Shortly after King Charles II was restored to the British throne in 1660, he reopened the theaters, which had been closed at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Charles II granted patents (licenses that could be sold or willed to heirs like other kinds of property) to two of his courtiers, Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant . The theaters that they established and those of their successors enjoyed a veritable monopoly that was not abolished until the Theatre Regulation Act of 1843 .
During the eighteenth century, this monopoly had been strengthened by the Licensing Act of 1737 —a measure aimed at controlling the unlicensed playhouses that had been built during a period when the government’s enforcement of the theatrical patents had been lax. Because these unlicensed playhouses had also been hotbeds of antigovernment satire, the Licensing Act further required that all dramatic manuscripts be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for censorship. The practical effect of this legislation was that by the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were two classes of theaters: the two patent houses, Drury Lane and Covent Garden , and the more numerous minor (that is, nonpatent) theaters, such as the Olympic and the Adelphi. The acting of “legitimate” drama (five-act tragedies and comedies) was restricted to the patent houses, while “illegitimate” drama (melodramas, extravaganzas, burlettas, hippodramas, pantomimes, and spectacles) was the province of the “minors.” This division of theatrical labor persisted until it was abolished by the aforementioned Theatre Regulation Act of 1843. The Lord Chamberlain’s censorship powers, however, remained in force until 1968.