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Written by JulieW
(8/29/2005 8:21 a.m.)
We are to be at Astley's tonight
Astely's Ampitheatre is pictured above.
It was an unpatentded theatre, which meant that it could not stay within the confines of the law regarding theatrical perfromances in teh 18th early 19th centuries if it perforemd plays.
Only Covent Garden and the Theatre Royal,Drury Lane had licenses to perfrom plays on a permanant basis in London.
As one of the un-patenedted theatres Astleys was not supposed to perform plays- performances of the spoken word.
Three were in fact two Astleys theatres.
There was the equestrian amphitheatre by Westminster Bridge, at Lambeth, London. This operated only on a summer license from the Lord Chamberlain.
Astley opened another theatre on Wych Street in the Strand, London in 1806.
This was called the Olympic Pavilion, but it was known Astleys Pavilion, the Pavilion theatre the Olympic Saloon, or simply Astleys.
So it would have been to the Westminster Bridge theatre that JA would have visited in the summer of 1796.
It was a very popular theatre with children, because of the circus element of its perfromances. It was alos the place Ja chose to allow Robert Martin and Harriet Smith to rekindle their affection for each other:
"It is a very simple story. He went to town on business three days ago, and I got him to take charge of some papers, which I was wanting to send to John. He delivered these papers to John, at his chambers, and was asked by him to join their party the same evening to Astley's. They were going to take the two eldest boys to Astley's. The party was to be our brother and sister, Henry, John -- and Miss Smith. My friend Robert could not resist. They called for him in their way; were all extremely amused…”
Mr Knightley speaking in Chapter 54,Emma
“Harriet was most happy to give every particular of the evening at Astley's, and the dinner the next day; she could dwell on it all with the utmost delight”
Emma, Chapter 55.
You might like to konw that Paula Byrne in her book Jane Austen and the Theatre notes that when JA was writing Emma (1813) Astley’s was part of a controversial battle between the minor theatres and the patent theatres.
One of her favourite actors, Robert Elliston bought the license from Astley in 1812, and tried to called it The Little Drury Lane Theatre. Of course, objections to this name were made and he had to close. But he re-opened again as Astleys and introduced a programme of "farce, melodramas, and pantomine-burlettas” and managed to again circumvent the prohibition on licensed theatres from performing the spoken word. What made it daring for Elliston to do this was the closeness of his theatre in the Strand to the patent theatres.
Paula Byrne argues that JA probably approved Ellliston's stance. She may be right - we will never know for sure, but we do know that the Austen family were not afraid to patronise the illegitimate theatres and often went to others apart from Astley’s (Henry Austen in particular patronised illegitimate theatres). Interesting.
Paula Byrne is of the opinion that JA chose to reconcile Robert and Harriet at Astleys, because it was an illegitimate theatre, where performances were not of the most rarefied nature, and it was a place where a yeoman farmer and a girl carrying the "stain of illegitimacy” could meet with and be seen with the gentry (the Knightley family) without raising adverse comment.
Hmm......thats intersting too,IMHO.
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