The Theater (1720) by Sir John Falstaffe


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Page 1

1948




INTRODUCTION


_The Theatre_, by "Sir John Falstaffe", is according to its author a
continuation of Richard Steele's periodical of the same name. Shortly after
Steele brought his paper to a close on April 5, 1720, the anonymous author
who called himself "Falstaffe" appropriated his title; or if we prefer
Falstaffe's own account of the matter, he was bequeathed the title upon the
decease of Steele's "Sir John Edgar". At any rate, the new series of
_Theatres_ was begun on April 9, 1720, and continued to appear twice a week
for eleven numbers until May 14. On Tuesdays and Saturdays Falstaffe
entertained the town with a pleasant essay in the tradition established by
_The Tatler_.

But the paper of April 9, the first of the new _Theatres_, was only
nominally the first of a series; Falstaffe, who numbered the paper
"sixteen", had already written fifteen papers called _The Anti-Theatre_ in
answer to Steele's _Theatre_. The demise of Steele's periodical merely
afforded him an opportunity of changing his title; his naturally became
inappropriate when Steele's paper was discontinued and the shorter title
was probably thought to be more attractive to readers. Falstaffe made no
attempt to pass his papers off as the work of his famous rival, to gain
popularity for them through the reputation of Steele. Indeed, the
antagonism which existed between the two men would have made such an act of
deception an unlikely one.

Steele's _The Theatre_, his last periodical, had been written for a
controversial purpose; by his own admission he wrote it to arouse support
for himself in a dispute in which he was engaged with the Lord Chamberlain,
the Duke of Newcastle. Steele, who by the authority of a Royal Patent was
governor of the Company of Comedians acting in Drury Lane, insisted that
his authority in the theatre was not respected by the Lord Chamberlain, the
officer of the Royal Household traditionally charged with supervision of
theatrical matters. Newcastle intervened in the internal affairs of Drury
Lane and, when Steele protested, expelled him from the theatre. Steele
could do nothing but submit, though he retaliated with a series of bitter
attacks on the Duke in _The Theatre_.

Newcastle found defenders, of whom one of the strongest was Falstaffe, who
wrote in direct opposition to Steele's "Sir John Edgar", openly attempting
to provoke that knight to a journalistic contest. But Edgar gave scant
attention to his essays, though they were vigorously written and presented
strong arguments in defense of the Lord Chamberlain's intervention in Drury
Lane affairs. Steele acknowledged the first number of _The Anti-Theatre_
(it appeared on February 15, 1720) in the fourteenth number of his own
paper, praising Falstaffe for his promise not to "intrude upon the private
concerns of life" in the debate which was to follow, but thereafter he all
but ignored his new rival. With the exception of a brief allusion in _The
Theatre_, No. 17 (an allusion which Falstaffe was quick to take up), Steele
made no more references to the other periodical. For a time Falstaffe
continued to answer the arguments Steele advanced in protest against the
Lord Chamberlain's action, but finding that he was unable to provoke a
response, he gave up the debate. After his ninth number of March 14, he had
little more to say about Steele or Drury Lane.

Falstaffe, however, did not stop writing when he ceased defending
Newcastle's action. _The Anti-Theatre_ continued to come out twice a week
until the fifteenth number appeared on Monday, April 4. And in that paper
there was no indication that the periodical was to end or was to be changed
in any way. But on the day after, April 5, Steele issued _The Theatre_, No.
28, signed with his own name, which he announced would be the last in the
series. As no more _Anti-Theatres_ were known to have appeared after the
fifteenth, it has generally been assumed (though as we now know,
erroneously) that Falstaffe took his cue from Edgar and abandoned his own
series.

But there has long been some reason to believe that Falstaffe did not cease
writing completely after the fifteenth _Anti-Theatre_. Though nothing was
known of his later work, a newspaper advertisement of his _The Theatre_ was
noted. But lacking any more definite information, scholars have doubted
the existence of the periodical. A volume in the Folger Shakespeare
Library, however, removes the doubt. There, bound with a complete set of
the original _Theatre_ by Sir John Edgar, are the ten numbers of the later
_Theatre_ which are reproduced here. These papers include the entire run of
Falstaffe's "continuation" with the exception of one number, the
nineteenth, which has apparently been lost. So far as is known, the copies
in the Folger are unique.

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