Richardson: How to Read Romance
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In 1734 and 1735, Samuel Richardson weighed in on a hot topic: the licentious stage. In the previous decade, theatrical activity had proliferated in London, and many smaller theatres and several fairs provided competition for the two patent theatres. Richardson devotes a large part of his 1734 Apprentice’s Vade Mecum to ‘some occasional Remarks on Play-houses’,1 and in his Seasonable Examination of the Pleas and Pretensions of the Proprietors of, and Subscribers to, Play-Houses, Erected in Defiance of the Royal Licence (1735), he assesses the claims of those with an economic stake in unlicensed theatres like the one in Ayliffe Street in Goodman’s Fields. The patent theatres, Drury Lane and Covent Garden, were under poor management at the time (John Rich, at Covent Garden, had a particularly bad reputation for underhand dealings), and Goodman’s Fields, run by the actor Henry Giffard, was a rather successful smaller theatre run by subscription, a method that had seen some marginal successes with the new opera house.2 The potential for the proliferation of these unlicensed theatres, as well as Henry Fielding’s vocal anti-Walpole satire, prompted the Licensing Act in 1737.3 The grounds of Richardson’s attack on the unlicensed theatres are hardly unusual: their location, easily accessible to the urban working class, encourages vice and idleness particularly in those who can least afford such luxuries; they draw petty merchants and apprentices from their proper business; they are havens for prostitutes, and so forth.
KeywordsEarly Eighteenth Moral Exemplum Late Seventeenth Opera House Moral Reading
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- 1.Samuel Richardson, The Apprentice’s Vade Mecum: or, Young Man’s ocket-Companion, in Richardsoniana I (London, 1735; rpt New York and London: Garland, 1974), i.Google Scholar
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