Restoration and Ravenscroft
The English Short Title Catalogue lists six editions of Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist published between 1697 and 1763. The popularity of the play in the 18th century reflects the taste for bawdy comedy at the court of Charles II (1630-1685), first cousin of Louis XIV of France (1630-1715). After the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, Charles II re-opened English theatres and issued a decree that female roles in theatrical plays should thereafter be played by women, as they already were in France. The king was enamored with actress Nell Gwyn (1650-1687), who became publically known as his mistress. This 1722 edition of The Anatomist includes the names of four female actors, Mrs. Leigh, Mrs. Bowman, Mrs. Lawson, and Mrs. Robinson, in the cast.
French theatre had a direct influence on English drama during the English Interregnum (1649-1660), when the theatres in England were closed by the Puritans and much of the English aristocracy lived in exile in France. Ravenscroft’s hilarious farce represents a typical work of Restoration Comedy, developed during the period of 1660-1710, when not only the English monarchy but the English stage was happily back in business. The inspiration for Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist was a French play, Crespin médicin, written by Noël Lebreton de Hauteroche (1617-1707), a contemporary of Molière. In this one-act version the debt to French theatre is especially apparent: the role of the doctor, “Monsieur le médicin,” is a difficult read, written with a French accent.
The cast list from this 1807 edition of Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist includes Thomas Rowlandson’s close friend John Bannister (1760-1836). Known especially for his comedic talents, Bannister trained with the great David Garrick (1717-1779), owner and manager of the Royal Theatre at Drury Lane, where this version of The Anatomist was produced. One can imagine Rowlandson enjoying his friend’s performance as Crispin, whose opinions about a visit to the Doctor resonate with Rowlandson’s prints: “No hazard, call you it? I hazard my legs, my arms, veins, arteries, and muscles; and in the Doctor’s gibberish, I hazard incision, dissection, amputation, and circulation, thro’ the systole and diastole. Why sir, in such a case, a physician cuts up a man with as little remorse, as a hangman carves a traitor.”