Among the many stories told in general literary histories, especially those with little space to discuss particular events for more than a few sentences, is that between 1642 and 1660--the years known as the Interregnum, when the English fought their civil war and were ruled by a non-monarchical government--the theaters in England were closed. The impression that such statements leaves one with is that plays ceased to be performed or written during those years. The legislative history banning theater performances, as well as some other facts, tells a different story.
The original law forbidding stage performances, which stated that "public sports do not well agree with public calamities, nor public stage-plays with the seasons of humiliation, this being an exercise of sad and pious solemnity, and the other being spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levity," was enacted in September of 1642. But five years later, in October, parliament felt it necessary to reassert its authority, as those in London and the counties surrounding it were not abiding by the 1642 ordinance, and it passed a new statute that declared that those performing in "Stage Plays, Interludes, or other Common Plays" were to be "punished as Rogues, according to Law." The following February, parliament again found it necessary to take action against an incorrigible population and passed another law: those acting would now be publicly flogged and those caught attending plays would pay a fine that would be used for the benefit of the poor. Theatrical performances were in this last act condemned as "the occasion of many and sundry great vices and disorders, tending to the high provocation of God's wrath and displeasure, which lies heavy upon this kingdom."
Plays, however, continued to be staged, and as the 1650s progressed, the authorities became more lax about enforcing the parliamentary laws. In 1656 Sir William Davenant managed to get permission to place performances of what he called operas--though we would not call them that--on the stage, and two years later, he reopened the Drury Lane Cockpit, where he regularly put on plays, calling them operatic performances, after 1658. Except for the appointment of a commission in December 1658 to investigate the actors who had been in his The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, the authorities left Davenant alone.
Davenant is perhaps the star of Interregnum drama, but others did their best to keep a dramatic tradition alive in England, and the Japanese textual critic Akihiro Yamada will be releasing two books with AMS Press later this year that hope to bring more attention to a lesser known dramatic work of the period. Perhaps the most important of these books for those interested in illicit drama between 1642 and 1660 is Arcadia Restored: An Anonymous Untitled Work Sometimes Referred to as Time's Triumph, a modern-spelling edition of a play that Diane Weltner Strommer edited in 1976 and published under the title Time's Distractions. The other book is Secrets of the Printed Page in the Age of Shakespeare, which will bring into print for the first time, an original-spelling version of Arcadia Restored for the purists and textual scholars among us.
Secrets of the Printed Page contains, besides the edition of the obscure play, such essays as "The Printing of King James I's The True Lawe of Free Monarchies, 1603" and "Editing Literary and Dramatic Texts" that are sure to be of interest to Renaissance scholars. For general audiences, the play's the thing, and a modern-spelling edition is perhaps the most pleasing, because most accessible, thing, so let us follow Sight--the allegorical figure who opens the first act instructing the listener to "Come, . . . while our masters are away and their flocks in our charge are grazing, we may here look about us"--and remember that for those watching the original performance, the absence of their Puritan masters was a significant element of their enjoyment.
 Aaron Hill introduced opera to England at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
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