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modations in the theatre, as within our memory at Sadler's Wells.
With regard to the players themselves, the several companies were (as hath been already shewn), (c) retainers or menial servants to particular noblemen, (d) who protected them in the exercise of their profession and many of them were occasionally strollers, that travelled from one gentleman's house to another. Yet so much were they encouraged, that, notwithstanding their multitude, some of them acquired large fortunes. Edward Allen, who founded Dulwich College, is a known instance. And an old writer speaks of the very inferior actors, whom he calls the hirelings, as living in a degree of splen
tion: "Let play-houses, drinking-schools, taverns, &c. be continually haunted with the contaminous vapours of it; nay (if it be possible) bring it into the churches, and there choak up their preachers." (Works, p. 253.) And this was really the case at Cambridge: James I. sent a letter in 1607 against "taking Tobacco" in St. Mary's. So I learn from my friend Dr. Farmer.
A gentleman has informed me that once, going into a church in Holland, he saw the male part of the audience sitting with their hats on, smoking tobacco, while the preacher was holding forth in his morning-gown.
(c) See the extracts above, in p. 439, from the E. of Northumb. Houshold Book.
(d) See the Preface to Dodsley's Old Plays. The author of an old invective against the stage, called A third Blast of Retrait from Plaies, &c., 1580, 12mo., says: "Alas! that private affection should so raigne in the nobilitie, that to pleasure their servants, and to upholde them in their vanitye, they should restraine the magistrates from executing their office! They [the nobility] are thought to be covetous by permitting their servants live at the devotion or almes of other men, passing from countrie to countrie, from one gentleman's house to another, offering their service, which is a kind of beggerie. Who indeede, to speake more trulie, are become beggers for their servants. For comonlie the good-wil, men beare to their Lordes, makes them draw the strings of their purses to extend their liberalitie." Vid. p. 75, 76, &c.
dour which was thought enormous in that frugal age.(e)
At the same time the ancient prices of admission.
were often very low. Some houses had penny benches. (f) The "two-penny gallery" is mentioned in the prologue to Beaumont and Fletcher's Woman Hater; (g) and seats of three-pence and
(e) Stephen Gosson, in his Schoole of Abuse, 1579, 12mo., fol. 23, says thus of what he terms in his margin Players-men: "Over lashing in apparel is so common a fault, that the very hyerlings of some of our Players, which stand at revirsion of vis. by the week, jet under gentlemens noses in sutis of silke, exercising themselves to prating on the stage, and common scoffing when they come abrode, where they look askance over the shoulder at every man, of whom the Sunday before they begged an almes. I speake not this, as though everye one that professeth the qualitie so abused himselfe, for it is well knowen, that some of them are sober, discreete, properly learned, honest housholders and citizens, wellthought on among their neighbours at home." [he seems to mean Edw. Allen above mentioned] "though the pryde of their shadowes (I mean those hangbyes, whom they succour with stipend) cause them to be somewhat il-talked of abroad."
In a subsequent period we have the following satirical fling at the shewy exterior and supposed profits of the actors of that time. Vid. Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, 1625, 4to.: "What is your profession ?"" Truly, Sir, I am a Player." "A Player? I took you rather for a Gentleman of great living; for, if by outward Habit men should be censured, I tell you, you would be taken for a substantial man." "So I am where I dwell What, though the world once went hard with me, when I was fayne to carry my playing-fardle a foot-backe: Tempora mutantur for my very share in playing apparrell will not be sold for two hundred pounds Nay more, I can serve to make a pretty speech, for I was a country Author, passing at a Moral," &c. See Roberto's Tale, sign. D. 3. b.
(f) So a MS. of Oldys, from Tom Nash, an old pamphlet-writer. And this is confirmed by Taylor the Water-poet, in his Praise of Beggerie, p. 99:
"Yet have I seen a beggar with his many, [sc. vermin]
(g) So in the Belman's Night-Walks by Decker, 1616, 4to. "Pay thy two-pence to a player, in this gallery thou mayest sit by a harlot."
a groat seem to be intended in the passage of Prynne above referred to. Yet different houses varied in their prices: that playhouse called the Hope" had seats of five several rates, from sixpence to half-a-crown.(k) But a shilling seems to have been the usual price (2) of what is now called the pit, which probably had its name from one of the playhouses having been a cock-pit.(k)
The day originally set apart for theatrical exhibition appears to have been Sunday, probably because the first dramatic pieces were of a religious cast. During a great part of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the playhouses were only licensed to be opened on that day (4) but before the end of her reign, or soon after, this abuse was probably removed.
(h) Induct. to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew-fair. An ancient satirical piece called The Blacke Book, Lond. 1604, 4to., talks of "The six-penny roomes in play-houses;" and leaves a legacy to one whom he calls "Arch-tobacco-taker of England, in ordinaries, upon stages both common and private."
(2) Shakesp. Prol. to Hen. VIII.—Beaum. and Fletch. Prol. to the Captain, and to the Mad-lover.
(*) This etymology hath been objected to by a very ingenious writer (see Malone's Shakesp. vol. i. part ii. p. 59), who thinks it questionable, because, in St. Mary's church at Cambridge, the area that is under the pulpit, and surrounded by the galleries, is (now) called the pit; which, he says, no one can suspect to have been a Cock-pit, or that a playhouse phrase could be applied to a church. But whoever is acquainted with the licentiousness of boys, will not think it impossible that they should thus apply a name so peculiarly expressive of its situation: which from frequent use might at length prevail among the senior members of the University; especially when those young men became seniors themselves. The name of Pit, so applied at Cambridge, must be deemed to have been a cant phrase, until it can be shewn that the area in other churches was usually so called.
(4) So Ste. Gosson, in his Schoole of Abuse, 1579, 12mo., speaking of the players, says, "These, because they are allowed to play every Sunday, make iiii. or v. Sundayes at least every week," fol. 24. So the author of A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from
The usual time of acting was early in the afternoon, (m) plays being generally performed by daylight.(2) All female parts were performed by men, no English actress being ever seen on the public stage (o) before the civil wars.
Plaies, 1580, 12mo. "Let the magistrate but repel them from the libertie of placing on the Sabboth-daie. To plaie on the Sabboth is but a priviledge of sufferance, and might with ease be repelled, were it thoroughly followed." P. 61-62. So again : "Is not the Sabboth of al other daies the most abused? Wherefore abuse not so the Sabboth-daie, my brethren; leave not the temple of the Lord." "Those unsaverie morsels of unseemelie sentences passing out of the mouth of a ruffenlie plaier, doth more content the hungrie humors of the rude multitude, and carrieth better rellish in their mouthes, than the bread of the worde, &c." Vid. p. 63, 65, 69, &c. I do not recollect that exclamations of this kind occur in Prynne, whence I conclude that this enormity no longer subsisted in this time.
It should also seem, from the author of the Third Blast above quoted, that the churches still continued to be used occasionally for theatres. Thus, in p. 77, he says, that the players (who, as hath been observed, were servants of the nobility), "under the title of their maisters, or as reteiners, are priviledged to roave abroad, and permitted to publish their mametree in everie temple of God, and that throughout England, unto the horrible contempt of praier."
(m) "He entertaines us" (says Overbury in his Character of an Actor) "in the best leasure of our life, that is, betweene meales; the most unfit time either for study or bodily exercise." Even so late as in the reign of Charles II. plays generally began at three in the afternoon.
(n) See Biogr. Brit. i. 117, n. D.
(0) I say no English actress . on the public stage," because Prynne speaks of it as an unusual enormity, that "they had Frenchwomen actors in a play not long since personated in Blackfriars playhouse." This was in 1629, vid. p. 215. And tho' female parts were performed by men or boys on the public stage, yet in masques at Court, the Queen and her ladies made no scruple to perform the principal parts, especially in the reigns of James I. and Charles I.
Sir William Davenant, after the restoration, introduced women, scenery, and higher prices. See Cibber's Apology for his own Life.
Lastly, with regard to the playhouse furniture and ornaments, a writer of King Charles II.'s time,(p) who well remembered the preceding age, assures us that in general "they had no other scenes nor decorations of the stage, but only old tapestry, and the stage strewed with rushes, with habits accord. ingly." (q)
Yet Coryate thought our theatrical exhibitions, &c., splendid when compared with what he saw abroad. Speaking of the Theatre for Comedies at Venice, he says: "The house is very beggarly and base in comparison of our stately playhouses in England, neyther can their actors compare with ours for apparrell, shewes, and musicke. Here I observed certaine things that I never saw before : For I saw women act, a thing that I never saw before, though I have heard that it hath been sometimes used in London; and they performed it with as good a grace, action, gesture, and whatsoever convenient for a player, as ever I saw any masculine actor."()
It ought, however, to be observed, that amid such a multitude of playhouses as subsisted in the metro
(p) See A Short Discourse on the English Stage, subjoined to Flecknoe's Love's Kingdom, 1674, 12mo.
(2) It appears from an epigram of Taylor the Water-poet, that one of the principal theatres in his time, viz. the Globe on the Bankside, Southwark (which Ben Jonson calls the "Glory of the Bank, and Fort of the whole Parish"), had been covered with thatch till it was burnt down in 1613. (See Taylor's Sculler, Epig. 22, p. 31. Jonson's Execration on Vulcan.)
Puttenham tells us they used vizards in his time, "partly to supply the want of players, when there were more parts than there were persons, or that it was not thought meet to trouble princes chambers with too many folkes." [Art of Eng. Poes. 1589, p. 26.] From the last clause, it should seem that they were chiefly used in the masques at Court.
(r) Coryate's Crudities, 4to. 1611, p. 247.