- Theatre and Culture in Early Modern England, 1650–1737: From Leviathan to Licensing Act ed. by Catie Gill
Nine essays provide a rich exploration of the cultural contexts of theatrical production during what Ms. Gill terms the “long Restoration.” The two texts referenced in the collection’s subtitle indicate two key themes throughout the book. First, she convincingly suggests that the Hobbesian perspective was soon replaced by Locke’s “theories of equality” and that the effects of this displacement can be seen in the period’s theater. The second theme, on growing efforts to regulate the theater in the early eighteenth century, however, is less visible than Ms. Gill asserts. While “Restoration censorship was not ‘predictable or tidy,”’ Ms. Gill states, the Licensing Act “formalized the state’s interest in controlling drama.” Although the collection offers nuanced insights into social trends, issues of censorship are not prominent among these insights.
Paddy Lyons’s “What Do the Servants Know?” reveals that although “Outside the entertainment industry, . . . servitude and knowledge were not at all aligned in Restoration England,” on the stage “it is taken for granted that servants generally can and do know“ their masters’ and mistresses’ most private thoughts and activities. Investigating “how the Restoration could imagine servants differently . . . from how servants were viewed in Restoration life,” he finds a “radical change to what servants are imagined to know” becomes manifest in plays written after 1700, when servants increasingly take more active roles in comedic love plots. For him, Lockean notions of class help produce this change. Jacqueline Pearson’s “Flinging the Book Away: Books, Reading, and Gender on the Restoration Stage” argues that, although “In Restoration comedy, genteel characters are expected to have read,” to depict them as reading on stage “risks the appearance of bookishness, professionalism, and a lack of the sociality and heterosociality that were becoming so crucial in the construction of a genteel masculinity.” She maintains that early Restoration anxieties concerning women’s reading “decrease in intensity after the turn of the century” while “concerns about masculinity and [End Page 269] reading seem to intensify in the very late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, perhaps as a result of large-scale shifts in the ways in which masculinity was understood.” Juan A. Prieto-Pablos’s “Coffee-Houses and Restoration Drama” explains the negative reputation of coffee-houses. Tracing the image of the coffee-house between 1660 and 1700, he argues that playwrights initially cast this space as a site to discourage a man’s sex life, since it was thought that coffee consumption led to sickness and even death. Subsequent playwrights depict coffeehouses as places of conflict and dissent; as the decades progress this dissent is increasingly portrayed in terms of Whig and Tory politics.
The next two essays discuss two adaptations of plays by Beaumont and Fletcher. In “Sex and Tyranny Revisited: Waller’s The Maid’s Tragedy and Rochester’s Valentinian,” Sandra Clark traces how these plays, very different theatrically and with contrasting political agendas, “exhibit important similarities” in their changed attitudes towards sex, tyranny, and monarchy. She argues that Waller and Rochester “evade or depoliticize issues around kingship that had been not only significant but also expressible for Beaumont and Fletcher in the 1610s.” Warren Chernaik’s “Sex, Tyranny, and the Problem of Allegiance: Political Drama During the Restoration” contrasts depictions of rape in Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus (1680) and Otway’s Venice Preserv’d (1682) to Waller’s and Rochester’s portrayals. Mr. Chernaik argues that the protagonists of Lee’s and Otway’s plays, which deal more explicitly with issues raised by the Popish Plot and subsequent Exclusion Crisis, have a more difficult time resolving “the rival claims of the public and private spheres” than do the protagonists of the other two plays.
Jorge Braga Riera’s “The Adaptation of Seventeenth-Century Spanish Drama to the English Stage During the Restoration Period: The Case of Calderón” bears little in common with the other essays. Mr. Riera provides a detailed...