John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus was an afterpiece, an entertainment intended to follow another, longer play on the theatre bill. During its stage life, what did the ballet accompany on the bills and does it matter?
At the first performance on 2 March 1717, The Loves of Mars and Venus was given after Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy, a Jacobean revenge tragedy revived after the Restoration and still popular. At its second performance, the ballet followed Addison’s Cato. This was a new tragedy, first performed in 1713, with a story drawn from classical antiquity. It was a great success at its first performance and would remain in the repertoire for many years. Weaver’s ballet was paired with a different play at each of its seven performances in the 1716-1717 season. Five were tragedies and two comedies. Of the other tragedies, the most noteworthy was Nicholas Rowe’s Tamerlane. First performed in 1701, the play used exotic historical characters to represent the rivalry of William III and Louis XIV. Tamerlane was identified with William III and Rowe’s play was routinely given each year by both playhouses on the 5 November, the anniversary of his landing at Torbay. The other two tragedies were Nathaniel Lee’s Mithridates (1678, another story drawn from classical antiquity), and Otway’s The Orphan (1680). The two comedies were Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem (usually billed simply as The Stratagem), first performed in 1707, and George Villiers’s The Rehearsal, a satirical view of the London stage first performed in 1671. All these plays, tragic and comic, were staples of the London stage.
Do these pairings tell us anything? It is interesting that the majority of the mainpieces were tragedies. This might indicate that Drury Lane’s three actor-managers thought of The Loves of Mars and Venus as a serious piece, albeit a far lighter entertainment than the preceding tragic plays.
Over the period it remained in repertoire, The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired most often with The Maid’s Tragedy, Cato and Tamerlane. I have taken a look at the bills for other performances of those plays between 1715-1716 and 1719-1720 to see if these might tell us more. The Maid’s Tragedy was usually given with entr’acte entertainments – the only afterpiece with which it was billed was Weaver’s ballet. Cato was either billed alone, with entr’acte entertainments or with an afterpiece. Addison’s tragedy was also billed with Weaver’s second dance drama, Orpheus and Eurydice, in both 1717-1718 and 1718-1719. Tamerlane was most often given alone, although it, too, was sometimes accompanied by either entr’acte entertainments or an afterpiece. There is insufficient evidence to provide definite conclusions, but it seems that at Drury Lane the pairing of mainpieces and afterpieces could be by careful choice and that The Loves of Mars and Venus was seen as more than merely a transient amusement.
The ballet disappeared from the repertoire after the 1723-1724 season. The reasons why it was dropped are still to be investigated, but it should be noted that at four of the five performances given in its last season The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired with mainpiece comedies. Only at its last performance was it given with a tragedy, Hildebrand Jacob’s The Fatal Constancy first performed the previous season. Both mainpiece and afterpiece were reviewed in Pasquin for 18 February 1724. The Fatal Constancy was praised as written ‘upon the Model of Antiquity’ and even for ‘the Shortness of the Piece’. The Loves of Mars and Venus may have been added to the bill for both reasons – during its short stage life, The Fatal Constancy was not billed with any other afterpiece. Pasquin condemned The Loves of Mars and Venus for its classical inaccuracy (two-eyed Cyclops) and its lack of dramatic credibility.
Does this suggest that Weaver’s serious intentions for his ballet had already been forgotten? Pasquin also revealed that the afterpiece was the victim of economies at the theatre.
By 1724, it seems that Weaver’s innovative ballet had worn out its welcome with Drury Lane’s managers and audience alike.