J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Edward Oxnard’s Theatrical Reviews

Edward Oxnard (1747-1803) was a Harvard graduate who became a merchant in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. He was an Anglican, and his brother Thomas worked for the Customs service, so it was natural for him to become a Loyalist when the war broke out. He sailed for London in the summer of 1775.

In the capital of the British Empire, Oxnard experienced something he couldn’t have seen in post-Puritan New England: theater. But lack of broad experience with plays didn’t stop him from expressing strong opinions. Here are some extracts from Oxnard’s journal about what he saw, starting on 20 Sept 1775:
In the evening went to the Haymarket to see [Samuel] Foote. The play was called the Commissary; the entertainment, cross questions.

Their majesties were there. The King entered first, and the plaudit was universal: the Queen entered some time after. His majesty is a very good figure of a man. He seemed to be much dejected. Her majesty appears to be a small woman; her countenance carries such a sweetness, as attracts the esteem of all. She was dressed in white, with a diamond stomacher; a black cap with lustres of diamonds. A maid of honor stood behind her chair the whole time, as well as a Lord behind his majesty’s. I observed the King & Queen conversed as familiarly together, as we in general do in public company. Two beefeaters stood on each side of their majesties the whole of the play.

I take Foote to have been a good actor, but to have lost much of his humor and drollery by age. I dislike much his entertainments, as they are pointed at particular persons, remarkable for some peculiarity.
After a brief career in the law, Samuel Foote (1720-1777) had made himself into London’s most popular comedian. He was known, as Oxnard noted, for mimicking famous people. After a career of financial ups and downs, he had gained control of the Haymarket Theater, probably as compensation for the leg he’d lost in a carriage accident with the Prince Edward, the Duke of York.

The engraving above shows Foote in his Commissary role as the newly wealthy Zachary Fungus. He wrote that play for himself in 1765. At the time Oxnard visited the Haymarket, Foote was working on a play based on bigamy allegations against the Duchess of Kingston. She and her friends attacked the playwright, insinuating that he was gay. In 1776 the duchess was indeed convicted of bigamy. Foote was acquitted of sodomy, on the other hand, but he died the next year.

Back to Oxnard on 11 October:
In the evening Mr. [Samuel] Quincey, Col. [Benjamin] Pickman, Mr. [William] Cabut & myself went to Covent Garden, but could not get in, the house being so exceedingly full, owing to their majesties being there.

From thence went to Drury Lane, the play, “Win a wife & rule her.” The pantomime, “Harlequin’s Jacket,” the scenery was beyond anything I have ever imagined & was shifted with the greatest dexterity. The house has been lately fitted up in a most elegant manner.
The main play that day was actually titled Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, by Beaumont and Fletcher, somewhat adapted by David Garrick. It was standard for a full-length comedy to be performed alongside a shorter “entertainment” or “pantomime,” as Oxnard saw.

And 20 October:
In company with Mr. [John or Edward] Berry went to Covent Garden Theatre to see the Tragedy of Cato played. The celebrated Mr. Sheridan performed the part of Cato to admiration. He justly merits the applause which his treatise on Elocution gives him, as an author. The Commonality take on themselves to determine the merits of a performance, and if it does not suit their taste, they express it by hissing; should that prove ineffectual, they pelt the actors with apples till they drive them from the stage or make some apology.
Cato was an immensely popular tragedy by Joseph Addison. The star that night, Thomas Sheridan, was an Irish actor, teacher, and author of the A Course of Lectures on Elocution (1762). He was also the father of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Presumably the star had not been driven from the stage with apples.

No comments: