The Rise of the Common Player: A Study of Actor and Society in Shakespeare's England

The Rise of the Common Player: A Study of Actor and Society in Shakespeare's England

The Rise of the Common Player: A Study of Actor and Society in Shakespeare's England

The Rise of the Common Player: A Study of Actor and Society in Shakespeare's England

Excerpt

This book has been written in the hope that it would interest both students of drama and students of social history. It is a continuation of the study I began in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry; but instead of exploring the literary influences surrounding the plays, I have explored the social envelope within which they were made. This meant estab- lishing the players' place in the social structure of the age, as it appears to one untrained as a historian, but stimulated by the revolutionary work on Tudor history which has appeared in recent years. Sir John Neale and his pupils have shown how the Elizabethan constitution may be interpreted in terms of social structure; Trevor Roper's and his opponents' 'quarrel of the gentry' throws strong emphasis on the economics of the courtier's life, and the importance of household display; the revolution in Tudor Government, as G. R. Elton pictures it, is reflected in miniature in the development of the Great Companies of players and of the Revels Office, substituting a bureaucratic organization for the old household rule. Players were a new, experimental social group; the opposition they met is a classic example of social prejudice and of the force of unexamined assumptions.

The material I have used had almost all been collected in the scholarly works of Chambers and Greg; the approach, I believe to be new. My most significant discovery is contained in Chapter VI; if I am correct, Laneham's Letter is a document of central importance to the historian of the theatre--the sole surviving product from the first great company of actors, founders of the Theatre, Leicester's Men; and it illustrates their social status and the conflicts of the years when the first playhouse was being planned.

The book is divided to correspond with the main social divisions of the drama in Elizabethan times. Apart from . . .

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