Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare's Theater

Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare's Theater

Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare's Theater

Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare's Theater

Synopsis

Among the dramatists who wrote for the professional playhouses of early modern London was a small group of writers who were neither members of the commercial theater industry writing to make a living nor aristocratic amateurs dipping their toes in theatrical waters for social or political prestige. Instead, they were largely working- and middle-class amateurs who had learned most of what they knew about drama from being members of the audience.

Using a range of familiar and lesser-known print and manuscript plays, as well as literary accounts and documentary evidence, Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare's Theater shows how these playgoers wrote and revised to address what they assumed to be the needs of actors, readers, and the Master of the Revels; how they understood playhouse materials and practices; and how they crafted poetry for theatrical effects. The book also situates them in the context of the period's concepts of, and attitudes toward, playgoers' participation in the activity of playmaking.

Plays by playgoers such as the rogue East India Company clerk Walter Mountfort or the highwayman John Clavell invite us into the creative imaginations of spectators, revealing what certain audience members wanted to see and how they thought actors might stage it. By reading Shakespeare's theater through these playgoers' works, Matteo Pangallo contributes a new category of evidence to our understanding of the relationships between the early modern stage, its plays, and its audiences. More broadly, he shows how the rise of England's first commercialized culture industry also gave rise to the first generation of participatory consumers and their attempts to engage with mainstream culture by writing early modern "fan fiction."

Excerpt

Walter Mountfort, sick and impoverished, faced ruin. Following several years in Persia as a clerk for the East India Company, Mountfort had endured a perilous yearlong voyage back to London in April 1633. a few days after his return, workers unlading the cargo for which he was responsible had opened two containers meant to carry bales of expensive raw silk, and out spilled only rocks and dirt. Blame quickly fell upon the clerk. the Company secured warrants, searched houses, cross-examined witnesses, threatened to involve Star Chamber, and withheld wages—desperately needed wages. Mountfort first cast blame on corrupt fellow clerks. He then maintained that he had purchased the bales and resold them, but the court doubted him. It did not help that a shadow had long lain across Mountfort: since he began working for the Company in 1615 he frequently attracted charges of fraud, embezzlement, and, on one occasion, plotting to murder a rival clerk in a bar brawl. in June he begged for back wages to feed his family. He fell ill, and his wife had to appear before the court in his place. Prospects, for Mountfort, were bleak.

It was during this trial that Mountfort found the strength to stop by one of his old haunts: the Red Bull playhouse. There he delivered to the Prince Charles’s Men a manuscript with ink fading from exposure to salty ocean air and runny from sea spray, and margins grubby from being thumbed by fingers caked in oakum and tar. Scrawled on the pages in the accountant’s hand was The Launching of the Mary, or the Seaman’s Honest Wife, a city comedy about the East India Company and its employees, written during Mountfort’s voyage. While he was writing the play, the idea had occurred to him that actors might stage it; now, in financial straits, Mountfort desperately needed the money he could get from selling it. Despite this, though, he evidently did not wish to go into the theater business, for he continued to sue for a return to his . . .

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