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French Opera and the Making of the Dorset Garden Theatre

  • Colin Visser

In the summer of 1671, after the court had left London and after his performance as Ladislaus in John Crowne's Juliana – a play thwarted, as the preface declared, by the fact that ‘the Dog-Star was near his Reign’ – Thomas Betterton made his way with Joseph Haines to Paris. What they, and particularly what Betterton, saw there helped to determine the form of the Dorset Garden Theatre which was then under construction, and which would open in November that year. When we compare what was happening on the French stage during and immediately after Betterton's visit with what we know of the Dorset Garden Theatre, however, it becomes clear that Betterton's experience was to have an effect on the form of the Dorset Garden Theatre not immediately, but in the years that followed its opening, and that the single most influential work was not one that Betterton saw on his visit to France in 1671, but one which was first performed two years later.

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1. The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. de Beer, E. S. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 6 vols., vol. III, p. 583.

2. Downes, John, Roscius Anglicanus, ed. Summers, M. (London, n.d.), p. 33.

3. North, Roger, Roger North on Music, ed. Wilson, John (London, 1959), p. 306.

4. Downes, p. 34.

5. In the contract drawn up for the reconstruction of the Théâtre du Marais in 1644, the following phrase occurs: ‘le debvant du theatre doit estre fermé avecque de mesme planches que celle du plancher’ (reprinted Deierkauf-Holsboer, W., Le Théâtre du Marais, Paris: Nizet, 1954, 2 vols., vol. I, p. 194). Perhaps Shadwell's rather odd phrase, ‘the Front of the Stage’ has an analogy here, and the direction means that the boarding in front of the stage is removed, and that the orchestra pit is extended beneath the platform.

6. In The Mock-Tempest, V, ii, Ariel declares that he comes from a ‘Mighty Necromancer’ who ‘makes Seas of painted Clout to move, and Devil's dance’ (1675, p. 49).

7. However, Deierkauf-Holsboer points out that the machines for La Toison d'Or were in fact constructed by Denis Buffequin, who worked under the supervision of de Sourdéac. ‘Ce qui prouve,’ she concludes, ‘que le marquis a inventé de nouvelles machines dont le fonctionnement surpasse celles construites par Buffequin en 1655, pour la reprise i ‘Andromède’ (Le Théâtre du Marias, II, p. 130).

8. All references to the ‘Desseins’ and to the text of La Toison d'Or are to the Oeuvres de P. Corneille, ed. Martu-Laveaux, Charles (Paris, 1862), Vol. VI.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-research-international
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