Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599-1609

By Bernard Beckerman | Go to book overview

How did an acting company market its wares? for let us remember that in the Elizabethan theater we find one of the earliest examples of theater as a commercial enterprise.

The pattern of performing which I call the repertory system came into being with the appearance of the first permanent playhouses. Their erection in London was a sign that the actors had discovered the means as well as the possibility of gaining the patronage of the large city populace for long periods of time. No longer did the players have to be nomads. No longer was it necessary for a handful of sharers with their apprentices and hired men to trudge from village to village in order to find paying audiences. After 1570 the nomadic troupes that played London for short engagements matured into resident companies that toured occasionally. Though even the most illustrious of the companies continued to travel in the provinces when conditions demanded, their welfare and status were tied to the fortunes of the public playhouses. Touring was an act of desperation. That way lay poverty. Well-being depended upon permanence and permanence depended upon the effective exploitation of the potential audience.

Naturally not every Londoner was a playgoer. The average play might have been witnessed by 30,000 people over a period of a year and a half. The assumption here is that the play performed to a capacity audience, each member of which saw the play once. More likely, however, not more than 15,000 to 20,000 people saw the average play. To calculate the size of the usual theater-going populace in London is, difficult. One conclusion is evident, however. Given the capacity of the public playhouse, somewhat between two and three thousand persons, the companies had to change their bills frequently if they were to attract sufficient spectators. Their practices in doing so are the bases of the repertory system.

By 1599, the year in which the Globe playhouse was constructed, these practices were well established. A five-year period of growth in the theater preceded the construction of the Globe. A decade of relative stability in theatrical affairs followed. During those years it may not have appeared to the professional players that the time was settled, for a serious plague in 1603

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Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599-1609
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chapter One - The Repertory 1
  • Chapter Two - The Dramaturgy 24
  • Chapter Three - The Stage 63
  • Chapter Four - The Acting 109
  • Chapter Five - The Staging 157
  • Chapter Six - The Style 214
  • Appendix A 217
  • Appendix B 220
  • Appendix C 226
  • Notes 232
  • Index to the Globe Plays 245
  • General Index 248
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