Earlier this year, on Netgalley, I saw that Endeavour Press were offering a reprint of Seven Stages by Geoffrey Trease (originally published in 1964), which is a history of seven influential figures from the stage. I love history and I love the theatre, so I hit request immediately!
Seven Stages is broken up into seven short, detailed biographies of seven theatrical luminaries: Elizabethan playwright, Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593); French comedy great, Molière (1622-1673); “the best-known tragedienne”, Sarah Siddons (1755-1831); Italian opera composer, Verdi (1813-1901); the “Swedish Nightingale”, Jenny Lind (1820-1887); Victorian actor-manager, Henry Irving (1838-1905) and Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931). Many of these figures were already known to me, except Siddons and Lind. Already known or new, it was fascinating to find out more about their lives as well as the influential work they are famous for.
I found myself utterly caught up as Trease took me on a theatrical adventure across Europe, starting back in 1622 with Marlowe and bringing me all the way forward to 1931 with Pavlova. In between, we were able to investigate many forms of theatre: drama, comedy, opera, tragedy, melodrama and ballet. Plus we got to see these theatre figures and forms in the context of their place, society and time, including: Marlowe and the Elizabethan playhouse, Molière in the Paris and Versailles of Louis the Fourteenth, and Siddons in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane of the eighteenth century. Whether you’re a fan of theatre or just history in general, I think there is something for everyone here.
On top of the excellent content, I thought the research, detail and layout were great too. And, I think Trease has got the balance right between the academic detail and the easily readable style and language – if I hadn’t known it was published back in 1964, I could have easily believed this was published only this year! I hadn’t read anything by Geoffrey Trease before. After reading this though, I would definitely be interested in reading more. He has also written the Seven Queens of England and Seven Kings of England, which sound right up my street. So they may have to go on my wish list.
Overall, I thought Seven Stages was an absolutely fascinating history of the stage, which I devoured in only a few sittings. Great read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Or any other histories of the stage/theatre?
What’s in a Name 2017 – 3/6 (two words with the same first letter)