Tonight's performance is the life and career of:
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J. R. Planché
was the author of 176 plays, operatic libretti, and other theatrical
entertainments (including numerous translations of foreign works). Among
his efforts were twenty-three melodramas, several comedies and
farces, nine musical revues, twenty-three
fairy-tale extravaganzas, and nine burlesques of classical mythology. He also produced
book-length scholarly studies of historical and literary material, including a
volume on William the Conqueror (The Conqueror and His Companions) and a
small review of English queens for
His memoirs, Recollections and Reflections: A Professional Autobiography, provides abundant information about his colleagues, such as Eliza Vestris, C.J. Mathews, J.P. Harley, Charles Dance, Priscilla Horton (later Mrs. Thomas German Reed), James Bland, and Frederick Robson. It also offers glimpses of many other notables of the time, including Carl-Maria von Weber, with whom he collaborated on Oberon; Eugène Scribe, many of whose works he translated with considerable respect for the original text; W.C. Macready, with whom he had an artistically profitable but personally difficult relationship; and even P.T. Barnum, who became concerned at the way his performer, General Tom Thumb (Charles P. Stratton), was impersonated in a Planché revue.
During the final two years of his life, a group
of admirers and friends helped him gather his extravaganzas, burlesques,
revues, and a few experimental pieces into a forty-one play, five-volume
collection, The Extravaganzas of J. R. Planché.
This collection (of which copies are available in several university libraries,
Planché's prose is highly readable. It is distinguished by his willingness to give credit to others (even those like Macready who disliked him) and by his tendency to chatty anecdotes which give a feel for many of the individuals involved. The published works offer abundant insights and are much easier to follow than Planché's letters, many of which are preserved, for instance, in the Harvard Theatre Collection. These latter items, though valuable, are characterized by unbelievably crabbed handwriting and spelling which was often more inventive than consistent. (I once worked for forty-five minutes to decipher a French phrase written as a joke to C.J. Mathews, but never quite got one of the words, so the joke remains a mystery to this day!)
Planché was born in
Planché married at the age of twenty-four. His wife, Elizabeth St George, was also twenty-four and a noteworthy playwright. She was skilled at sentimental and melodramatic scenes, he at playful dialog, and revisions of their plays, such as that of her melodrama The Sledge Driver, suggest they collaborated.
Besides Elizabeth, Charles Dance (1794-1863), a writer of light comedies and farces, also worked with Planché for several years. Together, they produced many extravaganzas and burlesques. Dance's main contribution appears to have been enlivening some of the humorous situations, as he seldom wrote the type of banter which quickly became Planché's trademark. Although Planché acknowledged Dance's contributions, the latter does not seem to have sought much credit for them. This suggests Dance guided the more inexperienced man, but possibly did relatively little of the composing of their joint works. Seemingly in support of this conclusion, Planché's work did not change noticeably when the partnership ended amicably at the time of Dance's marriage.
Planché alsocollaborated a great deal with his interpreters, often revising his works to suit the talents or tastes of particular performers. Letters at Harvard show him offering ideas tentatively to his primary associates, C. J. Mathews and Eliza Vestris, to solicit their reactions. His unhappy relationship with W. C. Macready was due in part to Macready's feeling that plays to which he contributed ideas and for which he paid should belong to him and not to the playwright (a common perception in the days before dramatic copyrights). (For this and other aspects of their relationship, see, for instance, J.C. Trewin, editor, The Journal of William Charles Macready, and Alan S. Downer, The Eminent Tragedian, William Charles Macready.)
The Planchés had two
daughters, Katherine Frances and Matilda Anne. At fifty, Elizabeth died
from what appears to have been a series of strokes. James never sought another
wife during his remaining thirty-four years. In the meanwhile, Katherine
married William Curteis Whelan, but both husband and
wife died young, leaving J.R. Planché with their
children to support. Matilda married the Rev. Henry S. Mackarness, who was eventually posted to the church in the
Unfortunately, poverty dogged Planché throughout much of his life, and one can see in his letters the degree to which he had to stretch even his ink--often watering it so the sepia pigment turned a soft pink--and his paper--writing on every square inch, rather than allowing blank areas to be folded over to protect privacy, as was the custom in the days before envelopes.
Both economic need and pride in authorship drove Planché to take part in founding the Dramatic Authors' Society and to support the establishment of a copyright for drama in the United Kingdom. On 10 July 1832, he gave evidence before the special committee of Parliament who drafted Act 3 William IV, c. 15, extending the copyright to plays. Even so, despite his popularity, Planché made little money; during most of his career, dramatists were paid flat fees rather than royalties. He achieved his first truly reliable income only in 1871, when, fifteen years after his retirement from the theater, he was granted a civil list stipend of one hundred pounds a year (supplementing his income from writing books and articles).
Among his friends was J. P. Harley, who promoted and acted in Planché's first farce, Amoroso; or, the King of Little Britain (Drury Lane, 1818). It was so bad Planché refused to include it in his collected extravaganzas in 1879. Planché also was close with both Eliza Vestris and her second husband, C.J. Mathews, themselves often hounded by debt (due to mismanagement and occasionally betrayal by partners). Their friendship lasted for decades, and the Mathewses remained Planché's primary associates throughout most of his career. After Vestris died of cancer, Mathews continued to act in Planché's pieces throughout the British Isles, North America, and Australia, until just days before his own death in 1878. During their intense collaboration, the Mathewses and Planchés traveled around Europe together, and many of the anecdotes in Recollections and Reflections concern the formers' practical jokes.
Planché continued in remarkable health until late in his eighty-third year, and finally died a few months after his eighty-fourth birthday in 1880. Friends who were present at his home in Chelsea reported that he awoke from a nap, asked to be helped into a favorite armchair, smiled gently, and closed his eyes. Several minutes later, they realized he had ceased breathing (description from the New York Times, 2 January 1881). Matilda followed him less than a year after, dying on 6 May 1881.
Planché, even more than many playwrights, was influenced by those he worked with. Some of the more prominent in shaping his work are listed here:
1. Elizabeth Lucia Vestris (1797-1854): Granddaughter of a renowned
immigrant artist, Giuseppe Bartolozzi, Vestris was one of Planché's
longest-standing colleagues. She was noted for burlesque
humor, operatic singing, lively dancing, and cross-dressed roles.
(Contrary to what some scholars assert, she was not the first woman to assume
such roles in London theater, although she was
probably the first matinee idol to make a career of doing so. See, for
465.) Although good at the understated acting popular in
Her singing was a particular draw for many
people. A gifted mezzo-soprano, Vestris could
project well and distinguished herself from others in her company, which
nonetheless contained many particularly fine singers. She was not
universally praised, and occasionally, as during the premier of Blue Beard,
had a little difficulty with demanding melodies, especially when she was
distracted by strong emotion. (In that instance, she had been touring the
Vestris was also a creative producer, and seems to have been the first in the English-speaking world to use the box set, for Dion Boucicault's London Assurance (Olympic, 1840), for which Planché was in charge of "scenic design." Vestris' disregard of social conventions gained her a reputation as a shameless libertine, and indeed she became the subject of many scurrilous stories during her life and after her death, but most of the reputation was little more than gossip. In reality, although not without her adventures, she was scarcely the brazen figure gossip suggested. For instance, she actually remained somewhat uncomfortable in breeches roles, and asked Planché to alter a scene in the comic melodrama The Court Beauties in which she was originally to appear in men's clothing. (See Court Beauties 6, 29; see also Appleton 40).
2. Charles J. Mathews (1803-1878): Son of a noted comedian, Charles Mathews, Sr., and second husband of Vestris, Mathews was Planché's lifelong friend and one of his most popular interpreters. He was noted primarily for his aura of amusement and puzzlement at the strange goings-on around his character, and for seeming to take the audience into his confidence when he made a joke, much as did Vestris. Tall and thin, he conveyed a sense of elegance which pleased women and inspired many young men of the 1830s and 1840s to imitate him, as Charles Dickens (the Younger) asserts in his notes to Mathews' autobiography.
Although not a trained singer, Mathews possessed a fine voice (evidently he was a tenor), and was praised for his singing even before taking to the stage. He also danced very nicely, if not with professional polish, and performed all his roles with a sparkle and grace that people (especially women) admired. His greatest talent, however, seems to have been for mimicry, and he reports in his autobiography that he would sometimes amuse himself and his friends by dressing as someone everyone at a party knew, and seeing how many people he could convince. He sometimes even tricked family members of the person being imitated, if he does not exaggerate in his autobiography.
Mathews acted in Planché's works, often as a prince or other adventurer in the fairy tale, up until the very end of his life. (For more information on the Mathewses, see especially William H. Appleton's Madame Vestris and the London Stage; Kathy Fletcher's "Planché, Vestris, and the Transvestite Role" in Nineteenth-Century Theatre Vol 15, no. 1, 63-70; The Life of Charles James Mathews, edited by Charles Dickens; Charles Pearce, Madame Vestris and Her Times; and Clifford John Williams, Madame Vestris: A Theatrical Biography.)
3. James Bland (d.
1861): Son of a noted Italian operatic singer, Maria-Theresa Romanzoni, and himself an excellent basso profundo, he was noted for comic pomp, and often played
tyrants or cranky old men, and on occasion such characters as the gouty ogre in
The Bee and
the Orange Tree, where the Times critic saw his comically
cannibalistic monster as a spoof of Malthusian economic policies. Bland
was nicknamed "The King of Burlesque" by
4. Priscilla Horton
(1818-1895): Later the wife of T. German Reed, Horton was a noted singer
and dancer. She was slight in build, fragile and flower-like in
appearance, but surprisingly athletic, which helped her in "fairy"
roles in which she had to leap about the stage or sing while hovering via a
levitation device. Her surprisingly powerful and clear contralto also
pleased audiences. She was even more universally praised for singing than
was Vestris, and their occasional duets seem to have evoked universal
admiration. Blond and blue eyed, she contrasted physically with Vestris, and several times played in the same pieces,
sometimes in the trousers role, which by the time Horton entered the
profession, had lost much of its risqué aura. Later in life, she and her
husband became famous for presenting finely acted and well-sung musical
5. John B. Buckstone (1802-1879): An old friend and colleague of Planché's, Buckstone later became the manager of the Haymarket Theatre, which he is rumored to haunt still. (If he truly does, he must be one of the more amiable ghosts one might encounter!) Buckstone did little by way of interpreting character, but always appeared as himself, essentially a lovable clown. Flabby and soft, with sleepy eyes and a mischievous smile, his expression itself was said to be enough to send his audience into convulsions of laughter when he was about to make a joke. Like Vestris, he had a way of smiling at the audience which seemed to let them in on the joke as if it were a private matter, but unlike her, Buckstone was relatively weak as an actor--his strong points were his comic delivery, his ability to endear himself with the public, and his good sense as a director. Planché wrote two revues for him which capitalized on his talents, for in them he played himself, trading wisecracks with a collection of eccentrics around him. Similarly, he appeared in a number of comedies and farces, in which he did not literally portray himself, but in which he always acted the same wisecracking clown.
6.Frederick Robson (1822-1864): A talented actor in burlesque and comedy, Robson was said, at times, to border on the passion associated with tragic acting. A man of great emotional range, Robson was shy and almost self-effacing offstage. He acted in the final four Planché extravaganzas, achieving notoriety in two of them. He was also a personal favorite of Queen Victoria, who referred to him as "the Great Robson." His career was far less entwined with Planché's than were those of most of the others mentioned here, and yet Robson achieved his single greatest acclaim as the Yellow Dwarf and as Richcraft in The Discreet Princess. His collaboration with Planché lasted only three years and a few months, and yet, in many ways, he seems to have been the performer whose abilities most closely resembled what Planché had always hoped for. Of all Planché's interpreters, Robson was the one most able to bring to evoke on stage the complex mixture of passion, satire, and humor the playwright felt to be the essence of fairy tales. Planché judges in notes to his Extravaganzas that Robson proved there was but "one step from the ridiculous to the sublime. For information on Robson's career, see Sands.
7. William Farren ( -1861): The son of
a popular tragedian, well-established in comedy and
by the time Planché's career was underway. He
was a noteworthy theatrical manager as well as an actor, but in the latter
function helped shape many of Planché's dramas,
particularly excelling in foolish characters modeled on the fops and coxcombs
of Restoration comedy. However, he also was noted for his portrayals of
dignified and reserved authority figures, such as the
title character in Charles XII; or, the Siege of
On the other hand, as the title character in Ali Pacha, he was almost universally condemned for blustering and ranting. (Along with other failures, the evidence suggests the portrayal of primarily dark emotions was not his strong point.) By contrast, in The Brigand, he played a villain, but one allowed a great deal of comic business (Pollock). Here, the Age lauded him for his “great skill,” especially in the scenes requiring pathos rather than humor (22 Nov. 1828, 374). In this way, his acting was much like Planché’s playwriting, where dark emotions by themselves never seem convincing, but in which the contrast of serious and playful intent produces considerable poignancy. His acting declined after 1843, when he suffered a stroke on October 23 following a performance. He eventually recovered from the gross motor paralysis, but seems to have been left with difficulty speaking and with partial facial paralysis (see Joseph Knight's article in the DBN). He was still so beloved by audiences that he continued, anyway. He retired from the stage only in 1855. His son, William Farren, Jr., acted in the two Buckstone revues and also in Orpheus in the Haymarket.
8.John Pritt Harley (1786-1858): According to Planché, Harley was nicknamed "Little Knight," although, if so, he shared the name with another comic actor, J.P. Knight. Regardless, Harley was a popular comic actor who helped establish Planché as a young playwright. Harley had seen enough potential in Amoroso, King of Little Britain, a bad imitation of Bombastes Furioso, to urge the staging of the play at Covent Garden in 1818. He acted the title character, a lecherous king who is stabbed to death but then gets up at the end of the play to sing a comic song, along with the queen and two other characters, all of whom have been stabbed or shot. He always jokingly called himself Planché's "dramatic father" as a result of his early support. Of a quiet and gentle disposition, he excelled in comic "low" characters, especially as wisecracking clerks and servants. Planché, ever mindful of the assistance Harley gave him, describes the actor as a modest genius whose professionalism and talent saved many a bad play from failure, including his own painfully weak early attempts.
9. Elizabeth St. George (1796-1850)--Both Planché's distant cousin and his wife, she was also a notable writer. She particularly excelled in intriguing melodrama and tender emotional scenes, almost the opposite of her husband. Comparing her manuscripts submitted to the Licenser of Plays to the published acting editions suggests that she and her husband collaborated during the rehearsals and "getting up" of the pieces and advised one another. She was also a good prose writer. She seems to have lived a somewhat quieter life than did James; her health was frail for the last several years of her life, and she simply was not able to socialize as much. All indications are, however, that she and her husband were passionately devoted, and Planché's discussion of her passing away in his Recollections is deeply touching, even though the event was more than a quarter-century in the past by the time he wrote of it. Like her husband (only more so), Elizabeth deserves more recognition than she usually receives; indeed, some of her plays are almost routinely ascribed to her husband in library catelogues.
Some links may still be missing, but for now, you can go ape by clicking below:
Information regarding the Adelphi Theatre of London from its founding in 1806 to 1900. Edited by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross. Part of the London Stage Project, Joseph Donohue, General Editor. (Where I began--which Dr. Cross will usually admit, if pressed.)
This is an ambitious project to provide a calendar of performances, as well as other forms of data, for all the theaters of London from 1800 to 1900. Its General Editor is Joseph Donohue, who's a very nice man and a fine scholar.
10,000 Volkslieder, Folksongs from Around the World (Also known as The Lieder Leader.)
This is an exceedingly interesting site providing MIDI versions of many tunes, including the majority of the popular music Planché utilized in his plays.
This is a charming site which provides my counter and other web supports. After trying several free sites, I recommend it highly. (The little knights are worth a visit, by themselves!)
Punch (not quite a link, since I didn't write for permission)
Mr. Mohamed Al Fayed, the last editor of Punch as a print magazine, keeps one of the English-speaking world's most venerable satirical traditions alive at www.Punch.co.uk. Why not pay Punch a visit (even if Toby and Judy aren't home)!
The Adelphi Calendar, Part I: Sans Pareil Theatre, 1806-1819; Adelphi Theatre, 1819-1850: An Index to Authors, Titles, and Performers. Ed. Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross. The London Stage 1800-1900: A Documentary Record and Calendar of Performances. Joseph Donohue, General Editor. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1993.
Age and Argus. London, 1843-1845. Early English Newspapers. Microfilm. Woodbridge, CN: Research Publications, 1978.
Aulnoy, Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, baronne d’. Fairy Tales of Madame d’Aulnoy. Ed and trans by J. R. Planché. 2 ed. London: Routledge and Sons, 1856.
---. Preface. Contes de Perrault, fac-similé de l’édition originale de 1695-1697. By
---. “Spectacles of Women and Conduits of Ideology.” Nineteenth Century Theatrical Research. Vol. 19, no. 1 (summer 1991): 52-66.
Evans, Jon Kenner. James Robinson Planché and His
Influence on Playwriting, Design and Staging in the Early Nineteenth-Century
British Theatre. Dissertation.
---. World Drama,
from Aeschylus to Anouilh. 2 ed.
Nikopoulou, Anastasia. “Historical Disruptions: The
Walter Scott Melodramas.” 121-43. In Melodrama:
The Cultural Emergence of a Genre. Ed. Michael Hays
and Anastasia Nikopoulou.
Le Vampire. 31-126. Vol
1. Charles Nodier: Oeuvres dramatiques, Le Vampire, Le Délateur.
Ed. Ginette Picat-Guinoiseau.
Textes littéraires françaises.
Payne, John Howard. Ali Pacha : or, the Signet Ring. See Planché, James Robinson.
Planché, James Robinson. Ali Pacha : or, the Signet Ring.
(Also attributed to John Howard Payne.)
---. Amoroso, King of Little
---. The Brigand ;
a Romantic Drama, in Two Acts. Vol 24, no 7. Cumberland’s British Theatre. Ed. George Daniel.
---. The Brigand ;
a Romantic Drama, in Two Acts. Ed. Epes Sargent. Lacy’s Acting
---. Charles XII., an Historical Drama in Two Acts. Vol 25, no 2. Cumberland’s British Theatre. Ed. George Daniel. London: John Cumberland, n.d. Microopaque. New York: Readex, 1965.
---. Charles XII., an Historical Drama in Two Acts. Ed. Epes Sargent. Lacy’s Acting Plays. London: Thomas Hailes Lacy, n.d.
---. Costume of Shakespeare’s Comedy of “ As You Like It ”: Selected and Arranged from the Best Authorities Expressly for the Proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden: With Biographical, Critical and Explanatory Notes. London: John Miller, 1825.
---. Costume of Shakespeare’s Historical Tragedy of “ King John ”: Selected and Arranged from the Best Authorities Expressly for the Proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden: With Biographical, Critical and Explanatory Notes. London: John Miller, 1823.
---. Costume of Shakespeare’s Historical Tragedy of “ Hamlet ”: Selected and Arranged from the Best Authorities Expressly for the Proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden: With Biographical, Critical and Explanatory Notes. London: John Miller, 1825.
---. Costume of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of “ Othello,” and Comedy of the “ Merchant of Venice ”: Selected and Arranged from the Best Authorities Expressly for the Proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden: With Biographical, Critical and Explanatory Notes. London: John Miller, 1825.
---. The Court Beauties, a Dramatic Sketch in One Act. Miller’s Acting Plays. Vol 779. Microopaque. New York: Readex, 1965.
---. A Day of Reckoning, a Drama in Three Acts. Lacy’s Acting Plays. Vol 310. London: Thomas Hailes Lacy, n.d.
---. The Extravaganzas of J. R. Planché, Esq. (Somerset Herald) 1825-1871. Testimonial Edition. Subscriber’s Copy. 5 vols. Ed T. F. Dillon Croker and Stephen Tucker. London: Samuel French, 1879.
---. Introduction and notes. The Fairy Tales of Madame d’Aulnoy. Ed and trans by J. R. Planché. 2 ed. London: Routledge and Sons, 1856.
---. “Gentle Zitella.” See “Love’s Ritornella.”
---. The Irish Post, a Comic Drama in Two Acts. London: Thomas Hailes Lacy, n.d.
---. The Jewess, a Grand Operatic Drama in Three Acts. London: Porter and Wright, 1835. Microopaque. English and American Drama of the Nineteenth Century. English. New York: Readex, 1967.
---. Knights of the Round Table, a Drama in Five Acts. Lacy’s Acting Edition. Vol 215. London: Thomas Hailes Lacy, 1854.
---. “Love’s Ritornella.” London: Sherlock Music, n.d.
---. The Mason of Buda, an Opera in Two Acts. Plays Submitted to the Lord Chamberlain. Microform. London: British Museum, n.d.
---. Not a Bad Judge, a Comic Drama in Two Acts. London: Thomas Hailes Lacy, n. d.
---. An Old Fairy Tale Told Anew. Illlus. Richard Doyle. Engravings by the brothers Dalziel. London: G. Routledge, 1865.
---. Recollections and Reflections: A Professional Autobiography. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1872.
---. A Romantic Idea, a Comic Drama in One Act. Dick’s Standard Plays. Vol 1010. London: J. Dicks, n.d. Microopaque. English and American Drama of the Nineteenth Century. English. New York: Readex, n.d.
---. The Vampire. Pp. 63-84. The Golden Age of Melodrama. Ed Michael Kilgarriff. London: Wolfe, 1974.
Polidori, John William. The Vampyre. Pp. 255-283. The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole; Vathek, by William Beckford; The Vampyre, by John Polidori: Three Gothic novels, and a Fragment of a Novel by Lord Byron. Edited by E. F. Bleiler. Ed. E. F. Bleiler. New York: Dover, 1966.
Charles XII. By James Robinson Planché. Lacy’s Acting Plays.
Theatrical Observer and
Daily Bills of the Play.
This site is a tribute to an author who deserves more remembrance than he usually receives. It was first established in July 1999 by a grinning lunatic who wanted to do something with his dissertation material. Since then, I've become more comfortable managing a site, but always hope to improve. And yes, I'm still grinning.
My own claim to fame consists primarily of
having three more bones in each foot than do most human beings and of having
entered this vale of tears on the same day as Kolo, the first gorilla born in
captivity. (She was born in
You are quite welcome to cite information presented here, although please do the decent thing and give credit to your sources, whether my work or that of anyone these pages refer to. I've worked very hard on my material, and the others have on theirs.
To offer comments or to get more information on the topics discussed here, please contact me, Paul J. Buczkowski. Be sure to explain at least a little of the context of your question. I sometimes get queries like "What do you think of Hamlet?" It's hard to answer such a question more intelligently than saying "Fine play!" but I assume anyone who'd bother to e-mail me wants more than that. In addition, please provide a name by which I may address you. (It's a lot more civil that way.)
I've spent more years researching Planché and his colleagues than I care to admit, and would love to hear from students, scholars, or anyone else intrigued by Planché or the nineteenth-century theater. If I can answer your questions, I will, and if not, I'll stare at the screen and mumble. After mumbling, however, I'll make some tea and work on an answer. Either way, I look forward to hearing from you.