The Play House

Joseph Addison.
Near to the Rose[1] where Punks[2] in Numbers flock,
To pick up Cullies to increase their Stock;
A lofty Fabric[3] does the Sight invade,
And stretches round the place a pompous Shade;
Where sudden Shouts the Neighbourhood surprise, (5)
And thund’ring Claps, and dreadful Hissings rise.
Here thrifty Rich[4] hires Heroes by the Day,
And keeps his mercenary Kings in Pay;
With deep-mouth’d Actors fills the vacant Scenes,
And drains the Town for Goddesses and Queens: (10)
Here the lewd Punk with Crowns and Sceptres grac’d
Teaches her Eyes a more majestic Cast;
And hungry Monarchs with a num’rous Train
Of suppliant Slaves, like Sancho[5] starve and reign.
But enter in, my Muse, the Stage survey, (15)
And all its Pomp and Pageantry display;
Trap-Doors and Pit-Falls from th’ unfaithful Ground,
And magic Walls encompass it around:
On either Side maim’d Temples fill our Eyes,
And intermix’d with with Brothel Houses rise; (20)
Disjointed Palaces in Order stand,
And Groves obedient to the Mover’s Hand,
O’ershade the Stage and flourish at Command.
A Stamp[6] makes broken Towns and Trees entire:
So when Amphion[7] struck the vocal Lyre, (25)
He saw the spacious Circuit all around
With crowding Woods, and rising Cities crown’d.
But next survey the Tiring Room and see
False Titles and promiscuous Quality
Confus’dly swarm, from Heroes and from Queens (30)
To those that swing in Clouds and fill Machines;
Their various Characters they choose with Art:
The frowning Bully fits the Tyrant’s Part;
Swoll’n Cheeks and swagging[8] Belly make a Host;
Pale, meagre Looks and hollow Voice a Ghost; (35)
From careful Brows and heavy, downcast Eyes
Dull Cits and thick-skull’d Aldermen arise.
The comic Tone, inspir’d by Farquhar[9], draws
At every Word loud Laughter and Applause.
The mincing Dame continues as before (40)
Her Character unchang’d, and acts a Whore.
Above the Rest, the Prince with haughty Stalks
Magnificent in purple Buskins walks:
The royal Robes his awful[10] Shoulders grace,
Profuse of Spangles and of Copper Lace; (45)
Official Vassals to his mighty Thigh,
Guiltless of Blood, th’unpointed Weapon tie;
Then the gay, glitt’ring Diadem put on,
Pondrous with Brass and starr’d with Bristol Stone.[11]
His royal Consort next consults her Glass (50)
And out of twenty Boxes culls a Face;
The Whit’ning first her sallow Looks besmears,
All pale and wan th’ unfinish’d Form appears;
Till on her Cheeks the blushing Purple glows,
And a false virgin Modesty bestows. (55)
Her ruddy Lips the deep Vermillion dyes;
Length to her Brows the Pencil’s Touch supplies,
And with black, bending Arches shades her Eyes.
Well pleas’d at last the Picture she beholds,
And spots it o’er with artificial Moles. (60)
Her Countenance complete, the Beaux she warms
With Looks not hers and, Spite of Nature, Charms.
Thus artfully their Persons they disguise
Till the last Flourish bids the Curtain rise.
The Prince then enters on the Stage in State; (65)
Behind a Guard of Candle-Snuffers wait.
There, swoll’n with Empire, terrible and fierce,
He shakes the Dome and tears his Lungs with Verse.
His Subjects tremble, the submissive Pit,
Wrapp’d up in Silence and Attention, sit; (70)
Till freed at length, he lays aside the Weight
Of public Business, and Affairs of State;
Forgets his Pomp, dead to ambitious Fires,
And to some peaceful Brandy Shop retires;
Where in full Gills his anxious Thoughts he drowns, (75)
And quaffs away the Cares that wait on Crowns.
The Princess next her painted Charms displays,
Where every Look the Pencil’s Art betrays.
The callow ‘Squire at distance feeds his Eyes,
And silently for Paint and Patches dies. (80)
But if the Youth behind the Scenes retreat,
He sees the blended Colours melt with Heat,
And all the trickling Beauties run in Sweat.
The borrow’d Visage he admires no more,
And nauseates every Charm he lov’d before. (85)
So the same Spear, for double Force renown’d,
Apply’d the Remedy, that gave the Wound.[12]
In tedious Lists ’twere endless to engage,
And draw at length the Rabble of the Stage,
Where one for twenty Years has giv’n Alarms, (90)
And call’d contending Monarchs to their Arms;
Another fills a more important Post,
And rises every other Night a Ghost.
Thro’ the cleft Stage his mealy Face he rears,
Then stalks along, groans thrice, and disappears; (95)
Others with Swords and Shields, the Soldiers’ Pride,
More than a thousand Times have chang’d their Side
And in a thousand fatal Battles died.
Thus several Persons several Parts perform:
Pale Lovers whine, and blust’ring Heroes storm. (100)
The stern, exasperated Tyrants rage,
Till the kind Bowl of Poison clears the Stage.
Then Honours vanish, and Distinctions cease;
Then with Reluctance haughty Queens undress.
Heroes no more their fading Laurels boast, (105)
And mighty Kings in private Men are lost.
He, whom such Titles swell’d, such Power made proud,
To whom whole Realms, and vanquished Nations bow’d,
Throws off the gaudy Plume, the purple Train,

And in his own vile tatters stinks again. (110)

1. The Rose: The Rose Tavern was opposite the Theatre Royal. It was a resort for prostitutes and minor poets.
2. Punks: prostitutes
3. lofty Fabric: the Theatre Royal
4. thrifty Rich: A theatrical impressario and not a particularly generous employer.
5. Sancho: I’m guessing this is a reference to Sancho Panza who eventually got to be the governor of the Isle Barataria in the second part of Don Quixiote.
6. A Stamp: possibly a signal for a scene change.
7. Amphion: the son of Zeus and Antiope. His music was so charming that even the trees and stones moved to it.
8. swagging: swaying heavily to and fro.
9. Farquhar: a young Irish playwright. He was not initially successful and this may be his first favourable mention.
10. awful: awesome; awe-inspiring.
11. Bristol Stone: rock crystal cut to look like diamonds.
12. The reference is to Telephos who was wounded by Achilles. When the wound wouldn’t heal, the Delphic Oracle was consulted. Its reply was “he that wounded shall also heal”. Odysseus interpreted this correctly to mean the spear.

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