John Weaver’s last dance with a harlot
John Weaver’s The Judgment of Paris, or the Triumph of Beauty premiered on 6 February 1733 with an initial six-night run. Yet, like a veritable Phoenix, it emerged again on 31 March of the same year, now conjoined to a preceding afterpiece, quite purposefully titled The Harlot’s Progress: or the Ridotto Al’Fresco. The conjoined sibling was subtitled “A Grotesque Pantomime Entertainment” by its author, Theophilus Cibber, who based his theatrical creation on selected scenes from William Hogarth’s The Progress of a Harlot, first issued in paintings, and then in subsequent prints the previous year (1731, 1732). I am certainly not the first to have noticed this interesting set of circumstances. But the circumstances need a context, and that has yet to be explored in any adequate way.
John Weaver surely was unaware that his last dramatic dance entertainment had been cuckolded in such a way: he had returned to retirement in Shrewsbury sometime following the six-night original run. Yet his entertainment would enjoy more performances than any he had ever created, always in its new guise as an appendage to Cibber. Between March 31 and May 25 it was presented sixteen times. In fact, it was the very last piece to be given to the public before Drury Lane went dark on May 26, the consequence of a player’s/management insurrection that would last until September. Success Weaver had never imagined!
I will consider the ripples in popular musical theatre that Hogarth’s progress (his very first) had produced almost immediately in 1732-3, and how Cibber’s Harlot’s Progress was rather typical. I will look back to a very successful Drury Lane afterpiece of late 1723. In both endeavours I will attempt to situate Weaver’s Judgment of Paris in a way that has not been attempted previously. It was no accident that Weaver found himself dancing, quite unexpectedly, quite ironically, and quite unawares (or so it seems) with a harlot.