Theatre Royal Haymarket

1729 – Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding : the dawn of censorship

Hot on the heels of Hurlothrumbo’s success in 1729, a young Henry Fielding, fresh-faced at the age of 23 arrived from Oxford, hugely ambitious and brimming with ideas. Fielding headed straight for the Little Theatre in the Hay, providing a string of triumphant plays beginning with a burlesque, ‘Tom Thumb’, his first major success that packed the House night after night.

Among his plays was ‘The Historical Register’, written in 1734, which contained a character by the name of ‘Quidam’, a villainous, bribing politician, instantly recognizable to the audience as their Prime Minister, Robert Warpole. The crowds fell in love with this thinly veiled disguise, packing the theatre to the rafters, but Prime Minister Warpole was enraged. In retaliation, Warpole introduced an Act that was to change the face of theatre for nearly three hundred years. In 1737, came the Licensing Act, granting the Lord Chamberlain unprecedented and sweeping powers of censorship.

The Little Theatre in the Hay was closed down, effectively, for the next eight years and the Censorship Bill, with all its powers, was not abolished until 1968.

Did you know? The Theatre Royal Haymarket Archive documents the fascinating history of the theatre. To find out more, click here

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