Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- A Note on Citations
- 1. William Mountfort and His Time
- 2. Greenwich Park and Restoration Comedy
- 2.1 Restoration Comedy: Carolean to Revolution
- 2.2 Greenwich Park and “the Change” in Restoration Comedy
- 2.3 Greenwich Park as Topographical Comedy
- 3. Stage History
- 4. The Text
- Greenwich Park: A Comedy
- Works Cited
When a play is cited in the text, the year of performance followed by that of publication has been added within parentheses, unless both dates coincide. For the rest of the texts, the date given is that of publication. Titles of plays have been modernised, except when they appear as part of a quotation.
Quotations from plays are followed by reference to act, scene and line number/s within brackets (e.g., 2.4.26–29). When there is no line numbering, the page number has been given instead (e.g., 2.4, p. 41). In the case of multivolume works, these references are preceded by number of volume (e.g. 1: 2.4, p. 41). Prefaces, dedications, prologues and epilogues are cited only by page number.
When describing William Mountfort’s life —and death, in fact— it is difficult to distinguish between veracity and fictional fabrication. The truth is that little is known about him with absolute certainty, and so, a great deal of the information regarding the actor-playwright is either conjectural or contradictory.
Mountfort was born ca. 1664. The account of his life prefacing the 1720 edition of his plays states that his father was “Captain Mountfort, a gentleman of good family in Staffordshire” (iii), where Mountfort apparently would have spent his childhood. None of these facts, however, can be corroborated: Borgman traced several Mountforts and Mountfords living in the mid-17th century, but was unable to ascertain if any of them were related to the actor (11). Gifted for music and dance—“he well understood Musick, could sing very agreeably, and he Danc’d finely,” the Account explains (iv)— and “trapped” in “the solitary Amusements of a Rural Life” (iv), young Mountfort set out for London before age 14. There he would find an ideal arena for his abilities: the theatre.
It did not take long for him to become acquainted with the stage world. Soon after his arrival in the capital he became a member of the Duke’s Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre. The four lines allotted to “Young Mumford” in The Counterfeits (a comedy attributed to John Leanerd) in May 1678 were his early theatrical debut.1 Two years later, he would play the role of Jack the Barber’s boy in The Revenge; or a Match in Newgate (1680), a short but significant part as he shared a scene with two acclaimed comedians: Thomas Jevon and Anthony Leigh, with whom Mountfort would keep acting from then on. The merging of the King’s and the Duke’s companies in 1682 would bring new minor roles to Mountfort in the succeeding years, both in new plays, like Alphonso Corso in Dryden and Lee’s The Duke of Guise (1682) or Mr. Hartwell in Ravenscroft’s Dame Dobson (1683), and in revivals, such as Metellus Cimber in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1683?), Master Tallboy and the Lawyer in Brome’s A Jovial Crew (←15 | 16→1683), or Mr. Nonsense in Brome’s Northern Lass (1684).2 Soon his first important part would arrive: the title character in John Crowne’s Sir Courtly Nice. From its opening, on 9 May, it was a complete success, and Mountfort’s performance a resounding triumph which would be crucial to forge his future reputation on the stage. Crowne’s remarkable characterisation of Sir Courtly Nice allowed Mountfort to exhibit all his talents, for which he was amply admired: “Sir Courtly was so nicely Perform’d, that not any succeeding, but Mr. Cyber has Equall’d him,” said John Downes in his Roscius Anglicanus (85). Cibber himself would not spare his appraisal: “In that of Sir Courtly Nice his Excellence was still greater: There his whole Man, Voice, Mien, and Gesture was no longer Monfort, but another Person” (1968: 76).
Due to his increasing popularity and his undeniable comic gift, Mountfort’s company “was desir’d by Persons of the best Figure and Fashion, whom he was sure to Entertain, at the same time he Improv’d from them” (Some Acount v). Among them was Lord Chancellor Jeffreys, who particularly enjoyed the actor’s imitations of the most prominent lawyers of his time. The lack of references to Mountfort in the dramatic records during the year 1686 suggests that he may have withdrawn from the stage and lived in Jeffreys’ household for some time.3←16 | 17→
In the summer of that same year, William Mountfort, who was twenty two years old, and Susanna Percival, nineteen years old, were married in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields, London.4 Mrs. Mountfort was actually the daughter of a minor actor who had joined the Duke’s Company in 1673, and she had been playing secondary roles for both the King’s and the United companies before her matrimony.5 Some months later, the newly married actors would become passionate lovers onstage, creating one of the most acclaimed and expected romantic couples for the audience in the following years.6
Although not many new tragedies had been written since the creation of the United Company, Mountfort decided to try his hand at the genre and start his career as a playwright with The Injured Lovers: or, The Ambitious Father (February 1688).7 The piece was a risky step at the time and certainly it was not well received, partly because of the playwright’s understandable novice style, and partly due to the play’s plot and tone: a mixture of pathos and horror in which nearly all of the main characters are brutally killed, either being stabbed or poisoned or committing suicide. In the following years Mountfort would not only write three more plays and revise or collaborate in the composition of several more, but he also would perform crucial roles in a number of plays which punctuated the stylistic evolution of Restoration comedy. He therefore contributed to that evolution from his double role as actor and playwright till his death in 1692.8←17 | 18→
Although published in March 1697, Mountfort’s second play was The Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, Made into a Farce, possibly produced in Spring 1688 (Hume 1976: 374).9 Mountfort completely removes the tragic tone of the original play and replaces it with farcical materials and physical action mainly through the introduction of two recurrent characters within the commedia dell’ arte tradition: Scaramouche and Harlequin.10 Besides, he added music and dance. The result is an excessive combination of magic, machinery and pantomime which culminates the mid-1680s farce boom (Hume 1976: 375). The play was well received by the audience, and it would be revived twice, in 1697 and 1724.
Later that year, Mountfort would appear in Durfey’s A Fool’s Preferment, or The Three Dukes of Dunstable, playing Lyonel, a supporting role through which he proved his vocal skills singing pieces by Purcell. In Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia (also produced 1688), Mountfort seized the opportunity to exhibit himself onstage. His masterly creation of Belfond Junior obviously contributed to the extraordinary success of the comedy: it became one the most applauded plays in years, running for thirteenth nights in a row. Mountfort’s triumph in this part consolidated his position in the roster of the United Company, especially in the character-type of the rake, which earned him great acclaim.11 Belfond Junior, the witty man of honour, initiated the tradition of rakes reformed through marriage to a beautiful and pure lady, in this case Isabella, fittingly played by Mrs. Mountfort.←18 | 19→
For almost a year, between May 1688 and spring of 1689, theatrical production stopped due to the religious-political upheaval unleashed in London. King James ordered that a declaration of indulgence must be read in every church on two consecutive Sundays, which provoked the objection of seven bishops; their arrest and trial inevitably inflamed the people. In the summer of 1688, the birth of an heir to King James exacerbated the fears of a perpetuation of Catholicism on the English throne and was the last pretext that his opponents needed to hasten the end of the Stuart monarch’s reign. These events led to William of Orange’s landing at Torbay on November 5 and the deposition of James. William and his wife Mary, King James’s daughter, were crowned on 11 April 1689 at Westminster as the new monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2021 (April)
- Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 252 pp., 2 fig. b/w.