Satire and Spectators
Attesting to the popularity of Edward Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist is the eponymous print by Thomas Rowlandson, whose friend John Bannister (1760-1836) performed in the role of Crispin at Drury Lane. The print depicts a scene with Dr. Sawbones, his household servant Beatrice, and Crispin, the valet of Young Gerald, the love interest of the doctor’s daughter, Angelica. Secretly conspiring with Beatrice to enable the young lovers, Crispin is suddenly forced to disguise himself as a cadaver delivered for the doctor’s anatomy lecture. The ruse seems to work until the doctor decides to proceed with dissection immediately to demonstrate Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood. Although knowledgeable about medical theory, the doctor is too incompetent to recognize that a warm body with a beating heart must still be alive.
In this print and the one opposite, Rowlandson illustrates two different types of playhouses and their audiences in English theatre during his time. This print portrays the attendance of two different productions at the same “patent” or “legitimate” theatre, licensed by the state, where mostly classic works of approved taste were performed. Note the program with the title of Romeo and Juliet (printed backwards) on which the genteel woman in the lower image rests her hand holding a fan. While she uses the other hand to daintily wipe away a tear, another woman receives smelling salts to revive her from a faint. Even the group in the upper image, although heartily amused, is well-dressed and well-behaved.
In contrast to the opposite work about audience, this print illustrates attendance at non-patent or “illegitimate” theatres, one in London and one in the countryside. Non-patented theatres in England were theoretically illegal, so they usually included programs of music to disguise their productions as concerts instead of plays. The boisterous crowd from the country enjoys a raucous musical performance in a rustic space. The city crowd appears more urbane, but a barrier of spikes has been installed to protect the musicians and actors from the emotional and unpredictable crowd. A woman near the center wears a tri-color bonnet, perhaps a symbol of the 1791 Chapelier Law, which encouraged free-market theatre in France.