Villiers, Rehearsal (1672):Introduction

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The Restoration drama “The Rehearsal” written by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham is a satire which ridicules famous authors and plays of its time.“The Rehearsal” deals with a playwright called Bayes who attempts to stage a play. During the drama he shows the rehearsal of his latest production to two gentlemen, Johnson and Smith. Throughout the play, both of them comment on scenes from the rehearsal and so does Bayes himself. He informs them (and thus the audience) about his ideas and intentions. Accordingly, the drama shows – by turns – the “real” rehearsal of several scenes and the conversation between Bayes, Smith and Johnson. The scenes which are “rehearsed” on stage are in fact full of quotes from numerous plays of Villiers’s time and they are basically stringed together without any plot at all.

Due to the fact that “The Rehearsal” has never been a very famous play, it is hard to find secondary literature on this subject. Consequently, our text mainly refers to an earlier edition written by Felix Lindner . His book also includes an informative introduction and a large number of helpful footnotes. In his introduction Lindner chiefly alludes to two sources of information: One source are two editions of Villiers’s works, the first one written by S. Briscoe (1704), the second one written by Bishop Percy (1761), the other source is a book by Edward Arber about “The Rehearsal” published in 1869.

The Author’s Life and Character

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham was born on the 30th of January in 1627 in Wallingford House, St. Martin in the fields. His father, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, was a close friend of King Charles I. Due to this connection with the court, Villiers and his brother, Francis, were brought up together with the King’s own children. After his education at the King’s court he attended Trinity College in Cambridge, where he obtained a Master’s degree in 1642. Afterwards he travelled a lot. On his return to England he fought for the King. During the Civil War he remained a convinced royalist and a close friend of Charles II.

In the aftermath of the war George and his brother travelled abroad and lived in Florence and Rome under the care of the Earl of Northumberland. He and his brother returned again to England during the Second Civil War and both of them fought on the side of Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland in Surrey. His Brother was killed near Kingston upon Thames but the Duke succeeded in escaping to the Netherlands. From 1648 onwards, he lived in exile with the king’s family in Flanders where he worked as a privy counsellor for Charles II. He finally returned to England in 1657 and married Maria, the daugther of Thomas Fairfax of Cameron. The Duke hoped to retrieve his land which had been confiscated in 1651 by Oliver Cromwell. But instead the estate was given to his father-in-law Baron Thomas Fairfax. Villiers eventually regained his land and property after the Restoration in 1660. Later he was given back the position of a counsellor and became one of the most powerful men under the King. The Duke was accused of defalcation of public money and intrigues with the French government by the House of Commons. After killing the husband of the Countess of Shrewsbury who had been Buckingham’s mistress, the House of Lords condemned the duke and divested him of all his offices. After the death of Charles II he became a member of the opposition against the new king James II. On the 16th of April 1688 he died from the consequences of a cold he had caught while hunting in Yorkshire. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 7th of June in 1687.

Buckingham was reckoned to be a handsome, educated, yet vain and ambitious gentleman. He was a very influential man at court, a favourite and executive minister under the rule of Charles II. Although he was mainly considered to be ostentatious, licentious and unscrupulous, he was also regarded as a good-humoured, good- natured and generous man, which made it hard for his contemporaries and critics to defame him. As an author, Villiers’s use of words and verses indicate a lot of poetic talent, which, however, remained embryonic. In 1704, Tom Brown was the first editor who published a collection of his verses together with many pieces from other authors.

Historical Background and Development of the Play

The theatre of the Restoration period between 1660 and 1700 was dominated by comedies and heroic tragedies. The theatres reopened in 1660, after, during the Puritan regime, public stage performances had been banned for 18 years. The restoration comedy is known and notorious for its sexual explicit content, a characteristic tolerated and even personally supported by Charles II and the jaunty aristocrats around him. With “The Rehearsal” Villiers ridiculed and satirically hinted at the restoration tragedy, especially at the genre of the heroic drama and the author John Dryden whose personality is reflected in the character of Bayes. The purpose of the play was, on the one hand, to show how ridiculous and extreme the heroic drama was and, on the other hand, to evoke a change by mocking the entire genre – although it is widely doubted whether Villiers’s “Rehearsal” had any remarkable consequence on the Restoration audience and its dramatic preferences.

There were actually two editions of “The Rehearsal”. The first edition was never printed but it was acted in 1664. Instead of Bayes, the main character of the play was Bilboa. Contrary to Bayes, Bilboa did not mock Dryden but Sir William Davenant (1606- 1668) who – alongside with Dryden – first implemented the genre of the heroic play. John Dryden himself became the most famous author during the Restoration period and he was the first one to coin the phrase “heroic play” for his drama “The Conquest of Grenada” – which is especially ridiculed by Villiers in his “Rehearsal” After Davenant’s death, Villiers came up with a second edition of “The Rehearsal”, this time aiming at Dryden, who is reflected in the character of Bayes. Dryden’s theatre was influenced by the French stage where especially dances, battles, singing and masquerades were emphasised and expressed. Dryden’s intention was to connect the beauty and brilliance of the Elizabethan stage with the new taste of French theatre in order to create an ideal drama. However, he tended to exaggerate, which Villiers picked up in his play.

Villiers directly alluded to several plays which are listed in alphabethical order at the end of this text. Furthermore, he wrote the entire drama in the way of a heroic play and combined all its characteristics and peculiarities. The ironic questions and sarcastic comments of Johnson and Smith hurt Dryden the most . In “The Rehearsal” the character Bayes sometimes does not comprehend the ironic tone, hence he takes everything seriously, both overwhelming compliments and ironic questions. Thus, he makes a fool of himself. The second edition of “The Rehearsal” was presumably first staged on the 7th of December in 1671 at Bridges and published anonymously in 1672. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the play was indeed written by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham together with other authors. Although the second edition of “The Rehearsal” was already completed in 1665 and was supposed to be staged, the plague occurred in London and prevented a public stage performance. The date of the last performance of “The Rehearsal” is unknown, it was, however, still printed until the middle of the 19th century (although it is not very likely that it was still performed during that time). The prototype for Villiers’s satire “The Rehearsal” was a play called “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (although it is likely that it was almost entirely written by Beaumont). A satire on chivalric romance in former times and therefore also referring to Shakespeare, it was first published in 1613 and is considered to be the first parody play entirely written in English.

The tradition of the “play-in-a-play” which is also displayed in “The Rehearsal” goes back to Anthony Munday’s “The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon” (later called “Robin Hood of Merrie Sherwodde”), which was the first English play that showed a rehearsal on stage. Some satires followed which imitated “The Rehearsal”, for example Henry Fielding’s (1707- 1754) “Tom Thumb the Great” and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s (1751-1816) “The Critic”.

According to Lindner, Villiers wrote the biggest part of “The Rehearsal” himself, but there were several collaborators who are known as well: One of them is the poet Samuel Butler (1612- 1680) who wrote the satiric epos “Hudibras” which aimed to ridicule the Puritans. Another one is Martin Clifford (circa 1624 -1677), furthermore there is Thomas Sprat (1636-1713) who was Villier’s chaplain and Abraham Cowley (1618- 1667), a follower of Charles I. Last on the list is Edmund Waller (1605-1687), who, according to Lindner – was a characterless poet.

List of plays parodied in “The Rehearsal”

According to Lindner and the Keys of Briscoe, the following plays are directly mocked in “The Rehearsal” (in alphabetical order):

  • “The Amouros Prince” by Aphra Behn,
  • “Bellamira” and “Cicilia and Clorinda, or: Love in Arms” both by Thomas Killigrew,
  • “The Conquest of Granada” by John Dryden,
  • “The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru” by Sir William Davenant,
  • “The English Monsieur” by James Howard,
  • “The Indian Emperor” by Dryden,
  • “The Indian Queen” by Howard and Dryden,
  • ”The Lost Lady” by Berkeley,
  • “Love and Honour” by Davenant,
  • “Marriage a-la-mode” by Dryden,
  • “Ormasdes, or: Love and Friendship” by Killigrew,
  • “Pandora, or: the Converts” by Killigrew,
  • “Play- House to Be Let” by Davenant,
  • “Secret Love or: the Maiden Queen” by Dryden,
  • “Siege of Rhodes” by Davenant,
  • “The Slighted Maid” by Stapylton,
  • “Thomaso or: The Wanderer” by Killigrew,
  • “The love only for Love`s sake” by Fanshawe,
  • “The Tyrannic Love” by Dryden,
  • “United Kingdoms” by Edward Howard,
  • “The Villain” by Thomas Porter,
  • “The Virgin Widow” by Francis Quarels,
  • “The Wild Gallant” by Dryden.