Two Playhouses, Both Alike in Dignity

By Knutson, Roslyn L. | Shakespeare Studies, Annual 2002 | Go to article overview

Two Playhouses, Both Alike in Dignity


Knutson, Roslyn L., Shakespeare Studies


JAMES WRIGHT, in Historia Histrionica (1699), invents a dialogue between two gentlemen, Lovewit and Truman, who reminisce about the good old days at the playhouse. (1) Truman answers Lovewit's query about the number of playing companies in former times by saying:

 
   Before the Wars, there were in being all these Play-houses at the same 
   time. The Black-friers, and Globe on the Bankside, a Winter and Summer 
   House, belonging to the same Company called the King's Servants; the 
   Cockpit or Phoenix, in Drury-lane, called the Queen's Servants; the private 
   House in Salisbury-court, called the prince's Servants; the Fortune near 
   White-cross-street, and the Red Bull at the upper end of St. John's-street: 
   The two last were mostly frequented by Citizens, and the meaner sort of 
   People. All these Companies got Money, and Liv'd in Reputation, especially 
   those of the Blackfriers, who were Men of grave and sober Behaviour. (B3) 

This passage is the primary authority for the belief that the King's Men, after they acquired the lease of Blackfriars in August 1608, alternated between their two playhouses, playing at the Blackfriars in winter and the Globe in summer. Edmond Malone believed so, and he found evidence in the now-lost accounts of Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels from 1623 to 1673, that the King's Men as a rule moved to the Globe from Blackfriars in May. G. E. Bentley suggests that the move was coordinated with term time: to Blackfriars "on or about the sixth of October," at the opening of Michaelmas term; and to the Globe, "between 3 May and 4 June," at the close of Easter term. (2) Although acknowledging that Wright was referring to the Caroline playhouses (JCS, 6.15), Bentley explores the influence of the acquisition of Blackfriars on the repertory of the King's Men as though the company divided their labors between the two playhouses from the start. (3) Andrew Gurr explicitly declares that "from 1609 onwards" the King's Men used the Globe "for the months from May to September" and the Blackfriars for the rest of the year. (4) The effect of these opinions has been to subordinate the Globe to the Blackfriars in revenue, repertory, and clientele. However, there is evidence on the use and value of the two playhouses to suggest that from 1609 to 1619, and even into 1625, the Globe playhouse was more important to the business of the King's Men than is generally believed.

While accepting in principle the theory that the King's Men played at Blackfriars from October to May, scholars have recognized that some evidence undermines its literal application. For example, the Globe was open on April 30, 1619, when Prince Lewis Frederick of Wurttemburg saw Othello, and on April 20 and 30, 1611, when Simon Forman saw Macbeth and "Richard the 2," respectively. (5) Also, there is a question about just how frequently the King's Men could have played at any house in the decade following their acquisition of the Blackfriars lease. Leeds Barroll, studying the monthly number of reported plague deaths from 1603 to 1613, argues against the optimistic view of playing "every afternoon for year after sunny year" from 1609 onwards. (6) He calculates that the London playhouses (public and private) were closed more often than open from 1610 through 1613, if the rule of thirty deaths per week was observed. (7) Barroll's open months, coordinated with Gurr's calendar of playhouse use (May to September at the Globe), coordinated with the Prince Lewis Frederick and Forman records, mean that the King's Men played at their two playhouses as shown in Table 1.

Another wrinkle in the use of the two playhouses is touring. Records of provincial performance locate the King's Men in Dover (Kent) on July 6, 1610; in Oxford sometime in 1609-10; in Dunwich (Suffolk) sometime between October 19 and 26, in 1610; in New Romney (Kent) on April 21, 1612; and Folkestone (Kent) and Oxford sometime in 1612-13. …

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