In the 18th century, there weren't as many songs on the radio as there are today, but if you wrote a hit song, it would stay popular for a lot longer. One of the biggest hits of the 18th century, at least in England, was an awesome song called "The Roast Beef of Old England." Here is the first verse: 

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food, 
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood. 
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good 
Oh! the Roast Beef of old England, 
And old English Roast Beef!

Something about this song really captured the public imagination, which says a lot about English people---what, I don't know. It was customary for theater audiences to sing "Roast Beef" before the start of a play, just to really psych themselves up for the show. I suppose it was like their version of "We Will Rock You" by Queen, or some of those other songs they play before baseball games. Here is the second verse: 

But since we have learnt from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance, 
We're fed up with nothing but vain complaisance 
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England, 
And old English Roast Beef!

Oh, here we find our answer---we are supposed to love Roast Beef because it's not French. Oh France! How fond we are of hating you. Apparently, if a play failed to please a crowd, they would start singing "Roast Beef" until the actors left the stage. I'm assuming this might have happened to a lot of plays imported from France. It must have been a shitty time to be a playwright. All those gin-guzzling rabble coming to your play and throwing rotten vegetables and singing over your dialogue. On the other hand, I suppose it meant playwrights had to get to the point very fast. 

Our fathers of old were robust, stout, and strong, 
And kept open house, with good cheer all day long, 
Which made their plump tenants rejoice in this song-- 
Oh! The Roast Beef of old England, 
And old English Roast Beef!

I think people have probably always longed for a golden age that never existed. When I think about living in the 18th century, I think it sounds pretty awful, but not because I think the 17th century was any better. I try not to be too nostalgic, because I think it's all imaginary bullshit. Maybe I'm too young to be nostalgic. Maybe it's just because I'm having a particularly golden week. Maybe when things fall apart for me I'll start singing songs about roast beef, and join the Tea Party. 

But now we are dwindled to, what shall I name? 
A sneaking poor race, half-begotten and tame, 
Who sully the honours that once shone in fame. 
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England, 
And old English Roast Beef!

I suppose I have been to a few plays I'd like to start singing "Roast Beef" in the middle of. I doubt that many people would join me. That just isn't done anymore. If a play is boring we are just supposed to endure it in silence. In some ways that makes this a golden age for the playwright, in the sense that you can write plays that aren't interrupted. On the other hand, bad plays happen without being interrupted. It just goes to show that one man's golden age is another man's age of interminable Frenchified nonsense. I am, of course, referring to Death of a Salesman

When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne, 
Ere coffee, or tea, or such slip-slops were known, 
The world was in terror if e'er she did frown. 
Oh! The Roast Beef of old England, 
And old English Roast Beef!

Question for discussion:

What was the golden age of theater? What about the golden age of mime?

(Nick Jones is the author of THE COWARD.)