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|The First Prologue
Written by JulieW
(2/27/2007 3:16 p.m.)
It was a convention in the 18th century that prologues were used to "plead" the case for the forthcoming play- asking the audience to give it a fair "hearing".
Sheriden , rightly, IMVHO, thought that everyone present would know of the facts of his life and that, until recently ,he had been studying for the bar with a private tutor at Waltham Abbey( before he married Elizabeth Linley).
So…Sheriden takes this convention at face value and runs away with it.
His two characters who "plead`" the case for the play are actually lawyers: a Serjant at Law (which we would know today in England as a Barrister) and an Attorney.(Note the Serjant at Law's vision only improves when he is given money by the attorney LOL Some stereotypes never die, do they).
The first prologue has lots of legal references: do allow me to list some of them for you:
fees, briefs, clients, court, writs, counsel, equity, jury, waivers, costs of suit, crime, rights of challenge( of a jury)...
Legal references abound as you can see.
There is also a reference to the Fleet prison.
(as depicted here by Rowlandson and Pugin in The Microcosm of London)
The Fleet was a notorious City prison from 1197 till it was demolished in 1846.It was also depicted by Hogarth in the Rakes Progress. It was situated off Farringdon Street and was named after the foul smelling Fleet River which flowed outside the prison walls until the river was covered over in 1675.
The 18th century prison contained some 300 prisoners together with their families and friends.
All types of prisoners were incarcerated there, but from the mid 17th century onwards the Fleet was used mainly to imprison debtors and bankrupts, some of whom were forced to earn their keep by begging from cells that overlooked the street.
Which is probably why Sheriden refers to the :
Some sons of Phoebus- in the Courts we meet,
And fifty sons of Phoebus in the Fleet!
Phoebus Appollo ,in classical mythology, was the god of poetry. Here Sheriden refers to poor poets tendency to be imprisoned for debt!
Of course during the early 18th century the Fleet was also known for the clandestine marriages performed in the prison chapel, and the abuses of this marriage system were only checked by Lord Chancellor Harwicke’s Marraige Act of 1753. Perhaps in thsi rather topical prologue Sheriden was also making reference to his own clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Linley which was performed when they ran off to France?
And there is also a reference to the full bottomed wigs that lawyers wore at this time: here are Rowlandson’s caricatures of wigs form 1788, and a full bottomed legal wig can be seen bottom left.
Sheriden talks of the legal wigs being adorned with wreaths of bay. This is another joke. Laurel wreaths were in the classical period used to adorn the heads of poets, and conjurers( see Pierre Grimal: A Consise Dictionary of Classical mythology).
Sheriden also perhaps rues the day he gave up his study of the law, which may very well have been profitable for a great orator :his future as an author was as yet untried and uncertain:
Yet tell your client, that, in adverse days
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