Nature and Scope

Actor in costume. © The Garrick Club LibraryDelve into the theatrical world of eighteenth century society and explore how the Larpent plays reflect the politics of the time, the role of women, views on race and religion, opinions on empire, and European and British history.

 Eighteenth Century Drama features three distinct areas:

  • Primary source documents; the focus of which is the Larpent collection of plays and Anna Larpent's Diaries
  • The London Stage Database; and
  • The Biographical Dictionary Database

Primary Source Documents 

John Larpent was the English Inspector of Plays from 1778-1824 and responsible for executing the Licensing Act of 1737, a landmark act of censorship which required the Lord Chamberlain's office to approve any play before it was staged.

The main focus of Eighteenth Century Drama is the John Larpent plays from the Huntington Library; this is the collection of plays that Larpent preserved from the original licence submissions. There are over 2,500 plays which make up the majority of the collection. Also included are the diaries of Larpent's wife and professional collaborator Anna, recording her criticisms of plays as well as insights into theatrical culture and English society.

Due to the role of theatre in society as not only entertainment, but also social commentary, it is impossible to view these plays in isolation. The resource also features correspondence between key theatrical figures, biographical information, portraits, advertisement, historical information a wealth of visual material which lends context to the plays. Anna Larpent’s diaries have been fully indexed and can now be navigated by month, with extensive keywords and links to plays mentioned.

The London Stage Database

  • The essential companion text The London Stage 1660-1800, which lists every traceable performance 1660-1800, has been made available as a searchable database.
  • The information from this database has been used to power our text analysis tool, The London Stage Data Associations in order to illustrate trends within and between theatres, across years, between works performed, roles enacted and actors included in The London Stage. 
  • View core data from The London Stage as visualisations; it is possible to gain an at-a-glance insight into how many plays were performed each year, how many actors were working, which theatres were active, and other over-arching data.
  • Users can also view The London Stage in its original printed format.

Biographical Dictionary Database

The companion text A Biographical Dictionary of Actors etc. 1660-1800 has also been made available as a searchable database.

Unique primary sources cover the following themes:

  • Censorship and politics. The Larpent Collection heavily features manuscript versions of the plays submitted for licence and reviewed by the examiner; because of this it is possible to see edits, deletions and reworking of the manuscript plays themselves.

  • Satire, political endorsement, and social commentary. Plays were vehicles for social comment and discourse; this collection features plays that were heavily edited, or even refused licence, as well as plays that were performed despite their satirical nature.

  • Celebrity culture and fashion.

  • The rise and development of the opera in British theatre.

  • The business and legalities of theatres.

  • Women in eighteenth century drama and society – very notably, Anna Larpent’s diaries but also actresses, authors and contemporary women’s issues represented in theatre.

  • Key figures in theatre. David Garrick, Charles Fleetwood, Charles Macklin, Charles Dibdin, George Frederic Handel, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the Kembles and the Siddons.

  • Relationships between theatre managers, producers and the Examiner of Plays and Lord Chamberlain’s office.

  • Staging, technology and performance. The development of these throughout the eighteenth century.

  • Representations of conflict, war, race, religion and historical events in drama.

  • Representations of domestic, familial and pastoral scenes in drama.


Source Archives

Huntington Library

  • The Larpent Collection of plays featuring almost every play submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for licence between 1737 and 1824.
  • Anna Larpent’s diaries include 17 volumes covering Mrs Larpent’s life from 1790-1830. Mrs Larpent acted as unofficial deputy for her husband and her later diaries are peppered with opinions on plays submitted for licence.
  • There are also personal papers and research material for the Kembles, Siddons, David Garrick, James Winston and other contemporary theatrical figures.

Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond

  • A collection of playbills from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, along with Edmund Kean’s snuffbox.

Garrick Club Library

  • Scrapbooks compiled by John Knox and Charles Britiffe Smith. These include portraits of actors and actresses in normal dress as well as in costume. There are newspaper clippings, case studies of theatres, reviews and playbills.
  • Sadler’s Wells scenebook featuring scene sketches and other artwork.
  • Correspondence from James Winston.

Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Tally sheets for over 800 nights at Theatre Royal Drury Lane from 1803-1819.
  • Financial and legal documents relating to Theatre Royal Drury Lane, including sale forms, leases and correspondence relating to legal matters.
  • Toy scenebooks designed to be cut out and played with by children. These are often accompanied by copies of the play.

University of London

  • Printed volumes from notable persons of the eighteenth century, including George Anne Bellamy, Colley Cibber, Thomas Dibdin and others.
  • Texts focusing on theatres, including Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Astley’s Amphitheatre and the King’s Theatre.
  • Playbills and other contextual documents.

British Library

  • The London Stage, 1660-1800 published by Southern Illinois University Press. This lists almost all performances during this date range.
  • A Biographical Dictionary, 1660-1800 also published by Southern Illinois University Press. This lists almost all performers during this period from Garrick and the Kembles, to musicians and prompters.


Miss Cushman and Miss Susan Cusman in the characters of Romeo and Juliet. © The Garrick Club LibraryAdditional Features

  • Performance Data Associations this feature can be used to interrogate the metadata from the Larpent plays data; using this, it is possible to uncover hidden connections as a starting point for research or find evidence for ongoing research.
  • For an insight into the business of theatres, view our visualisation of Drury Lane Tally Sheets; which show the success of the Drury Lane Theatre and Covent Graden in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth century.
  • An interactive virtual tour of London’s most prominent theatres in the eighteenth century in our Theatres of London map.

  • Contextual essays from leading scholars.

  • An interactive chronology mapping events from 1730-1830.

  • Fully searchable image gallery featuring portraits, illustrations and more.

Language and Terminology

Every care and attention has been paid to preserve the historic authenticity of these documents which range widely in date. Any terminology that may be deemed discriminatory or offensive by present-day principles may have been preserved for the historic accuracy and relevance to that particular document.