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The famous “ leg-stretcher of Odcombe," the simple Tom Coryate, gives the following account of a comedy, which he saw acted at Venice in 1608. “The house,” he says, “ is very beggarly and base, in comparison of our stately playhouses in England: neither can their actors compare with us for apparel, shows, and music, Here I observed certain things that I never saw before; for I saw women act, a thing that I never saw before; though I have heard that it hath been sometimes used in London; and they performed it with as good a grace, action, gesture, and whatsoever is convenient for a player, as ever I saw any masculine actor.”
The Puritans vehemently inveighed against the assumption, by men, of the female garb, citing and perverting many passages of scripture, for the purpose of proving that it was altogether sinful and abominable. It was, in fact, one of their grand objections against the stage. “ My main argument against you," says Busy, “ for the male among you putteth on the apparel of the female," and so numerous had the puritanical party become in Cambridge, that we are informed by Hawkins, that when the comedy of
Ignoramus' was to be acted there (in 1614),
.many difficulties were encountered in procuring proper persons to act the parts of Rosabella, Surda, &c. solely from the unwillingness of the students to put on a female dress, which they affirmed it was unlawful for a man to wear. The worst is, that when women appeared in female characters, which took place on the English stage soon after the Restoration, the objectors were not a jot better satisfied than before.
SUPPRESSION OF STAGE-PLAYS.
“ An Ordinance of both Houses of Parliament
for the suppression of public stage-playes throughout the kingdom during these calamitous times.
“ WHEREAS the distressed estate of Ireland, steeped in her own blood, and the distracted estate of England, threatened with a cloud of blood, by a Civil Warre, call for all possible meanes to appease and avert the wrath of God, appearing in these judgments, amongst which fasting and prayer having been tried to be very effectual, have bin lately, and are still enjoined ; and whereas publike sports doé not well agree with publike calamities, nor publike stage-playes with the seasons of humiliation, this being an exercise of sad and pious solemnity, and the other spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levetie ; it is therefore thought fit, and ordained, by the Lords and Com
mons in this Parliament assembled, that while these sad causes and set times of humiliation doe continue, publike stage-playes shall cease and bee forborne. Instead of which, are recommended to the people of this land, the profitable and seasonable considerations of repentance, reconciliation, and peace with God, which probably may produce outward peace and prosperity, and bring againe times of joy and gladnesse to these nations.
“ Die Veneris, September the 2nd, 1647.”
“ ORDERED, by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, that this ordinance concerning stage-playes be forthwith printed and published.
“ John BROWNE, Cler. Parliament. “ September 3, London: printed for John Wright, 1647.”
This proclamation not being attended with the desired effect, and plays being still occasionally performed, it was thought necessary on the 3d of February, in the following year, to issue a still more severe ordinance, commanding the immediate and total suppression of the Theatres, under heavy penalties. By this it was enacted, that all players who presumed to follow their profession should be looked upon as rogues and vagabonds, and punished accordingly; and that every person, present as a spectator, should, upon conviction, forfeit five shillings to the poor of the parish in which the offence was committed. It authorised, moreover, the Lord Mayor of London, and the magistrates of Middlesex and Surrey, to pull down all stage-galleries, seats, and boxes, used for the acting of stage-plays, within their several jurisdictions. These orders were strictly carried into effect; most of the Theatres were demolished; the players were completely dispersed, and never more dared to perform, except by stealth and under the pretence of less obnoxious exhibitions, till a short time before the restoration of Charles the Se. cond.
STATE OF THE THEATRE DURING THE CIVIL
DURING the first years of the contest between the King and Parliament, the players were not unwelcome guests to those towns and cities which had espoused the royal cause; but in London, where puritanism bore the sway and carried every thing before it, stage plays were treated as an abomination, and those who were bold enough to represent them exposed to all manner of persecution.
A few, indeed, of the nobility, who had contracted a passion for the stage, encouraged the players to act privately in their houses ; but the watchful eyes of the zealots prevented all public exhibitions, except such, as the author of Historia Histrionica asserts, as were now and then given with great caution and privacy. Some time before the beheading of the unhappy monarch, from the wreck of the different companies of comedians, one was formed, which played three or four times at the cockpit in Drury Lane; but while they were acting “ Fletcher's Bloody Brother," the soldiers, suddenly rushing in, put an end to the play, and carried the actors to Hatton House, then a sort of prison for royal delinquents, where they were confined for two or three days, and after being stripped of their stage apparel, discharged. Lowin acted Aubrey, and Taylor Rollo.
The governing powers, however they might exert themselves to suppress stage-plays by violence, did not, by any formal act of state, prohibit their representation until October, 1647, and the February following ; at which periods the Long Parliament issued those two famous