Restoration and Eighteenth-Century England

Authored by: David Kornhaber

The Routledge Companion to Scenography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138917804
eBook ISBN: 9781315688817
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781317422266.ch26

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Abstract

“It is an Argument of the worth of the Plays and Actors, of the last Age … to consider that they cou’d support themselves meerly from their own Merit; the weight of the Matter, and goodness of the Action, without Scenes and Machines,” observes James Wright in his Historia Histrionica from 1699 (Wright 1699: 6). Unlike the public playhouses of England’s early modern period, the theatres of Wright’s day – those that opened in London after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the lifting of the Interregnum ban on theatrical performance in that same year – could boast no such similar achievement. Modeled largely on the European (and especially French) theatres that England’s exiled aristocrats and theatre practitioners had come to know intimately during their years on the Continent, the playhouses of Restoration-era London all prominently featured the “Scenes and Machines” of which Wright seemed so skeptical and that were relatively new to the English theatrical tradition. There were a few prominent English models, to be sure: the Blackfriars Theatre was probably the closest in-country correlate from the era before the Civil War, and Italianate perspective scenery had been used before by Inigo Jones in his legendary Jacobean court masques. But as Wright’s undisguised nostalgia attests, a new era in English scenographic design had begun.

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