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The Licensing Act and Adaptations

The Festival of the Golden Rump

Proponents of the Licensing Act used a play called The Golden Rump (author unknown) to argue in favor of censorship.  The unpublished play harshly mocked King George II and the "prime minister" Sir Robert Walpole.  (Image: Wikipedia)

In 1737, the British Parliament passed the Licensing Act as a reaction to the influx of scandalous political satires criticizing the government.  The Act prohibited the staging of theatrical performances for profit without the prior approval of the Lord Chamberlain, who, based upon his own discretion, could deny plays due to immorality or libel (Nicholson 65).  This censorship system created a period during which few new plays were produced.  Audiences mistrusted the select new plays that were passed, suspicious of their contents.  As a result, playhouses began adapting existing works in order to retain audience interest, as well as restaging older works, establishing a national theatre repertoire.

The Stockton Axson Digital Archive contains a gap of material between 1737 and 1750, reflecting this lack of new content.  Many of the collection's plays performed after 1750 were revivals or alterations of existing plays, including The Rover, Falstaff's Wedding, and The Country Girl.