After the English Restoration of Charles II in 1660 theatres required a Royal Patent or Royal Charter to perform spoken drama. A Licensing Act of 1737 tightened censorship of drama, placing it under the control of the Lord Chamberlain.
Other theatres were prohibited from performing such serious drama, but were permitted to show comedy, pantomime or melodrama. As a result drama was often interspersed with singing or dancing, to prevent the whole performance being too serious or dramatic.
In London, the original so-called patent theatres were the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and John Rich’s Lincoln’s Inn Theatre. The latter moved to the Theatre Royal Covent Garden in 1720 (now the Royal Opera House). The two patent theatres closed in the summer months. To fill the gap, Samuel Foote’s Theatre Royal Haymarket became a third patent theatre in London in 1766.
A series of royal patents were granted to cities outside London. These became known as ‘Theatres Royal’. These included the Theatre Royal Bath (1768), the Theatre Royal Liverpool (1772), Theatre Royal Manchester (1775). and the Theatre Royal Bristol (1778).
In the 1830’s growing opposition appeared against the monopoly that patent theatres held. It was mainly led by protests from playwrights who were unable to show their new work. They appealed to the historian and Member of Parliament, Lord Mahon, who was responsible for a petition going through the legislative stages within Parliament. It was successful and in 1843, the Theatres Act removed the patent monopoly and allowed other theatres to present drama, although censorship was still controlled by the Lord Chamberlain. This encouraged the building of new theatres, some invariably by speculators seeking profit.
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