The Rivals

The Rivals 18th Century British Theater

At the beginning of the 1700s, there were only two theaters that could produce drama in London: the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane, and one at Lincoln's Inn. These were known as 'patent theaters' designated by royal patents that dated back to the Restoration. Drury Lane Theatre was built in 1663 and then rebuilt in 1674 after burning down. Lincoln's Inn Fields was founded by John Rich, who wanted to compete with Drury Lane. Lincoln's Inn produced John Gay's The Beggar's Opera in 1728 to great acclaim, putting it on the map as an English theatre.

After the success of The Beggar's Opera, Rich's theater moved to Covent Garden in 1732, in the theater that is now the Royal Opera House. As a result of the success of these two theaters, a number of other patent theaters began cropping up, and some regional theaters in Bath, Truro, Bristol, Richmond, and Stockton-on-Tees. During this period, various legislators tried to limit the growth of theater, adopting Elizabethan language about its moral reprehensibility and enforcing censorship laws.

In the 1700s, theaters became larger, the stage was lit by footlights and sidelights, and the audiences were boisterous and involved in the onstage drama. Actors became more popular, which led to the birth of the stage "star." All in all, the 18th century in Britain was seen as a time of great expansion and abundance in the theater. In an article on the website for the Victoria and Albert Museum, it states, "The 18th century saw the flourishing of theatre as a popular pastime and many theatres were enlarged and new playhouses built in London and the provinces."