The Development of Drama in England

  • 10 Oct 2011
  • Theatre
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Dr.Doran in his book "Their Majestie's Servants" or "Annals of the English Stage", traced the rise of the English theatre from one Geoffrey, a monk of Durham, who rented a house and produced a play written around the life of St.Katherine. When the house was burnt down, the monk withdrew to his cell at St.Alban's and ended his days there. It is not certain if the house was burnt by accident or as a protest.

"Mysteries" and "Miracle Plays" kept the stage from Norman to Tudor times, but in the reign of Henry V1, they were being displaced by morality plays. These were plays in which the vices were in antagonism to the vitues. His successor, Richard lll, was the first English prince to have a company of players of his own, When not wanted at court, he gave them licence to travel, and so they toured the country playing in castles and mansions, or in inn yards.

As the years went by, abuses crept in. It was a time of fierce religious dissent, and the plays were often used to pour scorn on the Church and State. In Queen Mary's reign, in 1556, all players and pipers were prohibited from strolling through the kingdom, being regarded as disseminators of sedition and heresies. A statute Queen Elizabeth, 1572, made it compulsory for all acting companies to have a licence, and in 1576, the Queen granted the first royal patent conceded in England to actors.

In 1647, during the Commonwealth, as might be expected, all theatres and players were suppressed, and it was not until the arrival of General Monk and the Restoration of the monarchy to London in 1660, that licence was given by him to revive the theatre. Charles ll in 1663 granted patents for two theatres only in London, the King's Company of Players at Drury Lane, and the Duke of York's Players at the old cockpit near Fleet Street. Other licences were granted for players elsewhere, but only to a few, and all unlicenced companies were suppressed.

For nearly two hundred years, what one might term straight play's could only be performed at the 'patent houses' and in order to avoid the law and penalties, it became customary to intersperse at least five songs or concert pieces in each act. This extra-ordinary state of affairs continued until 1843, when an Act of Parliament was passed, and the patent houses lost their privileges, and legitimate drama could be performed in any licenced theatre.