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As I mentioned in last Tuesday’s post, I’m currently in a production of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT. Which, of course, makes this the perfect time for me to go over John Philip Kemble’s version of the play — which was the version used at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden during the Regency, and was also published and sold (for eighteen pence a copy).

So, what changes did the great actor/manager/director (pictured here) make to Shakespeare’s text?

I was delighted to find that the answer is, very few!

Let’s start with what Kemble left in. The following are words and phrases that Kemble clearly thought acceptable for general audiences to hear and read: damn’d, damnation, bastard, foul, slut, puking, belly, stomach, body, bawdry, udders, country copulatives, virgin, maid

The most vulgar speech that I could find that he left in was said by Touchstone the Fool, who is pretending to scold a shepherd for the immorality of his profession:

That is another simple sin in you: to bring the ewes and the rams together, and to offer to get your living by the copulation of cattle: to be bawd to a bell-wether; and to betray a she-lamb of a twelvemonth, to a crooked-pated, old, cuckoldy ram, out of all reasonable match. If thou be’st not damn’d for this, the devil himself will have no shepherds…

Some of the cuts (most of them quite short — a line here or there) were, as far as I can tell, just for length, or occasionally to cut an obscure passage. Some, though, were probably for the indelicacy of the topic, or the vulgarity of the phrasing — but even this seems not to be invariable. Touchstone talks a fair amount about horns (a constant joke in Shakespeare’s plays, where all men seem to eternally fear being cuckolded), but a couple lines of Rosalind’s joking about horns was cut. Perhaps in this case, the jokes themselves were not too warm, but the character of Rosalind was now thought to be too refined to make such jokes?

And yet Rosalind did keep some of her suggestive lines. Kemble left in the passage which reads:

ROSALIND: … till you met your wife’s wit going to your neighbor’s bed.
ORLANDO: And what wit could wit have to excuse that?
ROSALIND: Marry, to say,–she came to seek you there.

On the other hand, Kemble cut the passage:

ROSALIND: I prithee take the cork out of thy mouth, that I may drink thy tidings.
CELIA: So you may put a man in your belly?

Other passages that were presumably cut for indelicacy include:

CELIA: You will cry in time, in despite of a fall. (This is a double joke, referring to both sex and childbirth)

TOUCHSTONE: He that sweetest rose will find, must find love’s prick and Rosalind.

Also cut was a longish passage in which Touchstone and the shepherd compare a shepherd’s greasy hands (due to handling ewes’ “fells”) and a courtier’s hands, perfumed with civet (“the very uncleanly flux of a cat.”)

Kemble invariably cut “God” (e.g. “I thank God” and “God save you”) and changed it to “heaven” (so: “I thank heaven” and “Heaven save you”) — so I presume this was consistently done on the Regency stage.

Well, that’s AS YOU LIKE IT as Kemble liked it! Hope you liked it too…

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — out now from Signet Regency!

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged , | 4 Replies

My only real hobby — besides reading books, buying books, going to libraries, buying more books, wishing I had time to read them, trying to find room to store all my books (all of which is not a hobby, after all, but an obsession, or, if I stretch things a bit, a part of my career and therefore all of it quite necessary) — sorry, where was I? Oh yes . . .

As I was saying (or trying to say, before my book habit got in the way, as it always does) — as I was saying, my only real hobby is acting. I particularly love Shakespeare. At the moment, my husband and I are in a production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It at Caltech. I’m playing Celia, the Duke’s daughter who runs away to the Forest of Arden, and Todd plays Oliver, a villain who reforms and (coincidentally) falls in love with Celia.

Now that I have my lines memorized (and there are a lot of them — Celia is quite a nice role) — I can read John Philip Kemble’s version of the play and tell immediately which lines he cut, and which words he changed. Quite fun!

Kemble was in charge of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden before and during the Regency, and he was one of its top actors too. He was most respected as an actor when playing tragic roles, particularly noble Romans, but he also appeared in comedies. When he was young, he sometimes played Orlando — and when he got a bit older, he often played the melancholy Jaques (who has the famous speech “All the world’s a stage . . .”)

Mrs. Jordan, nowadays better known as the long-time mistress of the Duke of Clarence (one of King George III’s sons, who later became King William IV) and the mother of many of his children, was the most popular comedic actress of the time. She frequently played Rosalind, but by the Regency proper was too old — and too large — to play a young lady who disguised herself as a boy.

Then again, if you look at the engraving here by Bunbury, you will see that even when she was young, the lovely Mrs. Jordan did not possess what we would call a “boyish figure.” Indeed, one can tell from the way the artist drew her that seeing her curvaceous figure in men’s revealing clothing was something that the men found quite pleasing…and so few of the men would have likely complained that the delicious Rosalind would never have passed for a boy with that shape…

Next week, I’ll talk about Kemble’s version of the play — and which lines were too naughty (and which weren’t) for Regency audiences . . .

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — out now from Signet Regency!!!

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged , | 7 Replies

I’m creeping into Cara territory here with a theater-related post–about the world of pantomime, a peculiarly English form of theatrical entertainment that is still popular today. It’s an incongruous mix of medieval mystery play, Commedia dell’arte, vaudeville, and musical comedy. The Principal Boy (male lead) is played by a woman wiht great legs. There’s a stock female character called The Dame who is played by a man (the Monty Python crew were not the only ones to cross-dress at the drop of a knicker). Audience participation is encouraged. In its current manifestation the pantomime features stars from TV soaps and is full of political jokes and double entendres.

Commedia dell’arte, a comedic form with stock characters, tumbling, acrobatics and buffoonery came from Italy to England in the seventeenth century. The most popular characters–Harlequin (a wily servant), Columbine (female lead) and Pantalone (comic old man–sorry, this was never very PC)–infiltrated the theater, and an entertainment was developed in three parts: A serious or classical work, followed by a lighter popular tale (Cinderella or Aladdin, for instance, still popular today as panto subjects), and concluded with the Harlequinade. The Harlequinade featured acrobatics and slapstick and was introduced by an elaborate transformation scene using all the latest hi-tech devices of the theater. Imagine that you’ve gone to the theater to see “King Lear.” After the tragedy, the same actors perform a musical version of “Cinderella.” After a lot of light effects, music, moving scenery, fountains, women in tights flying etc., the actor who played Lear does some funny stuff with a dog and a string of sausages, as a minor player in the spills, chills and thrills chase scenario of Harlequin and Columbine. Ah, a full night of the theater in eighteenth-century London–all human life is there. There’s no wait at the bar because you brought your own, and no wait for the bathrooms because there are none.

Joseph Grimaldi was England’s most famous clown and so popular that the character of the Clown became the lead in the Harlequinade. At one time he played the Clown at both Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells, dashing from one theater to another. He was a skilled dancer, mime, acrobat, actor and sleight of hand magician. The Harlequinade died out, possibly coinciding with the death of Grimaldi, its greatest clown, but the second part of the original three-part entertainment adopted some of its characteristics (the slapstick and tumbling) to evolve into the pantomime, played at Christmas and Easter. In Victorian times the Drury Lane Theater was the leading presenter of elaborate pantomime performances, and stars of the music hall made guest appearances.

For great pics and musical examples (including Grimaldi’s signature song, “Hot Codlins” with audience participation) go to

Here’s the complete text of “A History of Pantomime” by R.J. Broadbent (1901)

Meanwhile, so you can savor this sophisticated form of comedy, here’s an excerpt from a modern version of Aladdin. Widow Twanky (the Dame) is doing laundry with her sons Wishee and Washee:

DAME: Here, did I tell you I nearly won the football pools last week.

WASHEE: Did you really mum?

DAME: Yes I did. My homes were all right. My aways were all right. ( Pulls tatty pair of bloomers from the tub). But my draws let me down.

WISHEE: ( Looking in the tub) I see you’ve got the laundry for ******* United again ( pulls out strip – holds it out for everyone to see, with big holes in it). Hey, what are these holes in it?

DAME: Well, everyone says they’ve got holes in their defence. That proves it.

WASHEE: ( Pulling out another huge pair of bloomers) And whose are these?

DAME: I could do with some of these. ( Singing to tune of My Fair Lady) “All I want is some knickers like these, to keep me warm from my neck to me knees, oh wouldn’t it be lovely.” Did you know I once had some knickers made out of a Union Jack.

WISHEE: Weren’t they uncomfortable?

DAME: Not once I’d taken the flagpole out.

happy xmas!

I find Shakespeare fascinating. Shakespeare has been hugely popular on British stages almost non-stop since his own time, and the Regency was a high point for Shakespeare in many ways. Of course, the Regency Shakespeare wasn’t exactly like our Shakespeare….and certainly it wasn’t Shakespeare’s Shakespeare…

Here we have two pictures of the reconstructed Theatre Royal, Covent Garden — where John Philip Kemble produced and starred in many of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Kemble’s sister, Sarah Siddons, was one of the theatre’s biggest draws, and had a following so passionate it was almost religious. (After the theatre pictures, we have two pictures of Kemble, one of Siddons, and one of Kean.)

What fascinates me most are the differences in the Shakespeare plays in the different periods. When I researched my workshop “The Regency Joy of Sex (Drugs & Gaming Hells)” for this year’s Romance Writers of America national conference, I was most intrigued by the changes made to Shakespeare’s text in the period — and the changes that weren’t made. In other words, what parts of Shakespeare they found taboo (or, in Regency parlance, “indelicate”), and which were acceptable for a theatre audience comprising men, women, and children drawn from all classes.

So what was acceptable? When John Philip Kemble edited Shakespeare’s text, here are some words he left in: virgin, adultery, fornicatress, naked, damned incest, bosom, virgin-violator, bastard, deflowered maid. (However, in one passage, “virginity” was changed — implying the word “virginity” was more shocking than “virgin”, which at the time didn’t necessarily have the purely sexual meaning we attach to it.)

So what was taken out? The most common change I found was the invariable changing of the word “body” to the word “person.” It seems the Regency folk didn’t really mind sex, or talk about sex, but some words they found too gross, too vulgar, too indelicate — and “body” was one of them. (Versions of the Bible in this period also took out the word “body” and similar words.)

In one passage, “virginity” becomes “honour.” The word “lechery” becomes “wenching.” One passage from “Measure for Measure” was cut and rearranged thus:

SHAKESPEARE’S ORIGINAL: Why, what a ruthless thing is this in him, for the rebellion of a codpiece to take away the life of a man!
J. P. KEMBLE’S VERSION: Why, what a ruthless thing is this in him, to take away the life of a man for–

Ah, yes, the telling “trailing off” trick. (Too true!)

Is anyone else fascinated by Regency Shakespeare? Any questions? Comments? Favorite plays? Plays you wish you could see the Regency versions of? Or any comments on the topic of bowdlerism in general? (Though the term did not yet exist, and Bowdler was only getting started in our period…)

Cara King, MY LADY GAMESTER — out now!!!
for more info on Regency theatre, see
for more info on Regency private life, see

Hurrah! I finally got my hands on John Philip Kemble’s version of Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE.

For those of you who don’t know — during the Regency (and for a while before), Kemble was an actor and manager at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and later Theatre Royal Covent Garden. He valued Shakespeare highly. Under his wise yet despotic rule, London theatre saw (for the first time in a long time) Shakespeare plays that the bard himself might actually have recognized.

By contrast, the Great Garrick (the theatre despot in the early to mid 18th century), although respected for also being a restorer of Shakespeare to high repute, nonetheless produced things like “Florizel and Perdita” and “Catherine and Petruchio” — hour-long things that were part Shakespeare, part bizarre rewriting. Even better: in Garrick’s King Lear, Lear and Cordelia live, and Cordelia marries Edgar.

Kemble, though, did his best to be true to Shakespeare.

The illustration here, by the way, is Sarah Siddons playing Hermione in THE WINTER’S TALE.

My favorite part of reading Kemble’s versions of Shakespeare is seeing just how prudish (or not prudish) the Regency stage was. My conclusions in the past have been that, though Regency theatregoers clearly tolerated less vulgarity than their Elizabethan ancestors, Kemble’s scripts are far closer to Shakespeare’s than to Bowdler’s.

Or, to be more precise, sex and violence are welcomed on Kemble’s stage, but indelicate expressions rather less so. (For example, the characters still talk about virginity, but don’t use such a crude word for it, instead terming it purity or honour or the like.)

(To read my earlier posts on the subject, click Regency Shakespeare or Regency AS YOU LIKE IT.)

So much for my past impressions of Kemble’s changes. Now, today’s project: let’s find some bits in THE WINTER’S TALE which Kemble changed!

This is a picture of Drury Lane Theatre in 1804.

What follows is the original passage of Shakespeare’s in which King Leontes rants (half-madly) about his conviction that his wife has slept with his best friend, and is pregnant with the friend’s child. I have put in purple the portions that Kemble cut out:

There have been,
Or I am much deceiv’d, cuckolds ere now;
And many a man there is (even at this present,
Now, while I speak this) holds his wife by th’ arm,
That little thinks she has been sluiced in ‘s absence
And his pond fish’d by his next neighbour, by
Sir Smile, his neighbour; nay, there’s comfort in’t,
Whiles other men have gates, and those gates open’d,
As mine, against their will. Should all despair
That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind
Would hang themselves. Physic for’t there’s none;
It is a bawdy planet, that will strike
Where ’tis predominant; and ’tis powerful, think it,
From east, west, north, and south; be it concluded,
No barricado for a belly. Know ‘t,
It will let in and out the enemy,
With bag and baggage: many thousand on ‘s
Have the disease, and feel ‘t not.

When the first cut above appears, Kemble has Leontes trail off (indicated by a long dash), and a hand-written stage direction reveals that another character approaches Leontes at this point (the implication perhaps being that Leontes would have finished the thought, had he not feared being overheard.)

So, that’s one example of things Kemble cut out. What are some passages, risque though they might be, that Kemble let alone? Here are a few:

You may ride us,
With one soft kiss, a thousand furlongs, ere
With spur we heat an acre.

How she holds up the neb, the bill to him!
And arms her with the boldness of a wife
To her allowing husband!

Go, play, boy, play;–thy mother plays, and I
Play too; but so disgrac’d a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave;

My wife ‘s a hobby-horse; deserves a name
As rank as any flax-wench, that puts to
Before her troth-plight:

There you have it! Kemble’s alterations of Shakespeare — one of my little obsessions.

However, I have no idea if any of you are at all interested in this subject. I could happily do more posts detailing which bits of Shakespeare Kemble left in, and which he cut out — but I’ll only do so if I know it’s of interest to someone! So if you’re interested, do let me know in a comment.

And remember: our next Jane Austen bookclub meets the first Tuesday in September, to discuss the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson version of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY!

who thinks those flax-wenches got a bad rap

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