From 1836 until his death, Bulwer wrote a series of historical five-act dramas, seven in all if one includes
The success of The Lady of Lyons is harder to understand than that of Richelieu. The fate of snobbish Deschappelles, married off to the gardener's son whom her rejected suitors disguise as the Prince of Como, would seem entirely satisfactory but for his gratuitous refusal to claim her until he has achieved whirlwind promotion as a Napoleonic colonel. In Macready the play must have had a most unlikely hero, and its success is perhaps best attributed to its appeal (discreetly dressed in period costume) to the radical sentiments of the decade of the Reform Bill. [Rowell 51]
While most English playwrights of the 1830s and 1840s were badly remunerated (the average in the minor theatres was £20, that in the patent theatres £50), Bulwer was treated in a princely fashion by William Charles Macready, manager of Covent Garden from 1837 to 1839, and of Drury Lane from 1841 to 1843.
The Select Committee proceedings [investigating the state of theatre in the metropolis] of 1832 contain many complaints from playwrights of managers depriving them in various ways of a part or of the whole of fees legitimately earned. Macready testified that the amount a publisher would now offer for the copyright of a play had drastically declined from a high point thirty years before: '100 l. was a low price for a play then, but now frequently 10 l. is offered, and sometimes even that is considered a hazard.' In contrast . . . , the only dramatist to do at all well during the 1830s and 1840s was Bulwer-Lytton. Macready gave him £600 for Richelieu at Covent Garden in 1839 (after he had refused to accept any payment for The Lady of Lyons, and Webster £200 more for the rights to represent Richelieuin London (at the Haymarket) for three years. Bulwer-Lytton also received from Webster £600 for The Sea-Captain (1839) and £600 for Money (1840). Except for The Sea-Captainthese were all great successes. No other author could command either Bulwer-Lytton's literary prestige or his fees. [Booth 48]
For years a provincial repertory piece, W. T. Moncrieff's adaptation of Eugene Aram, first staged at the Surrey in 1832, was revised by H. G. Wills at the instigation of Irving, who staged the resulting play at the Lyceum in 1873. In contrast to his historical melodramas, Bulwer entered the 1840s with a comedy in a contemporary setting,
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Last updated 20 December 2000