Abbildungen der Seite



or domestic business, and the heaviness or lightness of his personal cares commonly colours his playhouse impressions. His praises and his censures of a piece often reflect, too, the physical comforts or discomforts which attach to his seat in the theatre. He is peculiarly sensitive to petty annoyances—to the agony of sitting in a draught, or to the irritation caused by frivolous talk in his near neighbourhood while a serious play is in progress. On one occasion, when he sought to practise a praiseworthy economy by taking a back seat in the shilling gallery his evening's enjoyment was well-nigh spoiled by finding the gaze of four clerks in his office steadily directed

upon him from more expensive seats down below. On another occasion, when in the pit with his wife and her waiting-woman, he was overcome by a sense of shame as he realised how shabbily his companions were dressed, in comparison with the smartly-attired ladies round about them.

Everyone knows how susceptible Pepys was in all situations of life to female charms. It was inevitable that his wits should often wander from the dramatic theme and its scenic presentation to the features of some woman on the stage or in the auditory. An actress's pretty face or graceful figure many times diverted his attention from her professional incompetence. It is doubtful if there were any affront which Pepys would not pardon in a pretty woman. Once when he was in the pit, this curious experience befell him. "I sitting behind in a dark place,” he writes, “a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not seeing me; but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all.” The volatile diarist studied much besides the drama when he spent his afternoon or evening at the play.

Never was there a more indefatigable playgoer than Pepys. Yet his enthusiasm for the theatre was, to his mind, a failing which required most careful watching. He feared that the passion might do injury to his purse, might distract him from serious business, might lead him into temptation of the flesh. He had a little of the Puritan's dread of the playhouse. He was constantly taking vows to curb his love of plays, which “mightily troubled his mind.” He was frequently resolving to abstain from the theatre for four or five months at a stretch, and then to go only in the company of his wife. During these periods of abstinence he was in the habit of reading over his vows every Sunday. But, in spite of all his well-meaning efforts, his resolution was constantly breaking down. On one occasion he perjured himself so thoroughly as to witness two plays in one day, once in the afternoon and again in the evening. On this riotous outbreak he makes the characteristic comment: “Sad to think of the spending so much money, and of venturing the breach of my vow.” But he goes on to thank God that he had the grace to feel sorry for the misdeed, at the same time as he lamented that “his nature was so content to follow the pleasure still.” Pepys compounded with his conscience for such breaches of his oath by all manner of casuistry. He excused himself for going, contrary to his vow, to the new theatre in Drury Lane, because it was not built when his vow was framed. Finally, he stipulated with himself that he would only go to the theatre once a fortnight; but if he went oftener he



[ocr errors]

would give £10 to the poor. “This,” he added, "I hope in God will bind me.” The last reference that he makes to his vows is when, in contravention of them, he went with his wife to the Duke of York's House, and found the place full, and himself unable to obtain seats. He makes a final record of "the saving of his vow, to his great content.”

[ocr errors]


All self-imposed restrictions notwithstanding, Pepys contrived to visit the theatre no less than three hundred and fifty-one times during the nine years and five months that he kept his diary. It has to be borne in mind that, for more than twelve months of that period, the London playhouses were for the most part closed, owing to the Great Plague and the Fire. Had Pepys gone at regular intervals, when the theatres were open, he would have been a playgoer at least once a week. But, owing to his vows, his visits fell at most irregular intervals. Sometimes he went three or four times a week, or even twice in one day. Then there would follow eight or nine weeks of abstinence. If a piece especially took his fancy, he would see it six or seven times in fairly quick succession. Long runs were unknown to the theatre of Pepys's day, but a successful piece was frequently revived. Occasionally, Pepys would put himself to the trouble of attending a first night. But this was an indulgence that he practised sparingly. He resented the manager's habit of doubling the price of the seats, and he was irritated by the frequent want of adequate rehearsal.

Pepys's theatrical experience began with the reopening of theatres after the severe penalty of sup

pression, which the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth imposed on them for nearly eighteen years. His playgoing diary thus became an invaluable record of a new birth of theatrical life in London. When, in the summer of 1660, General Monk occupied London for the restored King, Charles II., three of the old theatres were still standing empty. These were soon put into repair, and applied anew to theatrical uses, although only two of them seem to have been open at any one time. The three houses were the Red Bull, dating from Elizabeth's reign, in St John's Street, Clerkenwell, where Pepys saw Marlowe's Faustus; Salisbury Court, Whitefriars, off Fleet Street; and the Old Cockpit in Drury Lane, both of which were of more recent origin. To all these theatres Pepys paid early visits. But the Cockpit in Drury Lane, was the scene of some of his most stirring experiences. There he saw his first play, Beaumont and Fletcher's Loyal Subject; and there, too, he saw his first play by Shakespeare, Othello.

But these three theatres were in decay, and new and sumptuous buildings soon took their places. One of the new playhouses was in Portugal Row, Lincoln's Inn Fields; the other, on the site of the present Drury Lane Theatre, was the first of the many playhouses that sprang up there. It is to these two theatres—Lincoln's Inn Fields and Drury Lane—that Pepys in his diary most often refers. He calls each of them by many different names, and the unwary reader might infer that London was very richly supplied with playhouses in Pepys's day. But public theatres in active work at this period of our history were not permitted by the authorities to exceed two. “The Opera" and "the



Duke's House” are merely Pepys's alternative designations of the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre; while "the Theatre," "Theatre Royal,” and “the King's House,” are the varying titles which he bestows on the Drury Lane Theatre.

Besides these two public theatres there was, in the final constitution of the theatrical world in Pepys's London, a third, which stood on a different footing. A theatre was attached to the King's Court at Whitehall, and there performances were given at the King's command by actors from the two public houses. The private Whitehall theatre was open to the public on payment, and Pepys was frequently there.

At one period of his life Pepys held that his vows did not apply to the Court theatre, which was mainly distinguished from the other houses by the circumstances that the performances were given at night. At Lincoln's Inn Fields or Drury Lane it was only permitted to perform in the afternoon. Half-past three was the usual hour for opening the proceed

At the restoration of King Charles II., no more than two companies of actors received licenses to perform in public. One of these companies was directed by Sir William D'Avenant, Shakespeare's reputed godson, and was under the patronage of the King's brother, the Duke of York. The other was directed by Tom Killigrew, one of Charles II.'s boon companions, and was under the patronage of the King himself. In due time the Duke's, or D'Avenant's, company occupied the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the King's, or Killigrew's, company occupied the new building in Drury Lane.

Charles II. formed this private theatre out of a detached building in St. James's Park, known as the “Cockpit," and to be carefully distinguished from the Cockpit of Drury Lane. Part of the edifice was occupied by courtiers by favour of the King. General Monk had lodgings there. At a much later date, cabinet councils were often held there.

« ZurückWeiter »