Censorship in Charleston 1787

In Shakespeare’s time, travelling players were considered akin to rogues and vagabonds so needed the protection and patronage of a noble to survive. In 1727 England passed the Chamberlain’s Act requiring theatres to be licensed to perform plays, to prevent the vicious satires against prime minister Robert Walpole. Life for travelling players was also hard in the colonies, as the following comes from Gerald Kahan’s George Alexander Stevens & The Lecture on Heads:

On March 28 the South Carolina Legislature enacted a Vagrancy Law which classified actors with beggars, and fortune tellers.. Godwin, as did so many other performers, turned to various subterfuges for his livelihood. Early in My he started a series of patriotic lectures based on thirteen famous Americans embellished with portraits in the form of transparent paintings. Late in June he was again doing the Stevens lecture. “For the Benefit of Mr Godwin in Harmony Hall Tuesday Evening, June 19 Will be exhibited a Moral, Serious, Comic, and Satirical Lecture on Heads In Three Parts To Conclude with a Splendid Set of Thirteen Portraits.

But authorities were not always so easily evaded, as this from Philadelphia July 1782:

On July 1, 1782 John Henry applied to the City Council for permission to perform stating: ‘I find our Theatre here entirely out of repair, and a debt for Ground rent and taxes incurred to the amount of 174 pounds. I learn also that it has been used for some time by permission for the exhibition of a Wire Dancer, on this account I presume to address your Excellency [President Moore] for permission, for one Night only, to deliver a Lecture on Heads, for the purpose of paying the above debt, incurred since our Banishment.’

On July 2, 1782 the council ‘ordered, that said request be not granted’ because this lecture on heads… was merely one of the various subterfuges so often employed to circumvent the laws against the theatre.

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