As I’m sure you know, I am a sucker for old books. I have in my hands a special treat, PLAYS OF SHERIDAN from the Library of English Classics. It is a single volume of the Plays of Richard Brinsley Sheridan published in 1920 by MacMillan and Co. Ltd. in London 1920. There is, of course, the obligatory biographical note, and then the richness… The Rivals, The Critic, my personal favorite The School for Scandal… There is of course more, but the secret pleasure is the volume itself. The dense paper, the half leather, half fabric binding, the hint of gilt. The spine has the gilding, the cartouches, the ribs – altogether, a luxurious volume that is as much a pleasure to hold as to see, never mind the treasures within. I have not taken a picture as yet. Somehow, I don’t think I can do it justice…
Today, when we think of home entertainment, we usually watch something on television, maybe pop in a DVD or listen to music. Some people play video games; others may still do the old-fashioned thing and play games-board games, cards, etc. Today I received in the mail a reminder of an earlier way to have fun: home theatricals.
This is my grandmother’s copy of a 2-act play, designed for home performance. Published by T. S. Denison & Company of Chicago, the fly leaf contained a partial list of available plays (a large catalogue was available for free). Ranging from two to four acts, the list includes the number of male and female parts, and an approximate length. The Winning Widow was expected to take about two hours to perform. The booklet includes the story of the play, a synopsis for one’s program, costume information, and a list of props-the costumes and props were things likely to be found at home. There is even a scene plot for the stage.
Home theatrics have a long history. Jane Austen wrote and performed in plays at home with her family. An important element to the plot of MANSFIELD PARK is the activity surrounding an intended performance of Lovers’ Vows proposed by Tom Bertram. It’s very interesting to see a connection to that tradition in my own family!