Tag Archives: Baroque Dance

The ‘Z’ Figure of the Minuet: Pierre Rameau

I recently saw a demonstration of the ‘Z’ figure of the minuet that gave me pause for thought. Citing Pierre Rameau and the diagram in Le Maître a danser, the figure was danced with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and one backwards to the right. So far as I can remember, I have never been taught the ‘Z’ figure in this way, but instead of rushing to the conclusion that the interpretation must be wrong, I decided to do some research. A quick look on YouTube revealed very few videos of the ballroom minuet, let alone Rameau’s version of this dance. Of the two videos I found, the couple in one danced the final section of the ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the right (turning around the right shoulder for the necessary quarter-turn), while the other couple did indeed do a single pas de menuet backwards. It was interesting that the latter video was far more recent than the former, so was I looking at a fresh interpretation of Rameau’s instructions?

Rameau deals with the figures of the ballroom minuet in his chapter XXII, ‘Du Menuet, & de la maniere de le danser régulierement’. Here is Rameau’s illustration of the ‘Z’ figure – ‘Figure Principal du Menuet’ – from this chapter.

As you can see, it says that both dancers perform two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two more forwards to pass one another by the right shoulder ‘en effaçant l’épaule’ and one backwards to the right (‘un en arriere du coté droit’).

When we turn to Rameau’s text, his written instructions are less clear.

Although he includes the numbers 1, 2 and 3 on his diagram, Rameau refers only to 2 and 3 in his text. In fact, he says nothing at all about the final step of the ‘Z’ figure. Is it possible that a part of Rameau’s instructions was omitted when the book was printed? So far as I am aware, there has been no detailed bibliographical study of this text that might address such issues.

I turned to John Essex’s 1728 translation of Rameau’s treatise, The Dancing-Master, to see whether he might have made good the omission in the original. Essex reproduces Rameau’s diagram, titling it ‘The fourth & Principal Figure of the Menuet’ and he too shows ‘two menuet Steps to ye left’ followed by ‘two forward, shading the shoulder’, but he has ‘two backwards to the right’.

Essex has made a change to Rameau’s illustration, but he merely translates the associated text without alteration.

Although Rameau’s treatise was published in 1725, was he perhaps reflecting an earlier French convention for the performance of the ‘Z’ figure? Was Essex merely making a faithful translation, or was he referring to a convention still current in English performances of the minuet?

Why was I taught a ‘Z’ figure with two pas de menuet sideways to the left, two forwards on the diagonal and two sideways to the right? Does the answer lie in other dance manuals of the early 18th century rather than in an idiosyncratic approach to dance reconstruction? I will turn to the other sources for the ‘Z’ figure in a new post.

The Most Popular Entr’acte Dances on the London Stage, 1700 – 1760

For many years, I have been bringing together what information I can find about the entr’acte dances given in London’s theatres between 1700 and 1760, although I have recently been extending my attention backwards to the Restoration and forwards as far as 1800 (occasionally even beyond that). My work is based on the calendar of performances in The London Stage, 1660-1800, but I am trying to add details of music, dancers, notated dances and other sources where and when I can. So far as I can tell, there is no detailed study of dancing on the London stage from the late 17th to the early 19th century and I need to try to fill this gap for my work as a dance historian of the period.

I thought I would look through my several files to find the dances that were most popular during the first six decades of the 18th century. What follows is necessarily incomplete and subjective. I have written posts on some of the dances mentioned, which I will refer to as I go. I have grouped together those dances which plausibly have a common theme and I hope to return to some of them in more detail with later posts.

This advertisement in the Daily Post for 30 April 1726 shows the bill offered at Lincoln’s Inn Fields that evening, with dances at the end of each act of the tragedy.

Comic Dances and Serious Dances

Comic Dances and Serious Dances seem, at first sight, to represent the opposite extremes of the entr’acte repertoire. In some ways they do, and they are sometimes billed together in ways that suggest that they were seen that way by 18th-century audiences. The title Serious Dance is perhaps easier to interpret. These were less often advertised than Comic Dances and many can plausibly be linked to belle danse style and technique. My post Serious Dancing looks at John Weaver’s discussion of the genre.

Comic Dances were among the most popular of the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres throughout the 18th century, although it is next to impossible to define exactly what was meant by a ‘comic’ dance. Few clues are provided in the advertisements, although there are hints that ‘comic’ quite often indicates an element of pantomime or points to a speciality act with dancing but performed by a player who was not, first and foremost, a dancer.

Grand Dances and Ballets

The Grand Dance emerges during the Restoration period. Most such dances billed in the 18th century are advertised with no details other than a list of performers, although some add ‘Grand Dance’ to a more specific title which takes them into another genre. For example, the Grand Dance of Momus originated in Momus Turn’d Fabulist; or, Vulcan’s Wedding by Ebenezer Forrest, first given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1729-1730. It continued as an entr’acte dance until 1745-1746. The cast lists in later bills suggest that it was a mini-ballet (in the modern sense of the term).

The Ballet first appears in London at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1726-1727, when ‘A Grand Ballet by ten Persons of different Characters’ was given for the benefit of Michael Poitier. Like the Grand Dances, the advertisements rarely give any clues to the nature of Ballets other than a list of dancers. The title Grand Dance seems, over time, to have given way to Ballet or Grand Ballet. The last two continued to be advertised into the 1780s.

My posts on this topic include Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance and The Rise and Fall of the Grand Dance on the London Stage.

Dance Types: Chacone, Hornpipe, Loure, Minuet and Tambourin

This heterogeneous list indicates part of the range of dance types to be seen on the London stage. The Chacone, Loure and Minuet may, of course, be classed as belonging to the genre of French belle danse. The Loure is actually the Louvre – Pecour’s famous duet Aimable Vainqueur – see my post Aimable Vainqueur on the London Stage. Like the Louvre, the Minuet was a staple of the benefit repertoire. I have also written about Minuets on the London Stage and Minuets Mocked.

The Chacone makes its first recorded entr’acte appearance in 1702-1703, when Mrs Elford (who was regularly partnered by Anthony L’Abbé) danced one as a solo at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was later taken up by Ann Bullock, who performed a solo Chacone regularly from 1714-1715 to 1734-1735. There were also Chacones given as duets and group dances – the latter often including commedia dell’arte characters, underlining the diverse nature of the musical form. The group Chacones given in the 1770s and 1780s were probably rather different choreographically from the earlier dances.

The Hornpipe is unlikely to have been the pastoral dance in 3/2 known from the notations published in London in the early 1700s, with one possible exception in the form of a solo choreographed by L’Abbé for a ‘Gentleman’ which may have been related to the dance performed at Drury Lane in 1713 ‘by a Gentleman for his Diversion’. The notation published in the mid-1720s reveals a lively and demanding dance with pas battus and a cabriole in the opening sequence.

The Hornpipe advertised regularly from the 1720s to the 1750s and added to The Beggar’s Opera, as well as being given at benefits to the end of the 18th century, was a duple-time dance with nautical associations. It was really a speciality dance performed by dancing actors.

The Tambourin or Tambourine (as it was often billed) made its debut on the London stage as a solo performed by Marie Sallé at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1730-1731. Its alternative title French Tambourin suggests links with the Paris Opéra. It was subsequently danced as a solo or a duet, sometimes as a group dance, into the 1750s. The Tambourine dances performed in London’s theatres into the 1780s seem to have taken the dance in a new direction by making it closer to a speciality dance.

National Dances: Dutch, Irish and Scotch

Many entr’acte dances linked to different nations were given in London’s theatres from the early 1700s into the 1760s and beyond. Among the Dutch Dances the most popular seems to have been the Dutch Skipper for which the earliest known billing was in 1703-1704 when it was danced by Mr and Mrs du Ruel (he was French and she was English). There were also Dutch Clown, Dutch Sailor and Dutchman and Wife, among others. The Dutch Skipper as well as the Dutch Sailor call to mind the illustrations in Lambranzi’s Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716. Here is a ‘Dutch Sailor’ duet from part two.

Irish dances appear in the bills as early as 1700, although the most popular became the Fingalian which began its stage career in 1724-1725 and survived (doubtless in a succession of choreographies) into the early 1780s.

Neither Dutch Dances nor Irish Dances were anywhere near as popular as Scotch Dances. In the entr’actes these were initially associated with solo female dancers – Mrs Bicknell (who was from Scotland) in the first decade of the 18th century and Ann Bullock from 1719-1720 to 1740-1741. There were duets as well as solos and group dances as well, notably the Scotch Dance choreographed by Leach Glover for three couples which held the stage from the early 1730s for around ten years. Dances like these were performed into the 1760s and I suggest that they drew their identity primarily from their music. The ‘Scotch’ dances that claimed the stage from the 1780s seem to have emerged from a changed cultural milieu, in which costume as well as music may have proclaimed their nationality.

Commedia dell’arte Characters: Harlequin, Scaramouch and Pierrot

Three commedia dell’arte characters made their mark on the entr’actes. Harlequin and Scaramouch arrived before 1700, as characters in plays rather than dancing masks. Both had migrated to the entr’actes by 1700 and continued into the 1730s. Harlequin often appeared solo, or in scenes with other commedia dell’arte characters. Female Harlequins, Harlequines, were popular too. Although Scaramouch also appeared solo, one of the most popular entr’acte offerings in the early decades of the 18th century was Four Scaramouches. When pantomime afterpieces became the rage in the 1720s, they were centred around Harlequin and Scaramouch who were thereafter seen less often in the entr’actes.

Pierrot seems to have been introduced in 1723-1724 by Francis and Louis Nivelon as Two Pierrots. There was also the Pieraite, a duet for a man and a woman billed from the mid-1720s to the later 1730s. Pierrot Dances continued into the mid-1750s and were occasionally revived until 1770-1771.

This painting, ascribed to Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), perhaps gives an idea of Harlequin, Harlequine and Pierrot as they appeared on the London stage.

Scaramouch was depicted several times by Lambranzi, in this plate he performs his characteristic long step.

Punch made a number of entr’acte appearances over the years, but he was never as popular as his fellow masks.

Peasants, Sailors and Shepherds

Peasant Dances were by far the most popular in London’s theatres. Leaving aside the Drunken Peasant, which became a speciality turn by dancing actors, there were dancing Peasants of nationalities ranging from Bohemia to Venice. French Peasants were the most popular, although there were many Peasant Dances with no national connotations. These various dances were seen from the 1710s to the 1760s. Did the male French Peasants perhaps look like this early 18th-century depiction of Henri Dumoulin?

Dancing Sailors go back to the Restoration and before. Sailor Dances remained popular into the 1750s and were quite frequently revived into the 1790s. Some of these choreographies had national overtones – there were French Sailors (and Matelots), Grecian Sailors (from an opera with a plot from classical antiquity) and even a Russian Sailor. Such dances were likely to have been closer to French belle danse than the speciality hornpipes mentioned above.

Shepherds had featured as dancing characters for many decades before they reached the London stage, although Shepherd Dances only really began to be billed in the entr’actes during the 1720s. There were, of course, also Bergers and Bergeries as well as a number of Pastoral Dances. Did Shepherds and Shepherdesses on the London stage emulate their French counterparts, as in this depiction by Watteau?

Entr’acte Dances on the London Stage

The challenge with all of the entr’acte dances given in London’s theatres is to uncover the steps, figures, style and technique they may have used and to get an idea of the choreographies that depicted them. Some have links to the notated dances, while many relate to music popular at the time (what we would now regard as classical music, as well as popular and traditional tunes). All the dances I have mentioned were affected by their political as well as their cultural context. Hopefully, further research will not only reveal more about the dances but also show more clearly their influence on the other dancing to be seen in London’s theatres.

Dances on the London Stage: The Running Footman

The bill at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre for 16 November 1723 included, among the entr’acte dances, a Running Footman’s Dance by Nivelon and Mrs Rogier. It was evidently quite popular, for it was given ten times that season (two of the performances were billed as a solo by Nivelon). It was copied at the Richmond Theatre the following summer, where it was danced as a solo by Haughton.

The running footman must have cut a conspicuous figure on the streets of London and elsewhere. Footmen were part of aristocratic and wealthy entourages and running footmen were highly prized. All footmen were young men with good carriage and good physiques, but running footmen were particularly fit and strong as they were employed to run just ahead of their master’s coach on a journey, in a livery designed to attract attention. A satirical piece in the Universal Spectator describes them as wearing ‘fine Holland Drawers and Waistcoats, Thread Stockings, a blue silk Sash fringed with Silver, a Velvet Cap with a great Tassel’ and carrying ‘a Porter’s Staff with a large Silver Handle’. The details of their livery obviously varied according to their employer, but such features as the cap and the staff made them instantly recognisable, as in this undated image.

The running footman also ran errands in town and was entered into competitive foot races by his employer. These events included wagers and could be elaborate. They were regularly reported in the newspapers during much of the 18th century, as in Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal for 24 September 1720.

It was surely such exploits that gave Nivelon the idea for the dance – it seems likely that he was the original choreographer.

Nivelon and Mrs Laguerre (as Mrs Rogier became following her remarriage in 1724) performed the Running Footman from 1723-1724 until 1727-1728, with a brief revival in 1732-1733. The fact that it was a duet, when put together with the duties of real running footmen, suggests that the dance had a narrative element and was not simply a display of dancing skills. The Running Footman would feature among entr’acte dances in London’s theatres until the 1763-1764 season. Many of these dances were solos, which does suggest virtuosic display, and in 1750-1751 the Running Footman was given as a male duet which may well have mimicked the races mentioned above. The last mention of the Running Footman as an entr’acte dance was on 4 May 1764, when Robert Aldridge danced with Miss Baker and supporting dancers (indicated, as usual, only by ‘&c.’). Did this choreography make use of a narrative? Could it have looked back to Nivelon’s original dance?

Music for a Running Footman country dance can be found in several sources of the mid-18th century. The earliest to bear the title seems to be that in The Compleat Country Dancing-Master published by John Walsh in 1731, where it has the title Running Footman’s Jigg. Could this be the tune used by Nivelon? All these country dances have a time signature of 6/8.

The Running Footman also seems to have been absorbed into an entr’acte dance named The Medley. There were a couple of early entr’acte dances with that title, performed in 1702-1703 and 1734-1735 respectively, but the one that is relevant to this post must be the ‘New Entertainment call’d The Medley, by Slingsby, Miss Baker, &c.’ given at Drury Lane on 20 November 1764. This was performed more than forty times that season although oddly, given its popularity, it wasn’t revived until 1767-1768 (with different performers). It was subsequently given in 1770-1771, when it was performed by ‘Scholars of Giorgi’ (he was a leading dancer at Drury Lane). That version of The Medley continued in repertoire into the 1772-1773 season. All of these performances were at Drury Lane. The Medley moved to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket for 1774-1775 and 1775-1776 and took a last bow there in 1783-1784 when it was danced by ‘Master Giorgi, Miss Byrne and others’. There are no hints in the surviving advertisements about the theme of the dance, although the title suggests that it included several different choreographies.

At least one version of The Medley was performed in the provinces, where it was advertised with full details. Here is the relevant section from the advertisement in the Derby Mercury for 28 February 1782. My thanks to Keith Cavers for providing both the information and the reference.

The list of characters in The Medley suggests that it was drawn not only from entr’acte dances popular on the London stage, but also from well-known dances within afterpieces. Were these linked together by a narrative thread spun by the Running Footman himself? Mr West was the dancer and choreographer William West (born circa 1757). As I write, I haven’t been able to find evidence that he did succeed Slingsby in The Medley at Drury Lane – unless he was one of the unnamed ‘Scholars of Giorgi’ who performed it there in the early 1770s (when West would have been in his mid-teens).

The Running Footman made two other stage appearances in the late 18th century. One was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on 8 August 1781 in an afterpiece titled Medea and Jason. This was a parody of Noverre’s well-known ballet, which had been given in London for the first time at the King’s Theatre earlier that season. The Haymarket cast included the ‘Prince de la Cour (as a Running Footman)’ danced by Master Byrn. This production may be worth returning to in a later post. The Running Footman’s last appearances seem to have been in another afterpiece, Here and There and Everywhere, also given at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, from 31 August 1785. The role was taken by Master Goosetree. In both cases, the Running Footman seems to have been performed by a boy rather than an adult male dancer.

There is another image of the running footman in a series of four studies by the Italian artist Giovanni Paolo Panini, possibly dating to the mid-1750s. They provide an idea of the figure represented on the London stage by Nivelon, Slingsby and some of the other dancers who performed the Running Footman.

Minuets Mocked

Among the many minuets danced in London’s theatres in the course of the 18th century, two have titles that single them out from the majority. A Mock Minuet was performed at Covent Garden on 12 April 1733 and lasted into the following season. A Grotesque Minuet was given a single performance at the same theatre on 20 April 1758. What might their titles tell us about these particular entr’acte dances, or about minuets performed on the London stage more generally?

According to the advertisement in the Daily Journal on 12 April 1733, the performance at Covent Garden included a ‘Mock Minuet by Nivelon and Mrs Laguerre, introduced by Pelling, Mrs Pelling, Newhouse, Miss La Tour, De la Garde, Mrs Ogden, Lesac, Miss Baston’ to be given at the end of act 4 of Thomas Otway’s tragedy Venice Preserv’d.

Mock Minuet Daily Journal 12 Apr 1733 (2)

The entr’acte dance was given another six performances before the end of the season, with several different mainpieces although all the performances were benefits (including one for Mrs Laguerre and her husband, the actor-singer John Laguerre). On 7 May, and for all subsequent performances, the number of supporting couples was reduced from four to three. The Mock Minuet was revived for another eight performances in 1733-1734 at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. Nivelon again led the dancers, with Miss Robinson as his partner, but there were only two supporting couples. Such variations in the number of dancers and even changes of venue were not unusual for dances given on the London stage, although in this case Nivelon revived the dance at the Haymarket following his departure from the Covent Garden company.

Why was the dance titled a ‘Mock Minuet’? The answer lies beyond the dance repertoire in London’s theatres, for it must surely relate to an extremely successful play. Henry Fielding’s The Mock Doctor; or, The Dumb Lady Cur’d, an adaptation of Molière’s Le medecin malgré lui, was first given at Drury Lane on 23 June 1732. It had been such a hit that not only was it revived the following season but it secured a place in the repertory into the 19th century. At Drury Lane it was given several times early in the 1732-1733 season and then revived again in January 1733. The Mock Doctor was performed for the first time at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre and the Little Theatre in the Haymarket on 13 and 14 February 1733 respectively, underlining its popularity with audiences.

All this was followed by several other plays that tried to capitalise on Fielding’s success. The anonymous The Mock Officer; or, The Captain’s Lady was given at Drury Lane on 28 March 1733, followed by Chetwood’s The Mock Mason ‘a Ballad Opera of one Act’ given a single performance at Goodman’s Fields on 13 April 1733 (for Chetwood’s benefit). Covent Garden joined in with The Mock Lawyer, ‘a Farcical Ballad Opera’ by Edward Phillips, on 27 April 1733 and finally there was the anonymous The Mock Countess at Drury Lane on 30 May 1733. Most of these copy-cat productions responded to the format of Fielding’s play which, with its several songs, resembled a small-scale ballad opera. The Mock Minuet was given in the middle of all this opportunistic rivalry – which surely explains its title.

The choreographer of the Mock Minuet was very likely Francis Nivelon, with whom the dance moved from Covent Garden to the Haymarket. Can all this information tell us anything about the entr’acte dance itself? Nivelon had been a member of John Rich’s company since the 1723-1724 season and may well have created many, if not all, of the choreographies he had performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in both entr’acte dances and afterpieces. Among the entr’acte dances he performed in 1732-1733 were two first given around the same time as the Mock Minuet – the Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow on 27 March 1733 and The Amorous Clowns; or, the Courtezan on 3 May 1733.

The advertisement for the Sleeping Dutchman and his Frow in the Daily Journal for 16 May 1733 follows the same pattern as that for the Mock Minuet (I couldn’t locate the advertisement for 27 March).

Mock Doctor Daily Journal 16 May 1733 (2)

Nivelon subsequently took this same dance to Drury Lane and the advertisement for the performance there on 10 October 1734 makes it clear that Nivelon is the Sleeping Dutchman with Mrs Laguerre as his wife. There were many ‘Dutch’ duets performed on the London stage at this period, so Nivelon seems to be giving a new twist to an old theme and perhaps also using some familiar music.

The Amorous Clowns; or, the Courtezan was actually advertised with its own cast list in the Daily Journal for 3 May 1733.

Mock Doctor Daily Journal 3 May 1733 (2)

Nivelon had made a speciality of Clowns (in this context meaning ‘Boors’ or ‘Rustics’) and so was presumably drawing on his own dances and perhaps their music too. He may have collaborated with Pelling on this entr’acte dance, for it turns up at Drury Lane in 1735-1736 with Pelling as the lead Clown. It seems likely that both of these dances – and the Mock Minuet – incorporated comic action alongside dances.

Could the Mock Minuet have drawn on The Mock Doctor? Nivelon may well have used music from some of the latter’s songs but did he draw on one or other of Fielding’s two intertwining plots? The major strand concerns Gregory, his wife Dorcas and her revenge when he beats her – Gregory is the ‘Mock Doctor’ of the play’s title. The other follows Charlotte and Leander, who cannot marry because her father intends her for another. Charlotte is the ‘Dumb Lady’ of the play’s sub-title, who is treated by the ‘Mock Doctor’. If Nivelon did refer explicitly to Fielding’s farce (and the Mock Minuet was one of Covent Garden’s responses to Drury Lane’s success with The Mock Doctor), the scenes with Dorcas and Gregory probably provided the sort of comic action he had already created so often.

Another Mock Minuet was given single performances in each of the 1752-1753 and 1753-1754 performances. In both cases it was danced by ‘Maranesi and Sga Bugiani’, each time for Maranesi’s benefit. This was a duet and may well owe something to the Italian grottesco dance tradition. It is also worth noting that another Mock Minuet held the stage from the 1770-1771 season until the end of the century. This dance was associated with James Townley’s farce High Life Below Stairs, in which two servants impersonate their master and mistress to dance an ‘awkward and conceited’ minuet. The dance became such a hit with audiences that it was regularly billed as a feature of the performance when the afterpiece was given.

The Grotesque Minuet is less of a conundrum. On the London stage the term ‘Grotesque’ is not often used for dances and in advertisements signifies performance by characters from the commedia dell’arte – as John Weaver made clear in his The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes (1728) – ‘By Grotesque Dancing, I mean only such Characters as are quite out of Nature; as Harlequin, Scaramouch, Pierot, &c.’ (p. 56). Weaver did muddy the waters by adding ‘tho’ in the natural Sense of the Word, Grotesque among Masters of our Profession, takes in all comic Dancing whatever’. When it comes to dancing on the London stage, one can never be quite sure about anything.

The single performance of the Grotesque Minuet was given by Leppie and Miss Hillyard for her benefit. Unfortunately, I can’t find any evidence to suggest which commedia characters they may have represented, if indeed they did. Perhaps their duet looked a little like this dance depicted by Giandomenico Tiepolo in 1756?

Gian Domenico Tiepolo Grotesque Minuet 1756


The Saraband on the Restoration Stage

I keep coming across references to sarabands in plays from the Restoration period. I am wondering why this dance was popular at this period. I have previously written about the saraband as an entr’acte dance in London’s theatres during the early 18th century, but here I will look a little further back.

My research into dancing on the London stage only goes back to 1660 and a little before. The earliest mention of a saraband I have encountered appears in Sir William Davenant’s The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, first performed in 1658. The entertainment has six Entries, each of which ends with a dance.  In the fourth Entry:

‘… a saraband is played, whilst two Spaniards enter from the opposite sides of the scene, exactly clothed and armed according to the custom of their nation and, to express their triumph after the victory over the natives, they solemnly uncloak and unarm themselves to the tune and afterwards dance with castanets.’

Davenant’s The Law against Lovers (a conflation and adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing) was seen by Samuel Pepys on 18 February 1662, when he noted ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw before) dancing and singing’. She was Mary (‘Moll’) Davis, who played Viola in Davenant’s play and is described in the text as ‘dancing a Saraband awhile with Castanietos’.

Did John Dryden draw on one or the other (or both) of these for the scene in his The Indian Emperor in which two Spaniards ‘dance a Saraband with Castanieta’s’? The Indian Emperor was first performed in 1665 and published in 1668. The dance comes near the beginning of act four scene three. Here is the description from the second edition of 1668 (coincidentally the year the play was performed at the court of Charles II).

Indian Emperor Saraband 1668 (2)

The context for the dance, with its unarmed Spaniards, is strikingly similar to Davenant’s in The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru.

Here is a Spaniard dancing with castanets from a much earlier work. Might he have influenced the dancing seen on the London stage?

Spaniard Ballet de la Nuit

Dancing Spaniard from designs for Le Ballet de la Nuit, 1653

I was prompted to write this post by the discovery of yet another saraband performed in a play. Shakespeare’s The Tempest was adapted by Davenant and Dryden and, in their new version, first performed in 1667. I won’t go into all the details of the adaptation here but, among other additional characters, Ariel was given a companion female spirit named Milcha. At the end of the play, just before Prospero’s final speech, Ariel and Milcha dance a saraband together.  It is worth noting that Ariel may originally have been performed by Mary Davis.

I am aware, of course, of the ‘sarabands’ in The English Dancing-Master published by John Playford in 1651. Further afield, there are the appearances by Mlle Verpré in the ballets de cour of Louis XIV, as ‘L’Espagnolle … dansant avec Castagnettes’ in the final Entrée of the Ballet de la Raillerie (1659) and ‘dansant une Sarabande’ in the seventh Entrée of the Ballet des Saisons (1661). The saraband appears most notably in the ‘Ballet des Nations’ within Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in 1670, which just postdates the period I have been concentrating on. Research among the music sources of the period would doubtless reveal many more examples of this dance, with and without castanets.

What were the reasons for Davenant’s and Dryden’s repeated use of the saraband in their plays? How would their audiences have seen and interpreted this dance? It isn’t difficult to see, with these examples, that on the early Restoration stage the saraband was often closely linked to Spanish characters, but is there more to its use than simply the Spanish connection? Further research, in both earlier and later periods, could well uncover a far richer picture and perhaps reveal more about dancing in London’s theatres during the 1660s and 1670s.


Describing a Saraband

Quite some time ago, I wrote a piece on the saraband which included the following description from Pomey’s Le Dictionnaire royal augmentée (1671) in a translation by Patricia Ranum.

‘At first he danced with a totally charming grace, with a serious and circumspect air, with an equal and slow rhythm, and with such a noble, beautiful, free and easy carriage that he had all the majesty of a king, and inspired as much respect as he gave pleasure.

Then, standing taller and more assertively, and raising his arms to half-height and keeping them partly extended, he performed the most beautiful steps ever invented for the dance.

Sometimes he would glide imperceptibly, with no apparent movement of his feet and legs, and seemed to slide rather than step. Sometimes, with the most beautiful timing in the world, he would remain suspended, immobile, and half leaning to the side with one foot in the air; and then, compensating for the rhythmic unit that had just gone by, with another more precipitous unit he would almost fly, so rapid was his motion.

Sometimes he would advance with little skips, sometimes he would drop back with long steps that, although carefully planned, seemed to be done spontaneously, so well had he cloaked his art in skilful nonchalance.

Sometimes, for the pleasure of everyone present, he would turn to the right, and sometimes he would turn to the left; and when he reached the very middle of the empty floor, he would pirouette so quickly that the eye could not follow.

Now and then he would let a whole rhythmic unit go by, moving no more than a statue and then, setting off like an arrow, he would be at the other end of the room before anyone had time to realise that he had departed.

But all this was nothing compared to what was observed when this gallant began to express the emotions of his soul through the motions of his body, and reveal them in his face, his eyes, his steps and all his actions.’

This passage is well-known among dance historians and has been cited by many of us.

Recently, I was looking at an essay in the volume The Ancient Dancer in the Modern World, edited by Fiona Macintosh and published in 2010, and I came across the following quotation (p. 30):

‘What would someone admire more? The continuity of their many pirouettes or, after this, their suddenly crystallised posture, or the figure held fixed in this position? For they whirl round, as if borne on wings, but conclude their movement in a static pose, as if glued to the spot; and with the stillness of the pose, the image presents itself.’

This passage comes from one of the Orations of the Greek rhetorician Libanius, describing a dancer in the classical period. I was immediately struck by the link between Libanius’s description and that of Pomey more than a thousand years later and, of course, many writers of Pomey’s era (and later) were steeped in classical literature.

I haven’t followed this up, and I don’t really intend to, but I do have a couple of questions. Is there a direct link between the two passages? If there is, what might that tell us about dancing, and particularly the saraband, in the late 17th century?

The Dancing Master in Print

I have just begun a new topic of research, which has taken me in an old direction. It has returned me to the point of intersection between dance history and book history – I am, of course, both a dance historian and a rare books curator.

My new research involves John Essex, who is well known to almost everyone interested in baroque dance as the translator of both Feuillet’s 1706 Recüeil de contredances and Rameau’s 1725 Le Maître a danser. For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing was published in London in 1710 and The Dancing-Master followed in 1728. I did quite a lot of research on Essex when I wrote his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I’ve just gone back to my notes and, with a bit of additional work, I’ve made some interesting discoveries. I don’t know whether what I have found is already out there (some of it definitely is), but here is a summary of the publication of history of each of Essex’s translations. In both cases, this can only be described as convoluted!

For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing was first mentioned in the Tatler on 25 March 1710 and again on 30 March. Here is the advertisement from 30 March.

Tatler 30 Mar 1710

As you can see, the volume was offered for 5 shillings (at least £16 at today’s values, and probably more like £40 or even £50). Another advertisement in the Spectator for 5 March 1712 referred to the ‘3d Edition’, although there seems to be no record of a second edition and I don’t know of a surviving copy of either a second or a third edition. (The English Short Title Catalogue shows that there were at least two different editions, or issues, but I’m not going to get into the arcane niceties of historical bibliography here).

There is, however, another very different edition of this text. This survives in a single copy which is now in the British Library. I have not been able to find an advertisement for this, which tends to confirm that it was made as a presentation copy for Caroline, Princess of Wales around 1715. Essex’s original 1710 edition is an octavo, a quite small book. The later edition is a much larger folio, with additional country dances and a ‘new French Dance Call’d the Princess’s Passpied’ choreographed and notated by Essex himself. Here is the title page of the 1710 edition.

Essex Further Improvement 1710

Here is the title page of the later edition.

Essex Further Improvement 1715

The plates for the country dances in the original edition are printed four to a page in the new edition, as here.

Essex Further Improvement 1715 Trip

Essex added four new country dances, which follow that same convention but were obviously engraved on single plates. Here is the first plate of one of them.

Essex Further Improvement 1715 Liberty

I knew that the publication history of The Dancing-Master was complicated, but my additional research has managed to add to the confusion. The title page of Essex’s original edition is dated 1728. Here is the advertisement in Mist’s Weekly Journal for 13 January 1728

Mist's 13 Jan 1728

I haven’t been able to track down a later advertisement confirming that it was indeed published the following week. However, the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 22 November 1729 has another advertisement for the self-same book, which says ‘This Day in Published’ albeit with a different list of booksellers. The paper ran another identical advertisement on 27 December 1729.

On 24 December 1730, the Grub Street Journal declared ‘This Day is published, the second edition’ of The Dancing-Master, with the added enticement that it appeared ‘With the Approbation of Mr. Pecour, Master of the Opera at Paris, and Mr. L’Abee, Court Master to the present Royal Family’. The next advertisement I have been able to find is in the Country Journal or the Craftsman again, on 1 January 1732, saying the same thing (minus the ‘Approbation’) and with different booksellers. All of these ‘editions’ are evidently the same, including the ‘Figures for their better explanation. In sixty Draughts. Done from the Life, and engraved on copper plates’, all signed ‘G.A.’ or ‘G. Alsop’ in the surviving copies. There is a second edition of Essex’s The Dancing-Master dated 1731 on the title page.

On 5 May 1733, the Country Journal and Craftsman announced ‘Just Published, The Dancing Master. Third Edition with Additions, all the Figures newly done from the Life, and engraved by G. Bickham’. Yet another advertisement in the Grub Street Journal for 8 November 1733 declared ‘Just Publish’d, the Second Edition with Additions’ of The Dancing-Master, with some further information:

‘N.B. The Figures in the first Edition being ill design’d, are all entirely new drawn from the Life, and engraved by G. Bickham, jun. Those Gentlemen or Ladies who have clean Books, shall have them changed for this new Edition gratis, if they please to send to Mr. Essex in Roode-Lane, Fenchurch-street.’

It would be interesting to know who posed for these ‘Figures … drawn from the Life’ (the same claim was made for Alsop’s drawings). The story does not end there, for the Country Journal or the Craftsman for 5 January 1734 advertised ‘This Day is Published’ The Dancing-Master, with no mention of an edition.

Here are the title pages from the 1728 and 1731 editions.

Here is one of Alsop’s plates, beside the corresponding plate by Bickham, so you can verify the truth of the assertion in the Grub Street Journal advertisement.

I have to be a resourceful if I am to find suitable illustrations – the Bickham one on the right is actually taken from Cyril Beaumont’s 1931 translation of Rameau’s Le Maître a danser (Beaumont chose to make his own translation of that text, but used the Bickham plates from Essex’s edition).

There was just one more ‘Second Edition’ of The Dancing-Master, announced in the Daily Advertiser for 12 January 1744.

Daily Advertiser 12 Jan 1744

Look particularly at the foot of the advertisement, which tells us that ‘There are but very few left of this Second Edition’. I know of two surviving copies, which has 1744 on the title page and uses Bickham’s plates. This final ‘edition’ appeared very shortly before Essex’s death. He was buried in St Dionis Backchurch in the City of London on 6 February 1744.

So, what was going on with all these ‘editions’? In fact, apart from the new plates, they were not really new editions at all but reissues. Close examination of the surviving copies, by several researchers independently, indicates that all have the same setting of the text and so were all printed in one run. Essex’s The Dancing-Master was expensive. One guinea approximates to at least £100 today, more likely to between £200 and £300. The original print run was evidently too ambitious for the market, as the book was probably of more interest to provincial dancing masters than to the aspiring metropolitan ballroom dancers it was principally aimed at. The advertisements thus represent a series of increasingly ingenious (or desperate) marketing ploys to sell the rather too many remaining copies.

There is much more to say about John Essex and his two translations, not least in relation to rival dancing masters and to the ingenious George Bickham junior, but I will leave it there – for now at least.

Minuets on the London Stage

Those of you who are familiar with the minuet probably know it best as the pre-eminent ballroom duet of the 18th century. Some will have encountered it within the figure dances in Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, while others may have learnt one or other of the notated minuets. How many of you have discovered that the minuet, in various guises, was regularly performed in London’s theatres throughout the 1700s? I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of these stage minuets.

Some time ago, I compiled a list of entr’acte performances of minuets on the London stage between 1700 and 1760. Extensive as it is, the list certainly has omissions, since the surviving advertisements do not always provide full details of the dances performed each evening. The earliest mention is a solo Minuet, performed with a Chacone and a Jigg by the dancer Miss Lindar at Drury Lane on 30 October 1717. This is very unlikely to have been the first solo minuet given in London’s theatres. The ‘Menuet performd’ by Mrs Santlow’, published in notation within Anthony L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances in the mid-1720s, may well date to between 1708 and 1712 – although there is no advertisement to confirm this. I have danced this choreography many times and I love the intricacy of its steps, its subtly allusive figures and its unusual use of the stage space. Here is the final plate of the dance, which I think shows all of those characteristics.

Menuet Solo 1725 21

Hester Santlow is not billed in a solo minuet until 25 March 1731, when she danced a Chacone and a Minuet in the entr’actes at Drury Lane, but the dance must surely have been part of her repertoire long before then. There is no way of telling whether she continued to perform L’Abbé’s solo, or had new minuet choreographies created for her (or crafted her own dances) over the years.

Another solo minuet which has escaped record in The London Stage is Kellom Tomlinson’s ‘Minevit’ created for Mrs Schoolding to dance in The Island Princess at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1716. In comparison to Mrs Santlow’s ‘Menuet’, this is a miniature (32 bars of music and 16 minuet steps to 120 bars and 60 minuet steps), but Tomlinson adds complexity with successive half-turns in several steps (which are all variants on the contretemps du menuet).

MInevit Tomlinson 1

Later solo minuets in the period I am looking at apparently include a ‘Minuet in Boy’s Cloaths’, danced by Mlle Grognet at Lincolns Inn Felds on 18 April 1734. I am uncertain about this one, as Mlle Grognet was billed as dancing a minuet in ‘Men’s Clothes’ with other female dancers several times that season. I suggest that they were dancing a version of the ballroom minuet.

Solo minuets were rarely advertised and the last examples before 1760 were performances by young actresses. At Drury Lane Miss Pritchard ‘Danc’d a Minuit for the King’ in a Masquerade Dance inserted into Mrs Centlivre’s The Wonder on 8 November 1756. The performance had been commanded by George II. Was this choreography closer to Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet … for a Girl than to Mrs Santlow’s sophisticated ‘Menuet’? If it was, in fact, a solo minuet.

The minuet was usually performed as a duet in London’s theatres, although the earliest advertisement dates only to 14 April 1726 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, when Glover and Mrs Laguerre did the honours. As with the majority of bills on which the Minuet appears, the performance was a benefit (in this case for the actor-singer John Laguerre and his wife Mrs Laguerre). The next advertisement for a Minuet was not until 3 May 1731, when Glover danced at his own benefit with Mlle Sallé. Thereafter, the minuet became a fixture in the bills for benefit performances. It was given by a galaxy of star dancers (as well as those of lesser rank) – Desnoyer and Mrs Booth (Hester Santlow before her marriage in 1719), Desnoyer and Mlle Sallé in 1735 (performed at each other’s benefits), Desnoyer and Signorina Barberini in 1741 and 1742. If Glover began the idea, Desnoyer seems to have established the minuet as an entr’acte dance of choice for benefits. Anne Auretti would do the same from 1748 into the early 1750s.

What were these minuets like? Were they essentially the ballroom minuet, designed as demonstrations of perfect – and perfectly restrained – style and technique, albeit scaled-up for the stage? Or were they heightened forms of the dance, with virtuoso steps and figures and perhaps few, or no, minuet steps? I will return to this question in a later post.

One issue I will explore here is the question of costume. When George Desnoyer and Marie Sallé danced a Minuet together at Drury Lane on 17 March 1735 (for his benefit) and he then performed a Minuet with Mrs Walter for another benefit on 22 March, they were described as dancing ‘in modern Habits’. They were not so described when Desnoyer danced a Minuet with Marie Sallé at Covent Garden on 24 April 1735 (for her benefit). The phrase ‘in modern Habits’ had not been used in advertisements before then and was only occasionally used later – most often, but not always, when Desnoyer was dancing – and only for minuets. The last such usage seems to have been for his benefit on 13 March 1738, when he again danced a Minuet with Mrs Walter.

What did ‘in modern Habits’ mean? When I first encountered it, I assumed that it meant that the dancers were wearing fashionable dress, rather than more archaic court costume (the ‘grand Habit’ of formal court wear). Returning to it now and looking more closely at its use in advertisements, I wonder if I had that the wrong way round. What illustrations there are of couples dancing the minuet in a ballroom setting (I know of none in a theatre) all show them in what looks like fashionable dress. The range of dancers who performed minuets in London’s theatres suggest that this was the case on stage too. So, did ‘in modern Habits’ suggest that Desnoyer and his partners wore the latest form of court dress, with him in an elaborate but fashionable suit and her in a court mantua with a hooped skirt rather than the stiff-bodied gown that was already beginning to disappear in England? I really need a costume expert to answer this!

Here is Augusta, Princess of Wales, in a stiff-bodied gown. The portrait, by Charles Philips, was painted at the time of her marriage in 1736.

Augusta Princess of Wales 1736

I have been unable to find a depiction of a court mantua of that period, but here is a portrait of Lady Betty Germain (also by Charles Philips) in a very elaborate mantua painted in 1731.

(c) National Trust, Knole; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In both cases the skirt is far smaller than the dimensions it would attain in the 1740s. Desnoyer was, of course, part of court circles as dancing master to Frederick, Prince of Wales and some of his siblings, as well as (from 1736) Princess Augusta.

A minuet was quite often added to another ball dance at benefit performances. I have written in other posts about Aimable Vainqueur (the ‘Louvre’) and La Mariée on the London stage. Both were quite often performed with a Minuet, as were L’Abbé’s Prince of Wales’s Saraband, The Britain or Britannia (most likely Pecour’s La Bretagne) and even Isaac’s The Union, as well as a variety of named and unnamed ball dances that have not survived in notation. There were also minuets for three and for four, a Grotesque Minuet and a Mock Minuet. I hope to return to some, if not all, of these in later posts.

The Humours of Bedlam

Another play that I thought had dancing in it was The Pilgrim. This was originally a Jacobean verse drama by John Fletcher, which may have been revived in the 1660s and 1670s. It was adapted by John Vanbrugh and first performed in its new guise in the spring of 1700. The new version also had a ‘Secular Masque’ by John Dryden. The advertisement for 6 July 1700 announced The Pilgrim ‘Revis’d with Large Alterations, and a Secular Masque’. There were entr’acte dances at that performance, but there was no indication of dancing in the play. The Pilgrim was performed every season until the early 1730s and then regularly revived until the early 1750s. There were further revivals in 1761-1762 and 1762-1763 and then the play disappeared from the repertoire – except for a few performances in the 1780s.

Vanbrugh’s version of The Pilgrim was published in 1700, with Dryden’s ‘Secular Masque’, and there were further editions in 1724, 1742, 1745 and 1753. I have been able to check the editions of 1700 and 1724 and no dancing is mentioned. The ‘Secular Masque’ is preceded by Dryden’s ‘Song of a Scholar and his Mistress, who being Cross’d by their Friends, fall Mad for one another; and now first meet in Bedlam’. (Several scenes in The Pilgrim are set in a madhouse.) No dancing is mentioned in either the ‘Song’, which is actually a short scene, or the ‘Secular Masque’. When I worked my way through all the performances of The Pilgrim in The London Stage, I discovered that it didn’t include dancing, except for two brief periods during its long stage life.

The revised version of The Pilgrim was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, but from 1715-1716 it was also given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. From 1720-1721, it was only given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (and then Covent Garden) until 1737-1738 – with the exception of a run of performances at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre in 1730-1731 and a single performance there in 1731-1732. The Pilgrim returned to the Drury Lane repertoire in 1738-1739, but it was only given there until 1740-1741. It then returned to Covent Garden, where it was performed occasionally until 1762-1763. There was a small flurry of performances at Drury Lane in 1750-1751, when The Pilgrim was given with ‘Proper Dances’ (dances within the play) although the advertisements do not say what these were.

The first time The Pilgrim was billed with dancing which related to the play was on 16 November 1723 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, when the entr’acte dances included The Humours of Bedlam. When both were repeated on 27 November, the bills provided a cast list for the dance. Here is an extract from the Daily Courant for 27 November 1723.

LIF 27 Nov 1723 Daily Courant (2)

The mad dancing characters were not the same as those in the cast list of the play, although there was an overlap in the Mad Taylor (taken by an actor in the play and a dancer in the The Humours of Bedlam). At later performances the bills indicate that The Humours of Bedlam was actually given in the play and the two were regularly given together until the 1728-1729 season, after which the dance disappeared from the advertisements. At Goodman’s Fields The Humours of Bedlam was also given with The Pilgrim, although four dancers instead of six were advertised.

I suggest that The Humours of Bedlam was performed as part of the ‘Song of a Scholar and his Mistress’ and that the choreographer was Francis Nivelon, who was initially billed as the Mad Taylor and seems to have been the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre’s dancing master. The following season Nivelon danced the Mad Soldier (originally performed by his brother, who had left the company), the role he kept until 1726-1727. He was always named first in the dance’s cast list. Nivelon’s frequent dancing partner was Mrs Rogier (after her remarriage Mrs Laguerre), who appeared as the Mad Lady. She and several other dancers appeared every time The Humours of Bedlam was given. Nivelon was succeeded by Poitier in 1727-1728 and Francis Sallé in 1728-1729.

The cast list for this choreography suggests a series of solos in character, some of which may have had more pantomime than dancing, and a duet by Nivelon and Mrs Rogier – unless she danced with each of the men in turn. John Barrett’s surviving music for The Pilgrim all dates to the early 1700s, long before The Humours of Bedlam. Could some of it have been used for the dance?

There were occasional Mad Dances in the entr’actes at London’s theatres, some of which were given by French performers, but none of which can be linked either to The Pilgrim or The Humours of Bedlam. Nivelon, if he was indeed the choreographer, may have been drawing on a dance topic from the Paris fairs.

The only other dance to be associated with The Pilgrim was The Lunaticks, first performed at Drury Lane on 13 December 1740 in the entr’actes to Comus. It was given with The Pilgrim on 18 December 1740 and 6 January 1741. At the latter performance it was advertised within act 4 of the play. This group dance had four principal dancers – Fausan, Signora Fausan, Muilment and Mlle Chateauneuf, with supporting dancers (billed only as ‘&c.’). It was, presumably, by Fausan and lasted only this one season.

With both The Humours of Bedlam and The Lunaticks, the idea was most likely to entice fresh audiences to a familiar play. The importance of dancing on the London stage should never be overlooked.


Harlequin, Scaramouch and The Emperor of the Moon

Another play with dancing that held the London stage for several decades was Aphra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon. It was probably first performed in March 1687 at the Dorset Garden Theatre and was published the same year. Behn’s principal source was Fatouville’s Arlequin empereur dans la lune, itself first performed by the Italian comedians in Paris on 5 March 1684. I am not going to attempt an analysis of the relationship between the two plays. My interest, as ever, is dancing and – in this case – the roles of Harlequin and Scaramouch, as performed on the London stage.

According to the printed play, Harlequin was first performed by ‘Mr Jevon’ and Scaramouch by ‘Mr Leigh’. Thomas Jevon and Anthony Leigh were both comedians with the company. Jevon had begun as a dancing master and regularly added dancing to his stage performances, while Leigh was known for ad-libbing and his wide variety of roles. Both must have been able to give a good account of commedia dell’arte-style action, for Behn’s play includes several lazzi for the two, including a fight which ends in a dance in act 1 scene 3.

‘They go to fight ridiculously, and ever as Scaramouch passes, Harlequin leaps aside, and skips so nimbly about, he cannot touch him for his life; which after a while endeavouring in vain, [Scaramouch] lays down his sword’.

Admitting defeat as a swordsman, ‘Scaramouch pulls out a flute doux, and falls to playing. Harlequin throws down his [sword], and falls a-dancing. After the dance, they shake hands’. Both are, of course, speaking (as well as miming) characters.

Scaramouch is described in the stage directions as ‘dressed in black, with a short black cloak, a ruff, and a little hat’, his customary costume, suggesting that Harlequin also wore his traditional parti-coloured suit with a mask. Aphra Behn is thought to have seen Fatouville’s piece in Paris in 1684, but it is not clear where Jevon and Leigh learnt their action since there had been no Italian comedians in London since the late 1670s.

The Emperor of the Moon revolves around the usual pairs of young lovers, who employ Harlequin and Scaramouch to trick Doctor Baliardo into allowing them to wed. The Doctor is obsessed with the world in the Moon and the final scene of the play has an elaborate masque in which the two young men descend to earth as the ‘Emperor of the Moon’ and the ‘Prince of Thunderland’ and marry their sweethearts. The action of the play includes three ‘antic’ dances, the last of which comes in this finale and is probably performed by the attendants of the ‘Emperor’ and ‘Prince’. According to the cast list they are ‘persons that represent the court cards’.

Revivals of The Emperor of the Moon up to 1700 are difficult to chart. The play was given in 1687-1688 and 1691-1692 and perhaps also in 1699-1700, although its later popularity suggests that it was performed far more often. The first known performance after 1700 was on 18 September 1702 at Drury Lane, with another famous comedian, William Pinkethman, as Harlequin. He experimented by trying to play the role without a mask, but – as Colley Cibber recorded in his Apology of 1740, ‘Penkethman could not take to himself the Shame of the Character without being concealed – he was no more Harlequin – his Humour was quite disconcerted!’. The Drury Lane performance on 20 December 1704 advertised ‘All the original Dances which were perform’d, particularly the Card Dance’. In 1709-1710, a Night Scene with commedia dell’arte characters was advertised alongside The Emperor of the Moon but may perhaps have been performed within the play.

When the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre was allowed to open in 1714, it gave The Emperor of the Moon in competition with Drury Lane, finally taking over the play altogether from 1717-1718. Behn’s play was given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields nearly every season until 1731-1732, usually with William Bullock Sr as Scaramouch and James Spiller as Harlequin. Both were established comedians and Spiller also occasionally danced in the entr’actes. When the company moved to its new Covent Garden Theatre, The Emperor of the Moon went too.

The Emperor of the Moon was given a well-advertised revival at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre on 15 October 1735, with William Pinkethman Junior as Harlequin and James Rosco as Scaramouch. Pinkethman was following in his father’s footsteps, while Rosco was a leading actor in the company with a very varied repertoire. The bills announced that the play would be given with ‘the original Songs’ and ‘New Dances, adapted to the opera, particularly A Dance of Court Cards’. According to the advertised cast list, actors and not dancers performed this dance, while the company’s dancers gave ‘other dances’. The Emperor of the Moon was performed more than a dozen times at Goodman’s Fields in 1735-1736, but was not subsequently revived there.

The last revival of Behn’s play was during the 1748-1749 season, when David Garrick at Drury Lane vied for audiences with John Rich at Covent Garden. Both theatres advertised it as ‘forthcoming’ a few days before Christmas and both performed The Emperor of the Moon on 26 December 1748. At Drury Lane it was given as an afterpiece, with Henry Woodward as Harlequin and Richard Yates as Scaramouch. Both were comic actors and Woodward (trained by John Rich) would become London’s leading Harlequin. Garrick’s production included dancers, but did Rich’s? At Covent Garden, The Emperor of the Moon was the mainpiece, with a pantomime The Royal Chace (which did have dancing) as an afterpiece. There was no mention of dancing in the play, but the entr’acte dances included a solo Scaramouch and a Grand Masquerade Dance – or were they both given in The Emperor of the Moon?

Aphra Behn used commedia dell’arte at a period when it was still quite new to English actors and The Emperor of the Moon established a place in the repertoire some years before Joseph Sorin and other French forains came to perform in London. The tradition begun by Thomas Jevon may well have influenced some of London’s dancing Harlequins, while Pinkethman’s and Spiller’s performances may have contributed to the rise of ‘Lun’ (John Rich’s ‘Harlequin’ identity). The dances in The Emperor of the Moon didn’t make their way into the entr’actes, but the antics of Harlequin and Scaramouch must surely have played a part in the development of the English pantomime.

Claude Gillot’s various depictions of scenes from the Italian comedies given in Paris provide a flavour of performances there – here are Arlequin and Scaramouch fighting in Arlequin empereur dans la lune. What were the English like?

Gillot Arlequin Scaramouch combat