Samuel Foote

Definition

Theater

  • (1720 - 77) British playwright and actor manager, whosesatirical comedies earned him the nickname the English Aristophanes.He has also been called 'the Father of the burlesque'.

    Foote began acting in 1744 and three years later took overthe Haymarket. In 1749 he inherited a fortune and quicklyspent it in Paris, returning to the Haymarket as actor-manager andplaywright. His first successful farces were The Englishman inParis (1753) and its sequel The Englishman Returned from Paris(1756). His best work The Minor, a satire on the Methodistmovement, opened in 1760.

    As manager, Foote used clever subterfuges to evade the LicensingAct of 1737. Although the Haymarket had no licence to present plays,he would invite 'guests' for tea or chocolate during which an entertainmentwould be given. In 1766 he obtained a limited patent for summer performances,as compensation for the loss of his leg in a practicaljoke perpetrated by the Duke of York and others. He built a new Haymarketthe following year.

    Foote had a gift for bitter mimicry that made him feared.A frequent target of his wit was David Garrick, known forhis love of money. Foote once showed Samuel Johnson a bust of Garrickthat he kept on his bureau. "You may be surprised that I allowhim to be so near my gold," he said, "but you will observehe has no hands." Foote never ridiculed Johnson, for reasonsthe doctor explained to Boswell: "Sir, fear restrained him;he knew I would have broken his bones. I would have saved him thetrouble of cutting off a leg; I would not have left him a leg to cutoff."

    Foote's career came to an abrupt end when he upset the Duchess ofKingston with his mockery of her in A Trip to Calais (1776). TheDuchess used her influence to have the play closed down and scared Footeinto premature retirement by threatening to prosecute him for sodomy (acapital offence). He died on the way to France, after selling his patent toGeorge Colman the elder. His epitaph reads:

    Foote from his earthly stage, alas! is hurled;
    Death took him off, who took off all the world.
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