The Shakespeare play that best lends itself to a spectacular performance is The Tempest. Magic, fairies and huge storms gave 19th-century producers an opportunity to put on a Big Show and entertain audiences with the latest special effects. These playbills from our extensive Williams/Watson Theater collection present Shakespeare as a rousing good time--not exactly the high culture we have come to expect.
The 1823 production at Theatre-Royal in York hyped the "BURSTING of a MOUNTAIN into a VOLCANO" and "the ascension of Ariel." The play was based on Dryden and D'Avenant's popular 1670 rewrite of The Tempest and contained nearly 20 songs. More impressive was the 1856 production that featured 23,000 feet of painted scenery scrolling behind the actors in an "enchanted panorama" and used "extensive machinery" for other effects.