Not much research can be found if a location has gone through three name changes and had burned down 135 years ago; however, it is not the significance of the Holborn Theatre as it relates to the grand scheme of history that makes it important, but rather its importance lies in its personal history’s relation to the characters in The Picture of Dorian Grey. The theatre opened in 1866 and was built in a yard that had previously held mail-carts and post-office omnibuses. It was the first playhouse built after the Theatres Act 1843 which stated that the Lord Chamberlin could only terminate a production if he believed it to be “fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace so to do”—greatly limiting the ultimate power over London theatres that he had previously possessed. Fortunately, this meant that the Lord Chamberlain was unable to close theatres for any reason concerning classism (as would occur before the Theatres Act 1843); this was especially favorable for the Holborn Theatre as it was located amongst a very poor to middle class section of London. The theatre burned down in 1880 but was never rebuilt.
It is the fire that interests me most—fire that destroyed a place of art. But for Dorian Grey, it was not a home of art; it was in a lower class neighborhood that was not rich with aesthetic beauty—he describes it as “a wretched hole of a place” (Chapter 4).
The art for him in the Holborn Theatre was Sibyl Vane. Dorian first see Sibyl in the role of Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but the reader soon find out that she has played many a Shakespearean tragic heroin: Ophelia, Desdemona, Cordelia, etc. And like each of these characters, Sibyl dies because of a man in her life. Wilde writes, “They felt that the true test of any Juliet is the balcony scene…if she failed there, there was nothing in her” (Chapter 7). Unfortunately, her acting ability faltered and she did fail this crucial moment. Thus, Dorian falls in love with her for her art and falls out of love because of her lack of art; this causes her to commit suicide. The significance of the Holborn Theatre in all of this is that, like Sibyl, a vessel of Shakespearean drama and art is ultimately destroyed; the location most intimately linked with her also shares her fate. This poetic end (while not necessarily intentional) does add another layer of analysis to the novel and gives location a profound significance within the story.
“Booth Poverty Map & Modern Map (Charles Booth Online Archive).” Booth Poverty Map & Modern Map (Charles Booth Online Archive). N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
“Holborn Theatre Royal – The Theatres Trust.” The Theatres Trust. The National Advisory Public Body for Theatres, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Walford, Edward. ‘Red Lion Square and neighbourhood.’ Old and New London: Volume 4. London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878. 545-553. British History Online. Web. 17 December 2015.
Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Chapter 2. – Wikisource, the Free Online Library. N.p. 1891. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.