The Duke's Theatre, Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and The Duke's Theatre, Dorset Gardens, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street
See also - The Duke's Theatre Holborn
Above - The Duke's Theatre, Dorset Gardens shortly before its Demolition in 1709. From an engraving taken from a contemporary drawing published by J. Nichols & Co., July 1, 1814 and Reproduced in 'Shakspere to Sheridan' by Alwin Thaler in 1922.
The original Dukes Theatre in London was situated on Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and was constructed for Sir William Davenant in 1662, opening with a production of his own play 'The Seige of Rhodes. Davenant's Company performed there until they moved to their new Theatre, said to have been constructed by Sir Christopher Wren, which was situated in Dorset Gardens by the Thames. The Dorset Gardens Theatre opened on the 9th of November 1671 with the comedy 'Sir Martin Mar-all' by J. Dryden, which had previously been performed at the Portugal Street Theatre on many occasions. The Dorset Gardens Theatre was demolished in 1709, and the Portugal Street Theatre would later be rebuilt as the Theatre Royal, Portugal Street, which opened in 1714.
The Duke's Theatre was erected in 1671, about a century after the regular establishment of theatres in England. It rose in what may be called the brazen age of the drama, when the prosecutions of the Puritans had just ceased. At the Restoration, the few players who had not fallen in the wars or died of poverty assembled under the banner of Sir William Davenant, at the Red Bull Theatre.
Rhodes, a bookseller, at the same time fitted up the Cockpit in Drury-lane, where he formed a company of entirely new performers. This was in 1659, when Rhodes's two apprentices, Betterton and Kynaston were the stars. These companies afterwards united and were called the Duke's Company.
About the same time, Killigrew collected together a few of the old actors, who were honoured with the title of the "King's Company," or "His Majesty's Servants;" which distinction is preserved to the Drury-lane Company to the present day, and is inherited from Killigrew, who built and opened the first theatre in Drury-lane in 1663.
In 1662, Sir W. Davenant obtained a patent for building the Duke's Theatre in Little Lincoln's-inn-fields, which he opened with the play of The Siege of Rhodes, written by himself. The above company performed here until 1671, when another "Duke's Theatre" was built in Dorset gardens by Sir Christopher Wren, in a similar style of architecture to that in Lincoln's-inn-fields. The company removed thither in November 9 in the same year, and continued performing till the union of the Duke and King's Companies in 1682, and performances were continued occasionally here until 1637. This building was demolished about April 1709, and the site occupied by the works of a gas company.
The Duke's Theatre had an elegant front towards the river, with a lauding-place for visitors by water, a fashion which prevailed in the early age of the drama, if we may credit the assertion of Taylor, the water poet, that about the year 1590 the number of watermen maintained by conveying persons to the theatres on the banks of the Thames was not less than 40,000, showing a love of the drama at that early period which is very extraordinary. All that is left of this aquatic range is a boat to Vauxhall Gardens occasionally.
Right - The Stage of the Duke's Theatre, Dorset Gardens - Reproduced in 'Shakspere to Sheridan' by Alwin Thaler in 1922. The scene shown is thought to be from Elkanah Settle's 'The Empress of Morocco', which was produced at the Duke's Theatre, Dorset Gardens in 1673 with Thomas Betterton playing Crimalhaz.
Operas were first introduced on the English stage at Dorset-gardens in 1673, with "expensive scenery," and in Lord Ottery's play of Henry V. performed here in the year previous, the actors Harris, Betterton, and Smith wore the coronation suits of the Duke of York, King Charles, and Lord Oxford.
The names of Betterton and Kynaston bespeak the importance of the Duke's Theatre. Cibber calls Betterton "an actor, as Shakspere was an author, both without competitors." In his performance of Hamlet, he profited by the instructions of Sir W. Davenant, who embodied his recollections of Joseph Taylor, instructed by Shakspere to play the character. What a delightful association - to see Hamlet represented in the true vein in which the sublime author conceived it. Kynaston's celebrity was of a more equivocal description; he played Juliet to Betterton's Romeo, and was the Siddons of his day, for women did not generally appear on the stage till after the Restoration. The anecdote of Charles II waiting at the theatre for the Stage Queen to be shaved is well known.
Pepys speaks of Harris in his interesting Diary as growing very proud, and demanding £20 for himself, extraordinarily more than Betterton or anybody else, upon every new play, and £10 upon every revive, whirls, with other things, Sir W. Davenant would not give him; and as he swore be would never act there, more, in expectation of being received in the other house (this was in 1663 at the Duke's Theatre in Lincoln's-inn-fields), "he tells me that the fellow grew very proud of late, the King and everybody else crying him up so high, &c." Poor Sir William, he must have been as much worried and vexed as managers of the present day, whose days and nights are not very serene, although passed among the Stars.
In one of Pepys' notices of Hart, he tells us "It pleased us mightily to see the natural affection of a poor woman, the mother of one of the children brought upon the stage, the child crying, she by force got upon the stage and took up her child, and carried it away off the stage from Hart."
Above - An 'Admission Check' for the Upper Gallery of the Duke's Theatre, Dorset Gardens in 1671 - Reproduced in the book 'Shakspere to Sheridan' by Alwin Thaler in 1922.
This pleasant playgoer likewise says, "In 1667-8, when I first began to be able to bestow a play on myself, I do not remember that I saw so many by half of the ordinary prentices and mean people in the pit at 2s. 6d. a-piece as now; I going for several years no higher than the 12d., and then the 18d. places, though I strained hard to go in then, which I did." So much the vanity and prodigality of the age is to be observed in this particular.
It may be at this moment interesting to mention that the that Covent-garden Theatre was opened under the patent granted to Sir W. Davenant for the Dorset-gardens and Lincoln's-inn-fields Theatres.'
The Dorset Gardens Theatre was demolished in 1709. Its predecessor, the Duke's Theatre in Portugal Street, would later be rebuilt as the Theatre Royal, Portugal Street, opening in 1714.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: