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The battle of the stages : the conflict between the theatre and the institutions of government and religion in England 1660-1890

Scales, Roger W (2002). The battle of the stages : the conflict between the theatre and the institutions of government and religion in England 1660-1890. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University)


Between 1660 and 1880 a number of Royal Patents were granted and Acts of ParI iament passed whose purpose and effect, it has generally been acknowledged, was to restrict the spread and availability of English theatre, in particular that within the two cities of the metropolis, and to limit its potential as a forum of debate for the examination of ideas or the promotion of political dissent. During the same period, although not necessarily at the same time, theatre came under fire from religious groups of many different denominations. This condemnation and the measures taken by this special interest group in society to combat the influence of the stage has also been held to have had a restrictive effect on the institution of theatre.

This research has been primarily based on an examination and analysis oflegislation, parliamentary debates, religious tracts, papers and letters in Lambeth Palace Library, letters in the Manuscript Department of the British Library, theatre texts, the writings of contemporary theatre critics, articles in contemporary newspapers and journals specialising in theatrical topics, specialist reports and magazines published by various religious denominations, contemporary pamphlets, diaries, biographies, theatre ephemera and current critical writing in specialist magazines and books devoted to theatrical and religious topics.

After discussing the reasons for setting the parameters of 1660 and the late 1880s for this research, the thesis considers the importance of the institution of theatre in the particular period studied and its relationship to the whole panorama of the history of theatre. After detailing a number of questions regarding the purpose of theatre and the effect it has and has had on society, this research examines the objects, effects and motivation behind the main statutes that were enacted to deal with the phenomenon of theatre between 1660 and 1880. In particular the genesis and context of The Restoration Patents, the Licensing Act (1737), the Disorderly Houses Act (1751), the Theatrical Representations Act (1788), the failed Sadler's Wells Bill (1788), and Interludes Bill (1788), and the Theatres Act (1843) have been examined, the aims of each debated and the effects of each of the legislative measures on theatre as a whole is explored.

The opposition that came from religious forces within the country during the period under study is also examined and analysed. The complaints from Church and Chapel were various: blasphemy, indolence, vice, perversion (particularly of the young), consorting with unwholesome company and drawing people away from God were all cited as sins of the stage. The underlying causes ofthe censure of important religious figures as well as that which came from different denominations is examined. The various measures put into operation to combat the dangers perceived to be coming from theatre are explored and their efficiency debated.

Finally the study examines the nature of the theatrical experience and how this has been affected by the legislation and condemnation of the religious interest in the country. A principal conclusion is that theatre in England was not repressed or rendered impotent by any of the legislation nor was it by the tactical opposition of the religious faction in society. Indeed theatre gained strength and potency by finding ways to circumvent the opposition it encountered. So successful was it in overcoming the ploys of the legislature and religious interests and so instrumental was theatre as a focus for life in England during the period under study that both of the forces of opposition eventually had to adopt theatre as an ally in the implementation of their own political agenda.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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