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'Abominable, impious, prophane, lewd, immoral': prosecuting the actors in early eighteenth-century London.

When the London theatres were re-established in 1660 the actors were sworn in as royal servants, and thus enjoyed immunity from prosecution, unless the Lord Chamberlain gave permission. Occasionally performers were threatened with arrest for presenting satirical material resented by a court individual or party-political faction. Much more regularly, they were arrested and prosecuted for matters unrelated to the theatre, such as highway robbery, murder or debt. However, in the early 1700s there was a rash of arrests and prosecutions of actors for their performance in popular comedies on the London stage. The change in the legal position of these performers symbolised the changing status of the theatrical institution, and was part of a tussle between local government and the royal court in early eighteenth-century England.

As Judith Milhous and Robert Hume discovered in their trawl of the Lord Chamberlain's papers, the years 1660-1700 were full of petitions to sue, allowing individual actors to be pursued in civil suit, predominantly for debt. (2) The players' immunity under the law lasted until the end of the century, and even the actors at the Lincoln's Inn Fields playhouse, who were performing under a licence not a patent, were still able to claim some royal protection. Indeed, as late as August 1696 John Freeman of Lincoln's Inn Fields had the bailiffs who had arrested him without the Lord Chamberlain's approval taken into custody. However, in the period 1700-1702 there are four prosecutions brought against actors that do not appear to have passed through the Lord Chamberlain or his office. These signal a radical change in the protection of the actors as household servants in the closing years of William III's reign. (3) In the absence of any management of the theatre from either the Master of the Revels or the Lord Chamberlain, indeed the absence of an interested Lord Chamberlain between 1697 and 1699, it was members of the Society for the Reformation of Manners who initiated a variety of indictments against the theatre in general, and the actors in particular. Since individuals had to pay to bring an indictment, it took a well-organised, financially-secure group like the Society to fund such prosecutions. (4)

The rhetoric of Reformers attempted to present the players as 'common', that is, not under the authority and protection of a household and thus prosecutable under old vagabondage statutes. Evidence of the Reformers' participation in the Grand Juries of Middlesex is unmistakable in the presentments. 'The common Acting of Plays very much tend[s] to the debauching and ruining the Youth resorting thereto ... and [plays] are the occasions of many Riots, Routs and Disorderly Assemblies', the Grand Jury of Middlesex's presentments of 1699 and of 1700 complain. (5) It might seem easy to read over this reference to common playing, but it echoes a century-long anxiety concerning unregulated playing. (6) Characteristically, John Tutchin's Observator makes this concern even more explicit when he rails that under the ancient Roman constitution:
 tho' they had their Players, yet they met with no Encouragement
 from the State, and they were Rogues and Villains by the Statute
 Law of Rome, and would be so in England, if they were out of the
 Protection of the court. (7)


The rhetorical move was two-fold--an attempt to inch the players out from the protection of the royal court and into the jurisdiction of the courts, and the social denigration of the players which equated them with the troublesome poor. For the most part members of the Society for the Reformation of Manners were of the middling sort, (8) and their attempts to regulate language and behaviour tended to disproportionately impact on the lower orders, the burgeoning poor of the London suburbs. (9) In the summer of 1700 two suits were brought against individual actors in the Court of Common-Pleas, and more seriously, in 1702, two suits were heard against the players en masse at the higher court of the King's Bench.

Information about the cases comes as much from printed responses in the press as it does from the legal documents of the period. That the newspapers were so intrigued by the cases is an indicator of the place of the stage in London's quotidian culture, since only a tiny fraction of court cases were reported in the press. On 13-15 June 1700 The Flying Post recorded that 'Yesterday a Trial was brought on in the Court of Common-Pleas, against one of the Players, for Prophanely using the Name of God upon the Stage, contrary to an Act of Parliament, made in King James the First's time, and that Verdict was given against the Player'. This accusation was probably against George Bright, as at some point after October 1701 George Bright, who specialised in fools, cuckolds and energetic servants at Lincoln's Inn Fields, complained to Sir John Stanley, secretary to the Lord Chamberlain, that fines were being levied against individual actors for their part in plays passed by the Chamberlain's office. His particular complaint was that he had been tried and convicted in absentia for his part in Etherege's The Man of Mode, and he requests the Lord Chamberlain to

'Order it so, That ye said Company may be Equall sharers in ye payment of ye said 10 [pounds sterling] with the cost of suit.' The case bears the hallmarks of the Society for the Reformation of Manners since the accusation was initiated by some 'maliciously buissy person or p<er>sons informing ag<ain>st ye said Bright'. (10) Later that sitting, on 24 June 1700, John Hodgson and other actors from Little Lincoln's Inn Fields were charged with profanity and obscenity. The Flying Post reported on 29 November 'Yesterday came on another Trial at the Common-Pleas Bar, against one Hodgson the Player for using prophanely and jestingly the Name of God upon the stage. The Action was grounded upon the Statute of the 3rd of King James the first, which says that for every such Offence the Offender shall forfeit ten Pounds; After hearing Counsel on both sides, the Jury gave their Verdict against Mr. Hodgson who is to pay 10 [pounds sterling] accordingly'. (11) Incidentally, half of that 10 [pounds sterling] was to go to the crown, and half to the informer.

Many interesting observations emerge. The charges are of obscenity or profanity, rather than any of the criticisms of cultural impropriety that Jeremy Collier pursued. Whatever sympathy the Society for the Reformation of Manners may have had with Collier's attack, Society members were mostly of a political persuasion and social stratum very different from his. They were committed to the pursuit of reformation through the courts, rather than entering the fray of dramatic criticism. This prosecution of players was not very different from the many cases of profanity and swearing that the Reformers brought before sympathetic Justices of the Peace in their attempt to change the daily language of Londoners. (12) That these cases were brought by indictment indicates that, in the Reformers' eyes, they were a more serious attempt to produce an exemplary prosecution, and may also indicate the reluctance of an individual Justice of the Peace to test the level of courtly protection for the actors with a summary judgement. The statute the Reformers use is the Jacobean 'Acte to restrain the Abuses of Players' of 1606, which specified the need to punish blasphemous language on stage. (13) More recent exhortations to piety existed, for example, the 'Act for the more effective suppressing profaneness, immorality and debauchery' (26 February 1698). Yet these rarely specified the theatre within their purview and the Reformers were not prepared to test their force in law with regard to the stage.

Both the prosecutions are against individual performers at the licensed, rather than the patent, playhouse. The fines seem to have been successfully levied against actors who played 'low' characters and those actors were singled out from the pack: although others are indicted with Hodgson, only he is convicted. It is difficult to judge how much support from the theatre company Bright and Hodgson received. Bright's complaint that he had been abandoned to pay his fine himself suggests a particularly callous financial decision on the part of the Betterton management of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Such a decision, however, would have been unsustainable in the long run, if such prosecutions were to continue. As no doubt the Reformers hoped, those actors who found their allotted parts might lay them open to prosecution might well have begun to think twice about accepting such roles, or have imposed self-censorship in performance.

Perhaps inspired by the success of these earlier cases, the Society brought a far more serious indictment at the King's Bench, before Lord Chief Justice Holt. The indictment, preserved in the Public Record Office, charges Thomas Betterton, Thomas Doggett, John Bowman, Cave Underhill, Elizabeth Barry, George Park, John Hodgson, Anne Bracegirdle and George Bright with setting up a 'Common Playhouse' in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields and with presenting in the presence of 'divers persons' an 'obscene, prophane and pernicious Comedy entitled Love for Love' and likewise Ravenscroft's The Anatomist or Sham Doctor and Vanbrugh's The Provok'd Wife. (14) The indictment is dated October 1701 and refers to performances for 25 December 1700. Narcissus Luttrell's collected newsletters carried an update in November 1701 that 'An information is brought in the kings bench against 12 of the players, viz. Mrs Bracegirdle, Mrs Barry, Mr Batterton, Mr Vanbruggen, &c. for using indecent expressions in some late plays, particularly The Provok'd Wife, and are to be tried the latter end of the term.' (15) Luttrell and numerous newspapers recorded that the case finally came to trial on 16 February 1702, in the last weeks of William's reign.

This indictment was much in keeping with the Reformers' style: the detailed analysis of a playtext for obscenity, and the refusal to accept that the demands of the stage meant that lowly characters were bound to express themselves in more 'earthy' ways, as countless playwrights and defenders of the stage had expounded. The indictment also offers some conflicts between the printed versions of the plays, and the reported speech, notably of Thomas Doggett as Ben in Congreve's Love for Love. (16) The informers in the house noted a number of 'E God's added to lines not present in the printed text. Duncan Eaves and Kimpel suggest that this difference might reveal a playbook version still in performance even though Congreve had tidied his text for publication in 1695, as he did so assiduously for the 1710 folio. However, Doggett was an independent and entrepreneurial performer, and it is as likely that, if the informers were accurate, what we have here is a record of ad hoc performance, as the result of ad-libbing or filling by Doggett, confident and comfortable on the stage. The phrase might have been a performance tick of Doggett himself, a trademark catch, the sign of a working actor expressing something of himself in the interstices between cue-line and character phrase. Or, was it a character tic of bluff Ben, that Doggett created with misplaced enthusiasm?

The Post Man for 17-19 February 1702 reported that 'On Monday last came on the Tryal against the Playhouse near Lincolns Inn Fields at the Kings Bench Bar ... the Evidence against the Players, for the most Abominable, Impious, Prophane, Lewd and Immoral Expressions, contained in the Plays acted by them, appeared very full and plain, and the Jury brought them in Guilty accordingly; which it is hoped will be much to the satisfaction of all true Friends to Religion and Virtue'. (17) The guilty verdict was celebrated in a printed broadside, The Proceedings and Tryals of the Players in Lincolns-Inn-Fields, which described how testimony from audience members and an informer played a key role in the conviction. The trial seems to have swung on the presence of the printed plays and the guidance of the judge, Sir John Holt, who 'declar'd to the Jury the ill Consequence of such Prophane Wicked Speeches. After which, the Jury ... brought them in Guilty, and fin'd them 5 [pounds sterling] a piece, obliging them to give good Security not to commit the like again.' (18)

James Wright pondered on some of the more interesting legal issues arising from the case, and gives us valuable information about the defence which the players attempted to mount, in his legal notebooks. He recorded the ruling as against 'Betterton et al' and that the company seem to have been accused both for the erecting of the playhouse, and the performing of plays with immoral expressions. He adds, 'one Morrison, an Informant, gave Evidence at large in ye Acting of these 3 Plays,' (19) Love for Love, The Anatomist and The Provok'd Wife. The defendants 'insisted much on ye inserffeciensy of ye Proof as the offence is laid in the Information and observed last of all, ye Evidence related to a Playhouse in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, & there's no such Place mentioned in ye Record'. (20) The players' first line of defence rested on the inadequacy of the informers' information and was a canny move. There was widespread suspicion of the informers, particularly since they were paid for their trouble, and there were accusations that they made a living from it and had a tendency to bring vexatious suits for that reason. As Tom Brown reflected in his Letters from the Dead to the Living:
 In short, the Motive that carries the Popish Apostles to the richer
 Continents makes these Gentlemen so busie in our Reformation,
 Money. Nay Reformation is grown a staple Commodity, and the dealers
 in it are suddenly to be made into a Corporation ... these worthy
 Gentlemen, for promoting the interest of th' Crown-Office, and some
 such honest place, pick harmless words out of Plays to indict the
 Players, and squeeze Twenty Pounds a Week out of them if they can.
 (21)


The defence questioned the number of informants who had been present at more than one play and could vouch for the performance of this obscene language. Wright notes that the informer claimed he had had others with him and that three orange wenches attended all three plays, and this was judged sufficient, although the indictment had made more sweeping claims for the numbers of witnesses. The second line of defence was an attempt to have the case thrown out on a technicality, the misnaming of the place of the theatre, but this appears to have been deliberately overruled by Lord Chief Justice Holt in his direction to the jury. James Wright notes that 'the Defendants were all found guilty tho ye Proof was onely against some of them, yet they being all of a Society or Fraternity, & all supposed to be concernd in ye directing or causing such Plays to be acted,' (22) were held equally guilty, reinstating responsibility for obscene language with the company as a whole and with the authority of the actor-managers.

However, perhaps most importantly Wright records what the newspapers do not, that the Attorney General who opened the cause and John Holt who tried it and directed the jury, both specified the limits of the case as a precedent and declared that the aim of the prosecution 'was not to suppress ye Acting of Plays, for they allowd it to be lawfull, & of Benefit to ye Publick ... but for ye Reformation of ye Stage'. (23) Lord Chief Justice Holt was not a reforming judge, nor was he fond of the Reformers, who arrogated to themselves the Justice of the Peace's role, encouraged the summary conviction of people in absentia and over-empowered the constables through the issuing of blank warrants from sympathetic Justices. Holt's ruling here, as in other cases, was to rebalance the system in favour of the Justice of the Peace's role in and out of court and to emphasise the need for reliable use of witness testimony, the word of one informer would not have been considered sufficient. (24)

In the discussion so far, the indictments have centred on the licensed house at Lincoln's Inn Fields, but it was not alone in facing the wrath of the Reformers. In fact, Luttrell's notes recorded two trials on 16 February 1702, the first against Betterton and company, 'After which some of the actors at the old playhouse were tried, and a flaw being in the indictment, were acquitted'. (25) A Comparison between the Two Stages, which appeared later in 1702 and offered the reader a detailed commentary on recent theatre history, also noted the two cases:

Sullen: The Trial between the Playhouses and Informers, for Profane, Immoral, Lewd, Scandalous, and I don't know how many sad things, utter'd and spoken on the Stage. Critick: Who were the Persons that spoke 'em, and what were the words?

Sullen: Batterton, Brace-girdle, Ben. Johnson, and others; but the words may not be repeated: Are you so cunning? For ought I know, Critick, you're a Spy ... they have made it criminal to repeat the words; is that not strange? ...

Critick: ... if the Charge was well-prov'd against the Actors, they ought to be Fin'd; but why not the Poets?

Sullen: The Poets have been in the Pickle already, and now they were for Sousing the Actors; the first two were fined [Lincoln's Inn Fields], but the latter was acquitted [Drury Lane].

Critick: 'Tis fit both Poet and Player shoul'd be corrected for their Immorality; but I do not like the Accusation that passes thro' such Hands; 'tis often a question of Truth, and at best there's an allay of Cant and Hypocrisy in their Zeal. (26)

As The Players turn'd Academicks quipped in merry metre:
 Informers on double Entaindres laid hold,
 And cast the New-House, tho' they could not the Old. (27)


The acquittal of Drury Lane on a technicality was fortuitous indeed, and it may have hinged on the Master of the Revels' involvement with that house. However, a reforming tract from 1704, A Representation of the Impiety and Immorality of the English Stage, reveals that the failed prosecution of the Drury Lane actors was taken up again:
 A Bill was likewise found against the Players of the other House,
 in the Term abovementioned [Easter 1701], for the following
 Expressions; but the Indictment being wrong laid, they were
 acquitted: but they were Indicted the Term following for the same,
 which Indictment is not yet tried. (28)


The plays involved in Drury Lane's indictment, which followed much the same pattern as the other house, appear to have been Volpone, Thomas Baker's The Humour of the Age and John Crowne's Sir Courtly Nice. Interestingly, The Observator spends much time on 1-5 January 1703-4 raising moral objections to the theatre and in particular the indecencies of these three plays. Tutchin, who was undoubtedly angered by the failure of the first Drury Lane prosecution, may well have been reiterating the charges of the second case in the public realm.

What these prosecutions were to produce was the theatre companies' request for tighter censorship from the Master of the Revels. When William III died on 8 March 1702 and Queen Anne succeeded to the throne, much was expected of her reign, from all sides. A letter to the new queen from Thomas Betterton, Elizabeth Barry and Ann Bracegirdle is among the Lord Chamberlain papers. Although undated, it implies that an indictment against the Lincoln's Inn Fields players has also been taken up again. The players claim that they 'are yet prosecuted', and request a clear ruling from the Queen:
 to give such orders and directions as in your princely wisdom you
 shall think fitt for perusing and correcting plays prepared to be
 Acted, that your petitioners may not be misled to act any plays
 wherein may be contained any expressions that may give just
 occasion of offence and that the prosecution of such Indictment
 against your petitionrs may be stayed. (29)


What the actors are asking for here is a rebuke to Charles Killigrew, Master of the Revels, and for assurances that the current system of theatrical regulation would remain in place, dressed as a desire for increased censorial control.

Although they do not state it baldly within the petition, they are also drawing attention to the challenge to royal authority that the prosecutions represent. It seems significant that under Anne there do not appear to have been further verdicts given against the actors. The anti-Cibber The Laureate attributed that change to the perspicuity of Anne herself:
 I can remember, perhaps you may too, that soon after the
 Publication of Collier's Book, several Informations were brought
 against the Players, at the Instance and Expense of the Society for
 the Reformation of Manners, for immoral words and Expressions,
 contra bonos Mores, utter'd on the Stage ... and many of them would
 have been ruin'd by these troublesome Prosecutions, had not Queen
 Anne, well satisfied that these Informers liv'd upon their Oaths,
 and that what they did, proceeded not from Conscience, but from
 Interest, by a timely Noli prosequi, put an End to the Inquisition.
 (30)


This would seem to imply that the second case against the Drury Lane Company ended in a nolle prosequi decision. However, the Reformers too appeared to have hoped for much from the new queen, as a printed letter to Archbishop Tennison began:
 The several Prosecutions we have made against the Immorality and
 Prophaneness of the Stage, are a sufficient Proof of our Zeal for
 the Execution of Her Majesty's Declarations against Immorality and
 Prophaneness. If we have of late been less Active in this
 Particular, it is because we found that Her Majesty had by publick
 Notice given Special Orders to the Master of the Revels to take
 care of those Irregularities. (31)


Indeed the prosecution of actors seems to peter out after 1702, although the rhetorical attacks on the playhouse and plays continue.

In the polarisation between local government, often strongly influenced by the Reformers, and the crown, the censor's role seemed to have been temporarily usurped by the Reformers. King William and his Lord Chamberlains had not been of much use to the actors, and the language of reform had had its impact, inflecting all of the orders and proclamations that were to emerge from Queen Anne and Lord Jersey, her Lord Chamberlain. However, for all the change in language, in fact by January 1704 there had been a return to the status quo with all its inadequacies. As Robert Hume reflects in his assessment of Collier's writing and campaigning against the stage:
 What is truly important about 'the Collier crisis' is not his
 impact on the drama (or lack thereof), but rather the failure of
 the authorities to set the moribund censorship mechanism back in
 working order. If Killigrew had been replaced circa 1700 by a
 competent and energetic Master of the Revels, or if a licenser had
 been appointed, then there would have been no Licensing Act of
 1737, for censorship of the sort Walpole wanted would have already
 been in place. (32)


Anne issued yet another proclamation reminding the companies to submit their plays to the Master of the Revels, and reminding the errant Charles Killigrew that he should censor plays carefully to ensure there was nothing in breach of religion or good manners. The public version of the order which was printed in the London Gazette and the Daily Courant takes a different tone. It skips quickly over the Master's role as licenser of plays and moves on to the audience in the playhouse, who are instructed to pay full rates, refrain from going between the scenes and other matters that troubled the theatre managers. The order continued thus:
 We strictly command all the Managers, Sharers and Actors of the
 said companies to see exactly observed and obeyed. And we require
 and command all our Constables and others, appointed to attend the
 theatres to be aiding and assisting them therein. (33)


The constables, who had once haunted the actors with warrants for their indictment and arrest, were now to become their enforcers in the playhouse. This handing back of authority to the companies themselves was to be even more explicit in the warrant for Vanbrugh and Congreve's new venture at the Haymarket, which followed shortly after, and was to be at the root of Richard Steele's licence and patent at Drury Lane in 1714, whereby Cibber and his fellow actor-managers refused to submit any plays to be licensed by Killigrew. The appointment of politically astute individuals to manage the theatre, like Vanbrugh, Congreve and Steele, seemed to offer some way forward that did not involve either abdicating responsibility for the regulation of the royally-sanctioned theatres to local government, or succumbing to a pressure group of the middling sort. Ironically, the law cases against the actors appear to have concretised the legitimacy of self-authorisation for the theatre companies and by 1714, in the case of the actor-run Drury Lane, the absorption of the role of the censor to within the company itself, with all the long-term consequences for the theatre which that was to produce.

(1) From The Proceedings and Tryals of the Players in Lincolns-Inn-Fields, London, 1702; Bodleian Pamphlet 240 (3).

(2) J. Milhous and R. Hume, eds, A Register of English Theatrical Documents 1660-1737, Carbondale, 1991, offers the most comprehensive survey of the documents available. This article expands on their discussion.

(3) Milhous and Hume, Register of English Theatrical Documents, xvi.

(4) Robert Shoemaker notes that 'despite the religious orientation of the reformation of manners campaign, the Reformers completely bypassed the church courts and initiated all their prosecutions before Justices of the Peace'. Robert Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment, Cambridge, 1991, 21.

(5) As reported in The Flying Post, 17-19 December 1700.

(6) For discussion of how such anxieties shaped the professional theatre in its origins, see William Ingram, The Business of Playing: The Beginnings of the Adult Professional Theatre in Elizabethan London, Ithaca, 1992.

(7) Observator, 10-13 June 1702.

(8) Eschewing the Marxist determinism of 'middle-class', historians of the eighteenth-century refer to an emergent middling sort. Margaret Hunt notes 'the heavy participation of middling men in two out of the three branches of the movement, the Religious Societies and the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, and the links between the message of reform and contemporary trading morality'. Margaret Hunt, The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender and the Family in England 1680-1780, Berkeley, 1996, 102.

(9) Some informers list their occupation as carpenter or porter, but 'most informers were more socially prestigious skilled craftsmen, such as a jeweller, a goldsmith, a master bookbinder, a locksmith, a perfumer' Robert Shoemaker, Prosecution, 251. Those convicted of profane swearing and cursing were usually of a lower social sphere. As Daniel Defoe complained, the Reformers sought 'to effect a Reformation by Punishing the Poor, while the Rich seem to Enjoy a Charter for Wickedness ... [it] is like taking away the Effect, that the Cause may Cease'. Poor Man's Pleas to all the Proclamations, Declarations, Acts of Parliament etc ... for a Reformation of Manners, London, 1698, 16.

(10) Cited in Joseph Wood Krutch, Comedy and Conscience after the Restoration, New York, 1949, 175.

(11) The Flying Post, 28-30 November 1700.

(12) They rarely went to the expense of indictment for cursing or profane swearing but sought out sympathetic Justices of the Peace who would issue a summary conviction and a fine. Shoemaker's analysis of cases is based on certificates of conviction kept in the session records and records of the societies in the Rawlinson manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

(13) Richard Dutton, Licensing, Censorship and Authorship, Basingstoke, 2000, 10.

(14) PRO KB 33/24/8.

(15) Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, from September 1679-April 1714, Oxford, 1862, V: 111; 20 November 1701.

(16) For a fuller discussion see T.C. Duncan Eaves and Ben C. Kimpel, 'The Text of Congreve's Love for Love', The Library, 30 (1975), 334-336.

(17) The Post Man, 17-19 February 1702. The Flying Post 17-19 February 1702 reported the case in exactly the same terms.

(18) The Proceedings and Tryals of the Players, London, 1702. The same phrase from Lord Chief Justice Holt, condemning those 'most Abominable, Impious, Prophane, Lewd, Immoral Expressions, contain'd in their Plays' was reiterated in newspaper accounts.

(19) British Library Add MS 22609 fol.86

(20) Ibid.

(21) Thomas Brown, Letters from the Dead to the Living, London, 1703, 71-3. In the letter entitled 'Will Pierre's Answer to Julian, Secretary to the Muses. Lincoln's Inn Fields, November 5 1701 Behind the Scenes', Will recounts:
 There is yet a greater mischief befall'n the Stage; here are
 Societies that set up for Reformation of Manners; Troops of
 Informers who are maintin'd by Perjury, serve God for Gain and
 ferret out Whores for Subsistence. This noble Society consists of
 Divines of both Churches, Fanatick as well as Orthodox, Saints and
 Sinners, Knights of the Post and Knights of the Elbow, and they are
 not more unanimous against Immorality in their Informations, than
 for it in their Practice. They avoid no sins in themselves, and
 will suffer none in anyone else ... In short, the Motive that
 carries the Popish Apostles to the richer Continents makes these
 Gentlemen so busie in our Reformation, Money. Nay Reformation is
 grown a staple Commodity, and the dealers in it are suddenly to be
 made into a Corporation, and their Privileges peculiar are to be
 Perjury without Punishment, and Lying with Impunity ... these
 worthy Gentlemen, for promoting the interest of th' Crown-Office,
 and some such honest place, pick harmless words out of Plays to
 indict the Players, and squeeze Twenty Pounds a Week out of them if
 they can, for their exposing Pride, Vanity, Hypocrise, Usury,
 Oppression, Cheating and the other darling Vices of the Master
 Reformers, who owe them a grudge not to be appeas'd without
 considerable offering'.


(22) British Library Add MS 22609 fol.87.

(23) British Library Add MS 22609 fol.88.

(24) John Holt was a good Whig and had been rewarded for his support for the legal accession of William III. In 1701 he overturned a ruling by a reforming Justice of the Peace, and in 1709 Holt ruled that the murder of a reforming constable, John Dent, by soldiers attempting to prevent a woman being arrested on suspicion of prostitution, had been provoked. There had been no offence committed, no need for the arrest, and therefore the attack on Dent was justified. The ruling returned some power to the hands of Justices of the Peace, charging that only they could commit people to houses of correction, and preventing constables acting outside their parish.

(25) Luttrell, A Brief Historical, V: 143, 17 February 1702; The Post Boy, 24-26 February 1702 reports 'the Tryal against the Play-house in Drury Lane at the King's Bench-Bar, upon an indictment before the Right Honourable The Lord Chief Justice Holt; for some Immoral Expressions contain'd in the Plays, Acted by them. And a special Jury being Summon'd, and Return'd upon hearing. They were found Not Guilty'. Arthur Bedford's 1704 Bristol sermon, Serious Reflections on the Scandalous Abuse and Effects of the Stage, 1705, notes the need for informers in the pit.

(26) A Comparison between the Two Stages, London, 1702, 142-4.

(27) The Players turn'd Academicks: Or a Description in Merry Metre of their translation from the Theatre in Little Lincolns Inn Fields, to the Tennis Court at Oxford, London, 1703.

(28) A Representation of the Impiety and Immorality of the English Stage, with Reasons for putting a Stop thereto, London, 1704; reprinted in Collier Tracts 1703-1708, ed. Arthur Freeman, New York, 1973, 9. Krutch appears to have seen an indictment against Powell, Mills, Wilks, Benjamin Johnson, and others of the other house, for performances between 24 June 1700 and 24 February 1701, for Volpone, The Humour of the Age, and Sir Courtly Nice in Kings Bench 10-11, and orders for their delay and dismissal sine die in Coram Rege Roll 2-147. See Krutch, Comedy and Conscience, 175. I have not been able yet to verify these sources.

(29) Cited in Krutch, Comedy and Conscience, 173-4; LC 7/3 fol 166. Betterton complains that the company:
 had always thought they might safely act any play so perused &
 approv'd by the Mae of the Revells--
 Notwithstanding which your Petitionrs have been lately prosecuted
 by Indictment for acting plays perused & approved as aforesaid in
 which were (as is alleged) divers expressions not lawful to be used
 and the petitionrs have been put to great expenses and are yet
 prosecuted on such Indictment.


(30) The Laureat: or the Right side of Colley Cibber, esq. Containing Explanations, Amendments and Observations, on a book intitled An Apology, London, 1740, 53. Writing in the aftermath of 1737, The Laureat berates Colley Cibber's Apology for its apology for the Licensing Act.

(31) A Letter from several Members of the Society for Reformation of Manners to the most revernd father in God, Thomas, by Divine Providence, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, London, 1704; reprint in Anti-theatrical Tracts, 1702-1704, Arthur Freeman, ed., New York, 1974. This pamphlet was a protestation against Vanbrugh's patent at the Haymarket.

(32) Robert Hume, 'Jeremy Collier and the Future of the London Theatre in 1698', Studies in Philology, 96 (1999), 511.

(33) London Gazette, 17-20 January 1704; Daily Courant, 24 January 1704; LC 5/153, p.434.

Jane Milling is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Drama at the University of Exeter. Her most recent publication on actors is Extraordinary Actors: Essays on Popular Performers, edited with Martin Banham (2004)
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