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Eighteenth Century Drama

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Censorship, Society and the Stage

Editorial Board:

Ros Ballaster
Mansfield College, Oxford

Michael Burden
New College, Oxford

Sue Hodson
Curator of Literary Mss, Huntington

Rob Hume
Penn State

Robert Jones
University of Leeds

Matt Kinservik
University of Delaware

Felicity Nussbaum

David Worrall
Nottingham Trent University

David O'Shaughnessy
Trinity College, Dublin

Roberto Alvarez
Independent Researcher

Source Archives:

  • Huntington Library
  • Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond
  • V&A
  • Garrick Club Library
  • University of London
  • British Library

Nature of the Material:

Eighteenth Century Drama features the John Larpent Collection from the Huntington Library – a unique archive of almost every play submitted for licence between 1737 and 1824.

John Larpent was the English Inspector of Plays from 1778-1824 and responsible for executing the Licensing Act of 1737, a landmark act of censorship which required the Lord Chamberlain’s Office to approve any play before it was staged. Larpent preserved the original submissions, over 2,500 of which are presented here.

Also included are the diaries of Larpent’s wife and professional collaborator Anna, recording her criticisms of plays, as well as insights into theatrical culture and English society. Hundreds of further documents including playbills, theatre records and correspondence provide social context. Document types include:

  • Theatrical Addresses
  • Artwork
  • Biographical Documents
  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Epilogues
  • Financial and Legal Documents
  • Notes
  • Miscellany
  • Objects
  • Plays
  • Playbills
  • Prologues
  • Scrapbooks
  • Songs
  • Illustrations
  • Portraits
  • Posters

Scope of the collection:

The main focus of the collection is the John Larpent plays. There are over 2500 plays which make up the majority of the collection. Due to the role of theatre in society as not only entertainment, but also social commentary, it is impossible to view these plays in isolation. The resources also features correspondence between key theatrical figures, biographical information, portraits, advertisement, historical information and the companion texts, The London Stage 1660-1800 and A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 to lend context to the plays. Anna Larpent’s diaries have been fully indexed and can now be navigated by month with extensive keywords, and links to plays mentioned.

Most of the documents included in the collection are from 1737-1824, there are a small number of documents that go beyond 1824.

themes covered:

  • Censorship and politics
  • Celebrity culture and fashion
  • The rise of the opera in British theatre
  • The business and legalities of theatres
  • Women in eighteenth-century drama – very notably, Anna Larpent’s diaries but also actresses, authors, women’s issues represented in theatre.
  • Key figures in theatre; David Garrick, Charles Fleetwood, Charles Macklin, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the Kembles, the Siddons
  • Relationships between theatre managers, producers and the Examiner of Plays and Lord Chamberlain’s office
  • Staging, technology, and performance
  • Representations of conflict, war, race, religion, historical events in drama

Additional features:

  • Data visualisation of metadata
  • The London Stage 1660-1800 and A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 feature as both scans in their original printed format and as a searchable database
  • Theatres of London an interactive virtual tour of London’s most prominent theatres in the eighteenth century
  • Contextual essays
  • Chronology
  • Visual galleries