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The Historical Register of the Year 1736

after Henry Fielding

About the Play

Henry Fielding is less well known as a playwright, and even less so as being an Irishman. He is, in fact, quite definitely English (it is possible, though, that he did visit Ireland at some time or other). What we can be certain of is that he did write a considerable number of dramatic works. In satirizing contemporary poiticians, "good" society and the more influential figures of the London theatre of the time, The Historical Register . . . is responsible, in more than one way, for his having been censored from the stage.

The play gives a critical survey of English manners and morals, it exposes the corruptness of political life and the false values of the beau monde. It also satirizes some influential figures of the London theatre of its time.

In form, the play is a series of unrelated episodes, given a coherence by a rehearsal framework: An author, Medley, presents his play to the "critic", Sourwit and our Lady Dapper, two characteristic figures of London high society. Medley, who can be regarded as Fieldings spokesman, explains: "... my design is to ridicule the vicious and foolish customs of the age, and that in a fair manner, without fear, favour or ill nature, and without scurrility, ill manners, or commonplace. I hope to expose the reigning follies in such a manner that men shall laugh themselves out of them before they feel that they are touched."

The original text involves "a humming deal of satire" and farce, referring exclusively to the year 1736. The crew of this slightly adaptated version dismiss any similarities between this play and recent events or persons now living as purely coincidental - of course. But then again . . .

About the Author

Henry Fielding (1707-54), born in Somerset, was educated at Eton. He studied at the University of Leyden, then settled in London. Even though he is less known for his theatrical works, he was one of the dominant dramatists of his age. Between 1729 and 1736 he wrote more than 20 plays, largely in the form of farce and satire. In 1736, Fielding took over the management of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket and formed a company of actors. In April 1737, The Historical Register For The Year 1736, a denunciation of contemporary society and politics, was presented for the first time.

It was owing to such satires and to unruly writers like Fielding himself that Prime Minister Walpole's government in 1737 introduced a Licensing Act for the theatre. This censorship has been blamed for the decline of drama in the 18th century. It also brought Fielding's career in the theatre to an end.