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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

V. The Restoration Drama

§ 1. Players and Plays after the Closing of the Theatres

WITH the ordinance of 2 September, 1642, commanding the closing of the theatres and the total suppression of stage plays, the long and brilliant chapter of the drama that had known the triumphs of the days of Elizabeth and her two successors came to an abrupt and dismal end. Although declared rogues by a later act and threatened with the whipping-post for pursuing their calling, the actors did not at once obey these stringent laws. We hear of performances “three or four miles, or more, out of town,” and of plays acted at the Cockpit, for example in 1648, when “a party of soldiers beset the house and carried the actors away in their habits to Hatton House, then a prison.” During the commonwealth, occasional performances were connived at, “sometimes in noblemen’s houses … where the nobility and gentry met, but in no great numbers”; at others, in seasons of festivals such as Christmas or Bartholomew fair, even at the old playhouses, among them the Red Bull. But, even with bribes to the guard at Whitehall, immunity against arrest and safety from rough handling for auditor and actor were not to be assured. It is not wonderful that, during the rebellion the players declared themselves, almost to a man, on the side of the king. Several of them served with distinction on the royalist side; but the end of the war found most of them in exile with their betters or reduced to poverty.