In the whole of this law there is an evident attempt at a compromise between the doctrines of Christianity and the old Roman love of public spectacles of all kinds. It deals less with theatrical representations proper than with gladiatorial contests and chariot races.[7] The Theodosian Code provided that the sacraments were not to be administered to actors save where death was imminent, and only on condition that the calling should be renounced in case of recovery. Daughters of actors were not to be forced to go on the stage, provided that they lived an honest life. An actress was to be allowed to quit the stage in order to become a nun. There were also numerous sumptuary regulations as to the dress of actors. None of the law which has been mentioned so far was adopted by Justinian, but what follows was incorporated in Cod. xi. 40 (De Spectaculis et Scenicis), which consists entirely of extracts from the Theodosian Code of a very miscellaneous nature. Provision was made for the exhibition of public games and theatrical spectacles

by magistrates, practically confining them to exhibiting in their own cities. Statues of actors were not to be placed in the public streets, but only in the proscenium of a theatre. A governor of a province was entitled to take the money raised for public games for the purpose of repairing the city walls, provided that he gave security for afterwards celebrating the games as usual. Municipalities were encouraged to build theatres (Dig. 1, 10, 3). By Novel cxvii., it was ground for divorce if a wife went to the theatre without her husband's knowledge. In Cod. iii. 12, 11 (De Feriis) is a constitution of Leo and Anthemius forbidding dramatic representations on Sunday. The Digest (iii. 2) classed all who acted for hire (omnes propter pecuniam in scenam prodeuntes) as infamous persons, and as such debarred them from filling public offices. A mere contract to perform not fulfilled did not, however, carry infamy with it. By Novel li. actresses could retire from the stage without incurring a penalty even if they had given sureties or taken an oath. There was probably a censorship at certain periods,[8] as well as provisions for safety of the building and the audience (Tacitus, Ann., iv. 63; Leonine Constitutions, cxiii.). The seats were allocated by the state, and the care of the building committed to certain magistrates (Novel cxlix. 2).

England.—In England, as in other countries of Western Europe, theatrical legislation was of comparatively recent introduction. Such legislation was unnecessary as long as the theatre was under the control of the Church and actors under its protection, the Church having turned to its own uses what it was powerless to prevent. The earliest regulations were therefore, as might be expected, made by the Church rather than by the state. The ecclesiastical ordinances were directed chiefly against the desecration of churches, though they sometimes extended to forbidding attendance of the faithful as spectators at plays even of a harmless kind.[9] Sacraments and Christian burial were denied by the canon law to actors, whose gains, said St Thomas, were acquired ex turpi causa,[10] and who, if they exceeded what was proper, might be in mortal sin. It was a doubtful point as to whether spectators might not be in similar case. The same law forbade plays to be acted by the clergy, even under the plea of custom, as in Christmas week, and followed the code of Justinian in enjoining the clergy not to consort with actors or be present at plays (see Decretals, iii. 1, 12 and 15, De Vita et Honestate Clericorum). As late as 1603, canon lxxxviii. of the canons of the Church of England enacted that churchwardens were not to suffer plays in churches, chapels or churchyards. The latest occurrence of such a play seems to have been at Oxford in 1592.

The Reformation marks the period of transition from the ecclesiastical to the non-ecclesiastical authority over the drama. Precautions began to be taken by the crown and the legislature against the acting of unauthorized plays, by unauthorized persons, and in unauthorized places, and the acting of plays objectionable to the government on political or other grounds. The protection of the Church being withdrawn, persons not enrolled in a fixed company or in possession of a licence from the crown or justices were liable to severe penalties as vagrants. The history of the legislation on this subject is very curious. An act of the year 1572 enacted that "all fencers, bear wards, common players of interludes, and minstrels (not belonging to any baron of this realm, or to any other honourable person of greater degree)," wandering abroad without the licence of two justices at the least, were subject "to be grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about." This statute was superseded by 39 Eliz. c. 4, under which the punishment of the strolling player is less severe, and there is no mention of justices. The jurisdiction of justices over the theatre disappears from legislation from that time until 1788. In 39 Eliz. c. 4 there is a remarkable exception in favour of persons licensed by Dutton of Dutton in Cheshire, in accordance with his claim to liberty and jurisdiction in Cheshire and Chester, established in favour of his ancestor by proceedings in quo warranto in 1499.[11] The stricter wording of this act as to the licence seems to show that the licence had been abused, perhaps that in some cases privileges had been assumed without authority. In 14 Eliz. c. 5 the privileges of a player attached by service of a noble or licence from justices, in the later act only by service of a noble, and this was to be attested under his hand and arms. The spirit of the acts of Elizabeth frequently appears in later legislation, and the unauthorized player was a vagabond as late as the Vagrancy Act of 1744, which was law till 1824. He is not named in the Vagrancy Act of 1824. The Theatre Act of 1737 narrowed the definition of a player of interludes, for the purposes of punishment as a vagabond, to mean a person acting interludes,[12] &c., in a place where he had no legal settlement.

Before the Restoration there were privileged places as well as privileged persons, e.g. the court, the universities, and the inns of court. With the Restoration privilege became practically confined to the theatres in the possession of those companies (or their representatives) established by the letters patent of Charles II. in 1662. In spite of the patents other and unprivileged theatres gradually arose.[13] In 1735 Sir John Barnard introduced a bill "to restrain the number of playhouses for playing of interludes, and for the better regulation of common players." On Walpole's wishing to add a clause giving parliamentary sanction to the jurisdiction of the lord chamberlain, the mover withdrew the bill. In 1737 Walpole introduced a bill of his own for the same purpose, there being then six theatres in London. The immediate cause of the bill is said to have been the production of a political extravaganza of Fielding's, The Golden Rump. The bill passed, and the act of 10 Geo. II. c. 28 regulated the theatre for more than a century. Its effect was to make it impossible to establish any theatre except in the city of Westminster and in places where the king should in person reside, and during such residence only. The act did not confine the prerogative within the city of Westminster, but as a matter of policy it was not exercised in favour of the non-privileged theatres, except those where the "legitimate drama" was not performed. The legitimate drama was thus confined to Covent Garden, Drury Lane and the Haymarket from 1737 to 1843. In the provinces patent theatres were established at Bath by 8 Geo. III. c. 10, at Liverpool by 11 Geo. III. c. 16, and at Bristol by 18 Geo. III. c. 8, the act of 1737 being in each case repealed pro tanto. The acting of plays at the universities was forbidden by 10 Geo. II. c. 19. It is not a little remarkable that the universities, once possessing unusual dramatic privileges, should not only have lost those privileges, but have in addition become subject to special disabilities. The restrictions upon the drama were found very inconvenient in the large towns, especially in those which did not possess patent theatres. In one direction the difficulty was met by the lord chamberlain granting annual licences for performances of operas, pantomimes and other spectacles not regarded as legitimate drama. In another direction relief was given by the act of 1788 (28 Geo. III. c. 30), under which licences for occasional performances might be granted in general or quarter sessions for a period of not more than sixty days. The rights of patent theatres were preserved by the prohibition to grant such a licence to any theatre within eight miles of a patent theatre. During this period (1737–1843) there were several decisions of the courts which confirmed the operation of the act of 1737 as creating a monopoly. The exclusive rights of the patent theatres were also recognized in the Disorderly Houses Act, 1751, and in private acts dealing with Covent Garden and Drury Lane, and regulating the rights of parties, the application of charitable funds, &c. (see 16 Geo. III. cc. 13, 31; 50 Geo. III. c. ccxiv.; 52 Geo. III. c. xix.; 1 Geo. IV. c. lx.). The results of theatrical monopoly were beneficial neither to the public nor to the monopolists themselves. In 1832 a select committee of the House of Commons recommended the legal recognition of "stage-right" and the abolition of theatrical monopoly. The recommendations of the report as to stage-right were carried out immediately by Bulwer Lytton's Act, 3 & 4 Will. IV. c. 15 (see Copyright). But it was not till eleven years later that the Theatres Act, 1843, was passed, a previous bill on the same lines having been rejected by the House of Lords. The act of 1843 inaugurated a more liberal policy, and there is now complete "free trade" in theatres, subject to the conditions imposed by the act. The growth of theatres since that time has been enormous. Nor does the extension seem to have been attended with the social dangers anticipated by some of the witnesses before the committee of 1832.

The suppression of objectionable plays was the ground of many early statutes and proclamations. While the religious drama was dying out, the theatre was used as a vehicle for enforcing religious and political views not always as orthodox as those of a miracle play. Thus the act of 34 & 35 Hen. VIII. c. 1 made it criminal to play in an interlude contrary to the orthodox faith declared, or to be declared, by that monarch. Profanity in theatres seems to have been a crying evil of the time. Stephen Gosson attacked it as early as 1579 in his School of Abuse. The first business of the government of Edward VI. was to pass an act reciting that the most holy and blessed sacrament was named in plays by such vile and unseemly words as Christian ears did abhor to hear rehearsed, and inflicting fine and imprisonment upon any person advisedly contemning, despising or reviling the said most blessed sacrament (1 Edw. VI. c. 1). A proclamation of the same king in 1549 forbade the acting of interludes in English on account of their dealing with sacred subjects. In 1556 the council called attention to certain lewd persons in the livery of Sir F. Leke representing plays and interludes reflecting upon the queen and her consort and the formalities of the mass. The same queen forbade the recurrence of such a representation as the mask given by Sir Thomas Pope in honour of the Princess Elizabeth at Hatfield, for she "misliked these follies." By the Act of Uniformity, 1 Eliz. c. 2, it was made an offence punishable by a fine of a hundred marks to speak anything in the derogation, depraving or despising of the Book of Common Prayer in any interludes or plays. In 1605 "An Act to restrain the Abuses of Players" made it an offence punishable by a fine of £10 to jestingly or profanely speak or use certain sacred names in any stage play, interlude, show, may-game or pageant (3 Jac. I. c. 21). In consequence of the appearance of players in the characters of the king of Spain and Gondomar, an ordinance of James I. forbade the representation on the stage of any living Christian king. The first act of the reign of Charles I. forbade acting on Sunday. Puritan opposition to the theatre culminated in the ordinance of 1648, making it a crime even to be present as a spectator at a play.[14] After the Restoration there are few royal proclamations or ordinances, the necessary jurisdiction being exercised almost entirely by parliament and the lord chamberlain. Among the few post-Restoration royal proclamations is that of the 25th of February 1664–65, restraining any but the company of the Duke of York's theatre from entering at the attiring house of the theatre, and that of the 27th of February 1698–99 against immorality in plays.

Preventive censorship of the drama by an officer of state dates from the reign of Elizabeth. The master of the revels (see Revels) appears to have been the dramatic censor from 1545 to 1624, when he was superseded by his official superior, the lord chamberlain.[15] In some cases the supervision was put into commission. Thus with Tilney, the master of the revels in 1581, were associated by order of the privy council a divine and a statesman. In other cases it was delegated, as to Daniel the poet by warrant in 1603. The proposal to give statutory authority to the jurisdiction of the lord chamberlain led, as has been already stated, to the withdrawal of Sir John Barnard's bill in 1735, and to considerable debate before the bill of 1737 became law. Lord Chesterfield's objection to the bill in the House of Lords was not unreasonable. "If the players," said he, "are to be punished, let it be by the laws of their country, and not by the will of an irresponsible despot." A stage play must now be duly licensed before performance. § 12 of the act of 1843 prescribes that a copy of every new play and of every addition to an old play, and of every new prologue or epilogue or addition thereto (such copy to be signed by the master or manager), shall be sent to the lord chamberlain, and, if the lord chamberlain does not forbid it within seven days, it may be represented. § 13 empowers the lord chamberlain to fix a scale of fees for examination; the fee is now two guineas for a play of three or more acts, one guinea for a play of less than three acts. All plays represented previously to the act are held to be licensed. A play once licensed is licensed once for all unless the licence be revoked under § 14. The examination is the duty of a special officer of the lord chamberlain's department, the examiner of stage plays. In spite of occasional lapses of judgment, a belief in the wisdom generally shown in the exercise of the censorship has been confirmed by the report of the select committee of the House of Commons in 1866, and also by the report of the joint committee of both Houses in 1909. The censorship has been consistently supported in recent years by theatrical managers, but violently opposed by an advanced section of dramatic authors. There have been instances, no doubt, where perhaps both the lord chamberlain and his subordinate officer, the examiner of stage plays, have been somewhat nice in their objections. Thus, during the illness of George III., King Lear was inhibited. George Colman, when examiner, showed an extraordinary antipathy to such words as "heaven" or "angel." The lord chamberlain's powers are still occasionally exerted against scriptural dramas, less frequently for political reasons. Later instances are Oscar Wilde's Salomé (1892), Joseph of Canaan (1896), Maeterlinck's Monna Vanna (1902): Housman's Bethlehem (1902), Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado (temporarily in 1907), and a play by Laurence Housman dealing with George IV. (1910). Before 1866 the lord chamberlain appears to have taken into consideration the wants of the neighbourhood before granting a licence, but since that year such a course has been abandoned. The joint committee in 1909 recommended that it should be optional for an author to submit a play for licence, and legal to perform an unlicensed play whether submitted or not, the risk of police intervention being taken. They also recommended that the reasons for which a licence should be refused should be: indecency, offensive personalities, the representation in an invidious manner of a living person or a person recently dead, violation of the sentiments of religious reverence, the presence of anything likely to conduce to crime or vice, or to cause a breach with a friendly power, or a breach of the peace.

A theatre may be defined with sufficient accuracy for the present purpose as a building in which a stage play is performed for hire. It will be seen from the following sketch of the law that there are a considerable number of different persons, corporate and unincorporated, with jurisdiction over theatres. A consolidation of the law and the placing of jurisdiction in the hands of a central authority for the United Kingdom would probably be convenient. The committee of 1866 recommended the transfer to the lord chamberlain of the regulation of all places of amusement, and an appeal from him to the home secretary in certain cases, as also the extension of his authority to preventive censorship in all public entertainments; but no legislation resulted. The committee of 1909 recommended the abolition of any distinction between theatres and music-halls. Several bills for the amendment of the law have been introduced, but without success in the face of more burning political questions.[16]

Building.—A theatre (at any rate to make it such a building as can be licensed) must be a permanent building, not a mere tent or booth, unless when licensed by justices at a lawful fair by § 23 of the act of 1843. It must, if in the metropolis, conform to the regulations as to structure contained in the Metropolis Management Act 1878, and the Local Government Act 1888. These acts make a certificate of structural fitness from the county council necessary as a condition precedent for licence in the case of all theatres of a superficial area of not less than 500 sq. ft. licensed after the passing of the act, give power to the council in certain cases to call upon proprietors of existing theatres to remedy structural defects, and enable it to make regulations for protection from fire. The existing regulations were issued on the 30th of July 1901 and 25th of March 1902. As to theatres in provincial towns, the Towns Improvement Act 1847, and the Public Health Act 1875, confer certain limited powers over the building on municipal corporations and urban sanitary authorities. In many towns, however, the structural qualifications of buildings used as theatres depend upon local acts and the by-laws made under the powers of such acts.

Performance.—To constitute a building where a performance takes place a theatre, the performance must be (a) of a stage-play, and (b) for hire. (a) By § 23 of the act of 1843 the word "stage-play" includes tragedy, comedy, farce, opera, burletta, interlude, melodrama, pantomime or other entertainment of the stage, or any part thereof. The two tests of a stage-play appear to be the excitement of emotion and the representation of action. The question whether a performance is a stage-play or not seems to be one of degree, and one rather of fact than of law. A ballet d'action would usually be a stage-play, but it would be otherwise with a ballet divertissement. § 14 empowers the lord chamberlain to forbid the acting of any stage-play in Great Britain whenever he may be of opinion that it is fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum, or the public peace to do so. § 15 imposes a penalty of £50 on any one acting or presenting a play or part of a play after such inhibition, and avoids the licence of the theatre where it appears. Regulations of police respecting the performance are contained in 2 & 3 Vict. c. 47, and in many local acts. A performance may also be proceeded against as a nuisance at common law, if, for instance, it be contra bonos mores or draw together a great concourse of vehicles, or if so much noise be heard in the neighbourhood as to interfere with the ordinary occupations of life. Very curious instances of proceedings at common law are recorded. In Sir Anthony Ashley's case (2 Rolle's Rep. 109), 1615, layers were indicted for riot and unlawful assembly. In 1700 the grand jury of Middlesex presented the two play-houses and also the bear-garden on Bankside (the "Paris garden" of Henry VIII. act v. sc. 3) as riotous and disorderly nuisances. Performances on Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas day are illegal. Regulations as to the sale of intoxicating liquors during the performance are made by the licensing acts and other public general acts, as well as by local acts and rules made by county councils. It is frequently a condition of the licence granted to provincial theatres that no excusable liquors shall be sold or consumed on the premises. The excise duty where such liquors are sold varies according to the annual value of the theatre up to a maximum of £20. The Dangerous Performances Acts, 1879 and 1897, forbid under a penalty of £10 any public exhibition or performance whereby the life or limbs of a child under the age of sixteen if a boy, eighteen if a girl, shall be endangered. It also makes the employer of any such child indictable for assault where an accident causing actual bodily harm has happened to the child, and enables the court on conviction of the employer to order him to pay the child compensation not exceeding £20. The Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act 1904 forbids a child to appear in any public entertainment without a licence from a petty sessional court. (b) The performance must be for hire. § 16 of the act of 1843 makes a building one in which acting for hire takes place, not only where money is taken directly or indirectly, but also where the purchase of any article is a condition of admission, and where a play is performed in a place in which excusable liquor is sold. In the case of Shelley v. Bethell, 1883 (Law Reports, 12 Q.B.D. 11), it was held that the proprietor of a private theatre was liable to penalties under the act, though he lent the theatre gratuitously, because tickets of admission were sold in aid of a charity.

Licensing of Building.—By § 2 of the act of 1843 all theatres (other than patent theatres) must be licensed. By § 7 no licence is to be granted except to the actual and responsible manager, who is to be bound by himself and two sureties for due observance of rules and for securing payment of any penalties incurred. The metropolitan theatres other than the patent theatres (as far at least as they are included in the boroughs named in the act of 1843) are licensed by the lord chamberlain. By § 4 his fee on grant of a licence is not to exceed 10s. for each month for which the theatre is licensed. The lord chamberlain appears to have no power to make suitable rules for enforcing order and decency. He can, however, by § 8, suspend or revoke a licence or close a patent theatre where any riot or misbehaviour has taken place. He has issued a code of regulations.

Provincial theatres fall under three different licensing authorities. The lord chamberlain licenses theatres in Windsor and Brighton, and theatres situated in the places where the king occasionally resides, but only during the time of such occasional residence (§ 3). Theatres at Oxford and Cambridge, or within 14 m. thereof, are licensed by the justices having jurisdiction therein, but before any such licence can come into force the consent of the chancellor or vice-chancellor must be given. The rules made by the justices for the management of the theatre are subject to the approval of the chancellor or vice-chancellor, who may also impose such conditions upon the licence as he thinks fit. In case of any breach of the rules or conditions, he may annul the licence (§ 10). All other provincial theatres are licensed by the county councils or county borough councils[17] under s. 7 of the act of 1888, except in case of a special and temporary performance, where justices still grant the licence as they did in all cases before that act came into operation. The regulations of the London County Council are dated the 27th of July 1897. Penalties are imposed by the act for keeping or acting in an unlicensed theatre, and for producing or acting in an unlicensed play. A contract to perform in an unlicensed theatre is unenforceable.

Music Halls.—Music was at no time the object of restrictions as severe as those imposed upon the drama. The present English act governing music halls, the Disorderly Houses Act 1751, was passed probably in consequence of the publication in 1750 of Fielding’s Inquiry into the Causes of the late Increase of Robbers. It is remarkable that two works of the same writer should from opposite causes have led to both theatre and music-hall legislation of lasting importance. The act was originally passed for a term of three years, but was made perpetual by 28 Geo. II. c. 19. It applies only to music halls within 20 m. of London and Westminster. Every such music hall must be licensed at the Michaelmas quarter sessions, the licence to be signified under the hands and seals of four or more justices. The licence may be granted for music or dancing or both. Public notice of the licence is to be given by affixing over the door the inscription “Licensed in pursuance of act of parliament for,” with the addition of words showing the purpose. The penalty for keeping an unlicensed music hall is £100. This act is amended as to Middlesex by the Music and Dancing Licences (Middlesex) Act 1894, putting the licensing into the hands of the county council. Regulations were made by the council under this act on the 31st of July 1900 and the 27th of June 1901. Music halls beyond the radius of 20 m. from London and Westminster are mainly governed by the Public Health Act 1890, the licensing authority being the licensing justices. There is no censorship of music-hall performance, the only remedy for anything objectionable is for the licensing authority to withdraw the licence or refuse to renew it.

See generally W. N. M. Geary, Law of Theatres and Music Halls (1885); C. Hamlyn, Manual of Theatrical Law (1891); A. A. Strong, Dramatic and Musical Law (1898); J. B. Williamson, Law of Licensing (1902).

Scotland.—In Scotland the theatre has always exercised a smaller amount of influence than in England, and there has been little exclusively Scottish legislation on the subject. 1555, c. 40, discountenanced certain amusements of a semi-theatrical kind by enacting that no one was to be chosen Robert Hude (sic), Little John, abbot of unreason, or queen of May. A proclamation of James VI. in 1574, and 1579, c. 12, followed the lines of English legislation by making persons using unlawful plays, such as jugglery or fast and loose, punishable as vagabonds. In 1574 the General Assembly claimed to license plays, and forbade representations on Sunday. As in England, the licensing power seems then to have passed from the church to the crown, for in 1599 James VI. licensed a theatre at Edinburgh. 1672, c. 21, exempted comedians while upon the stage from the sumptuary provisions of the act respecting apparel. The chamberlain of Scotland, while such an office existed, appears to have exercised a certain police jurisdiction over theatres. The Theatres Act 1843 extends to Scotland, as did also the previous act of 1737, and further provisions are made by the Burgh Police Act 1892.

Ireland.—Theatrical legislation, as far as it went, was based upon English models. Thus ridicule of the liturgy was forbidden by 2 Eliz. c. 2 (Ir.); common players of interludes and wandering minstrels were deemed vagabonds, 10 & 11 Car. I. c. 4 (Ir.). In 1786 an act was passed to enable the crown to grant letters patent for one or more theatres in Dublin city and county, 26 Geo. III. c. 57 (Ir.). The preamble alleges that the establishing of a well-regulated theatre at the seat of government will be productive of public advantage and tend to improve the morals of the people. Exceptions from the restrictions of the act were made in favour of entertainments for the benefit of the Dublin lying-in hospital and exhibitions of horsemanship or puppet-shows. The existing theatre and music-hall acts do not apply to Ireland, except the Public Health Act 1890, s. 51.

British Colonies.—There is a large amount of legislation. An example is the Victoria Act, No 1430 (1897), giving the chief secretary power to cancel or suspend the licence of any theatre if used on Sunday without special permit.

United States.—Public entertainments, dramatic or other, are usually under the control of the municipal authorities, and there is no act of Congress on the subject, except one of 1898 imposing a temporary war tax on the theatres. In most states there is state legislation, requiring places of public entertainment to be licensed by the proper authority. In many states it is a condition of the licence that intoxicating liquors shall not be sold in such places. Other conditions, more or less usual, are that there shall be no Sunday or dangerous performances, that acrobats shall be properly protected, and that female waiters shall not be employed. Structural qualifications are in some cases made necessary. Thus in 1885 the New York legislature passed an act containing many minute provisions for ensuring the safety of theatres against fire. A characteristic piece of legislation is the New York Act of 1873, c. 186, enacting that no citizen is to be excluded from a theatre by reason of race, colour or previous condition of servitude. This act of course merely carries out the important principle affirmed in art. xiv. of the amendments to the constitution of the United States. There are two curious and conflicting decisions of other states on the matter. Missouri held that a manager could discriminate against a person of colour, Michigan that he could not (see Green’s Digest, vol. i. 642).

Continental Europe.—The principal points in which the continental theatre differs from the English are that Sunday is the most important day, and that the theatre is often owned or subsidized by the state or a municipality. In France there has been much legislation since the days of the Revolution, the principal law being one of 1864. A feature is the tax known as le droit des pauvres, which has been the subject of much discussion. The censure préalable was abolished in 1906. The object is attained by police penalties. Most of the authorities will be found in Dalloz, Supplement, vol. xvii., and, for the older law, Lacan, La Législation et la jurisprudence des théâtres (1853), and Maugras, Les Comédiens hors de la loi (1887), may be consulted. Italy has produced at least two modern works on the subject, Rivalta, Storia e Sistema del Diritto dei Teatri (1886), and Tabanelli, Codice del Teatro (1901). What strikes one is how little special legislation there is on the subject. The penal code meets most cases. Spain retained the autos sacramentales much longer than other countries retained the religious drama. Legislation begins very early. The Siete Partidas enacts that the clergy are not to take part as actors or spectators in scurrilous plays (juegos por escarnio). Cervantes in the first part of Don Quixote makes the canon of Toledo regret that the government had not appointed a censor to prevent the acting of plays not only injurious to morals but also offending against the classical rules of the drama. There is a considerable amount of law in the Ottoman empire; details will be found in G. Young, Corps de droit ottoman, vol. ii. 320 (1904).  (J. W.) 

  1. Vitruvius prescribes for the Roman theatre a portico running round the interior of the auditorium on the level of the topmost row of seats; remains of such a portico (or, as at Aspendus, of a series of arcades) can sometimes be traced.
  2. Huelsen has shown that this statement is exaggerated, and estimates the number of spectators at 9000 to 10,000.
  3. According to Livy (xl. 51), the theatre of Marcellus was built on the site of an earlier one erected by Aemilius Lepidus.
  4. This theatre was not begun when Pausanias wrote his book Attica, and was complete when he wrote the Achaica (see Paus. vii. 20). It is illustrated in Mon. Inst. vi., plate 16.
  5. These are shown on Graeco-Roman vases of the latest type, with paintings of burlesque parodies of mythological stories.
  6. The Savoy Theatre, London, was first entirely lighted by electricity in 1882. The various methods of lighting used have been an important item in the production of striking effects. The old system of a row of "foot-lights," with their unpleasant upward shadow, is now almost obsolete. Dip candles were used till 1720, when moulded candles were introduced into French theatres. The next improvement was the lamp of M. Argand, with its circular wick. In 1822 gas was first used in a Parisian theatre, next came the oxyhydrogen lime-light, used for special effects, and then electric lighting.

    The old way of producing lightning was to blow lycopodium or powdered resin with bellows through a flame, and this is still used in realistic effects of conflagrations. More effective lightning is now made by flashing the electric light behind a scene painted with clouds, in which a zigzag aperture has been cut out and filled with a transparent substance. Thunder is made by shaking large sheets of iron. Wind is imitated by a machine with a cogged cylinder, which revolves against coarse cloth tightly stretched. The sound of rain is produced by shaking parched peas in a metal cylinder.
  7. The word ludi seems sometimes to include, sometimes to exclude, dramatic performances. Its meaning in a particular instance depends on the context.
  8. If one may judge from Horace's line (Sat, i. 10, 38): Quae neque in aede sonent certantia judice Tarpa.
  9. A large number of such ordinances will be found cited in Prynne, Histriomastix; Bossuet, Maximes et réflexions sur la comédie; Mariana, De Spectaculis. They followed the almost unanimous condemnation by the Christian fathers. See, for example, Chrysostom, Contra Ludos et Theatra; Tertullian, De Spectaculis; Augustine, De Civ. Dei, i. 31, Confessions, iii. 2; Dill, Roman Society, pp. 47, 117.
  10. For this reason it appears to have been the custom in France for actors to be married under the name of musicians. See Hist. parlémentaire de la Révolution française, vi. 381. The difficulties attending the funeral of Molière are well known.
  11. The "advowry," as it was called, over the Cheshire minstrels lasted until 1756, when the latest minstrel court was held at Chester.
  12. Interludes were acted in the open air at Berriew in Montgomeryshire as lately as 1819, when the players were indicted before the Great Sessions of Wales. They had been prohibited in the Declaration of Sports (1633) and in the Propositions of Uxbridge (1644).
  13. See W. Nicholson, The Struggle for a free Stage in London (1907).
  14. For the anti-theatrical Puritan literature see Courthope, History of English Poetry, ii. 381.
  15. It was probably through his influence that the expletives in Shakespeare were edited. The quarto of 1622 contains more than the folio of 1623.
  16. Dryden's words in the "Essay on Satire" (addressed to the earl of Dorset, lord chamberlain) still describe the duties of the office. "As lord chamberlain I know you are absolute by your office in all that belongs to the decency and good manners of the stage. You can banish from thence scurrility and profaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and their actors in all things that shock the public quiet or the reputation of private persons under the notion of humour."
  17. The councils may delegate their authority to justices, a district council, or a committee of their own body, such as the Theatre and Music Hall Committee of the London County Council.