Today in Theatre History: AMERICAN THEATRE’S FIRST REALLY BAD REVIEW–August 27, 1665

A 19th century photography of the structure built on the site of the original Fowkes' Tavern in Accomack County, Virginia.

A 19th century photograph of the structure built on the site of the original Fowkes Tavern in Accomack County, Virginia. The line out front contains the remnants of disappointed theatre-goers awaiting the return performance of Ye Bare and Ye Cubb.  Or maybe not.

Today marks a very sad day in American theatre history–a very sad day indeed–the earliest documented example of a poor review.  Yup.  A play was presented on this day–August 27–in 1665 at Fowkes Tavern in Accomack County on the eastern shore of Virginia and, it seems, some critic didn’t like it.  Not one bit.  His review was so bad, in fact, the run of the show was halted and the actors arrested.  Not good.  (Apparently, critics had a lot more power back then and were particularly surly as well.)  The three performers–and presumably creators of the play–were hauled before a local magistrate (who, it just so happened, was convening his court in the very tavern where the offensive performance took place).  The three were charged with “performing a play.”  A very bad play.  To prove the point, the judge demanded that the offending performers reenact their filthy and disgusting show before the court.  And so they did.  Finally, after viewing the work in person, the judge did something unexpected–he dismissed the charges.  Either the performance was so bad it really didn’t warrant labeling it a “play” and, hence, was not in violation of being one.  Or, more likely, the judge found nothing especially offensive.  Indeed, he not only freed the three actors, he also fined the critic for bringing such nonsense to the court’s attention in the first place.  (Oh, if only critics were held to such standards today…)  The play in question was entitled Ye Bare and Ye Cubb, and was likely the invention of the three offending presenters–Cornelius Watkinson, Philip Howard, and William Darby.  The particularly demanding critic was one Edward Martin who never again exercised his reviewing skills, at least to the extent that they ended up in court.  Unfortunately, no copy of the play survives, only the public record that documents this odd and curious little bit of very early American theatre history.  Ye Bare and Ye Cubb remains the earliest known performance of a play in the British North American colonies and the first one to receive a very poor review.

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2 Responses to Today in Theatre History: AMERICAN THEATRE’S FIRST REALLY BAD REVIEW–August 27, 1665

  1. Amy E. Stoch says:

    I really want to investigate “Ye Bear and Ye Cub” further. I’m wondering if the “Bear” is Mother England and the “Cub” is the baby America. I’d love to know if this was a political statement or just a hunter’s fable.

    • padavis1715 says:

      Excellent supposition. Though it might be a bit early for strong anti-British sentiment. My guess is that is was a not-so-subtle sex farce in the manner of the early burlesques of the Restoration. But that’s pure speculation.

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