Philobiblon: Three degrees of separation

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Three degrees of separation

I posted recently on the term Alsatia, for the lawless area of London that had been the White Friar's monastery. It maintained the right of sanctuary for many years, first formally, then informally.

Then last night I put up a poem by Thomas Shadwell. It turns out that his most successful play was The Squire of Alsatia, about a young heir who falls into the hands of the villains there. One of the features that made it a success seems to have been its use of their "cant", local dialect.

Peregrine Bertie, writing to the Countess of Rutland, says: "It has been acted nine days successively, and on the third day the poet got 16l more than any other poet ever did. When all this is granted, there is nothing in it extraordinary--except it is a Latin song -but the thin reason why it takes soe well is, because it brings severall of the cant words uppon the stage which some in towne have invented, and turns them into ridicule." (From Thomas Shadwell: His Life and Comedies, Albert S. Borgman; New York University Press, 1928.)

This was the play that made the fame of the actress Anne Bracegirdle, in whom I have another interest.

It made me think, could you play the "Six degrees of separation" game with history? I rather think you could.

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