THEATRE. Before the reign of Eli zabeth theatrical representations appear to have been subject to no legal restraint beyond the liability of those who con ducted them to the vagrant laws.
But, although players, as such, were subject to no general legal restrictions, it is probable that the practice of granting licences from the crown to such persons prevailed as early as the reign of Henry VIII. The earliest theatrical licence from the crown now extant is that granted by Queen Elizabeth, in 1574, to James Burbage and four other persons, " servants to the Earl of Leicester," which contains a proviso that the performances thereby authorised, before they are pub licly represented, shall be seen and al lowed by the queen's master of the revels; a stipulation analogous to the licence of the lord chamberlain under the Licensing Act at the present day. These licences from the crown were originally nothing more than authorities to itinerate, which exempted strolling players from being molested by proceedings taken under the laws or proclamations against vagrants, and also superseded the necessity of licences from local magistrates.
Although theatrical representations became much more general in the reigns of James I. and Charles I., no laws were enacted for their regulation, with the exception of the stat. 1 Car. I. c. 1, which suppressed the performance of" interludes and common plays upon the Lord's Day. An ortlicsnee of the Long Parliament, in 164S, was directed to the suppression of all stage-plays and interludes, but though enforced with mach rigour, it failed to abolish these entertainments. The slat. 12 Ann. stat.2,e.23, in general terms, classed players of interludes as rogues and vagabonds ; but the slat. 10 Geo. II.,e. 28,s. 1, expounded the former statute, by enacting that " every persca„ who should for hire, gain, or reward, act, represent, or perform any pLay or other entertainment of the stage, or any part tkerein, if he shall not have any legal settlement where the offence should be committed, without authority by patent from the king, or licence from the lord chamberlain, should be deemed a rogue and vagabond within the stmt. 12 Ann? This provision is now n pealed by the stet. 5 Geo. IV. c. 83, and players as such, whether stationary or itinerant, are, at the present day, not amenable to the law as rogues and vagabonds. By the 2nd section of the above statute, 10 Geo. II. c. 28, which, with the exceptions just mentioned, is still in full operation, and forms the law of the metropolitan thea tres, it is enacted generally, that " every person who shall, without a patent or licence, act or perform any entertainment of the stage for hire, gain, or reward, shall forfeit the sum of SOL" By the 3rd section it is declared, that " no person shall for hire, gain, or reward act, per form, or represent any new interlude, tragedy, comedy, opera, play, farce, or other entertainment of the stage, or any parts therein; or any new act, scene, or other part added to any old interlude, tragedy, comedy. opera, play, farce, or
other entertainment of the stage, or any new prologue or epilogue, unless a true copy thereof be sent to the lord cham berlain of the king's household for the ti me being, fourteen days at the least before the acting, representing, or performing thereof, together with an account of the play-house or place where the same shall be. and the time when the same is first in tended to be first acted, represented, or performed, signed by the master or ma nag.r." The 4th section authorizes the lord chamberlain to prohibit the perform ance of any theatrical entertainment, and subjects the persons infringing this pro hibition to a penalty of 501., and the for feiture of their patent or licence. The 5th section provides that " no person shall be authorized by patent from the crown, or licence from the lord chamber lain, to act, represent, or perform for hire or reward, any interlude, tragedy, come dy, opera, play, farce, or other entertain ment of the stage, in any part of Great Britain, except in the city of Westminster and within the liberties thereof, and in such places where the king shall person ally reside, and daring such residence only." The 7th section enacts, that "if any interlude, tragedy, comedy, opera, play, farce, or other entertainment of the stage, or any act, scene, or part thereof, shall be acted, represented, or performed in any house or place where wine, ale, beer, or other liquors shall be sold or retailed, the same shall be deemed to be acted, represented, and performed for gain, hire, and reward." Within a few years after the passing of this act of par liament, the clause which restricted the power of granting patents by the crown to theatres within the city of Westmin ster and places of royal residence, was found to be productive of inconvenience ; and special acts of parliament were passed, which exempted several large towns, in which such entertainments were desired, from the operation of that clause, and authorized the king to grant letters for establishing theatres in such places. In stances of statutes of this kind occur with respect to Bath, in stet. 8 Geo. III. e. 10 ; with respect to Liverpool, in the scat. 11 Geo. III. c. 16; and with respect to Bristol, in the stet 18 Geo. III. c. 8.