« AnteriorContinuar »
reign, they ought not to be enumerated with the other regular theatres.
All the established theatres that were open in 1598, were either without the city of London or its liberties.
It appears from the office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels to King James the First, and the two succeeding kings, that very soon after our poet's death, in the year 1622, there were but five principal companies of comedians in London; the King's Servants, who performed at the Globe and in Blackfriars; the Prince's Servants, who performed then at the Curtain; the Palsgrave's Servants, who had possession of the Fortune; the players of the Revels, who acted at the Red Bull; and the Lady Elizabeth's Servants, or, as they are sometimes denominated, the Queen of Bohemia's players, who performed at the Cockpit in Drury Lane.
When Prynne published his Histriomastir, (1633,) there were six playhouses open ; the theatre in Blackfriars; the Globe; the Fortune; the Red Bull; the Cockpit or Phoenix, and a theatre in Salisbury Court, Whitefriarş.
All the plays of Shakspeare appear to have been performed either at The Globe, or the theatre in Blackfriars. I shall therefore confine my inquiries principally to those two. They belonged, as I have already observed, to the same company of comedians, namely, his Majesty's servants, which title they obtained after a licence had been grapted to them by King James in 1603; having before that time, I apprehend, been called the servants of the Lord Chamber, lain. Like the other servants of the household, the pere formers enrolled into this company were sworn into office, and each of them was allowed four yards of bastard scarlet for a cloak, and a quarter of a yard of velvet for the cape, every second year.
The theatre in Blackfriars was situated near the present Apothecaries' Hall, in the neighbourhood of which there is yet Playhouse Yard, not far from which the theatre probably stood. "It was, as has been mentioned, a private house; but what were the distinguishing marks of a private playhouse, it is not easy to ascertain. We know only that it was sinaller than those which were called publick theatres; and that in the private theatres plays were usually presented by candle-light.
In this theatre, which was a very ancient one, the children of the Revels occasionally performed.
It is said in Camdeu's Annals of the reign of King James
the First, that the theatre in Blackfriars fell down in the year 1623, and that above eighty persons were killed by the accident; but he was misinformed. The room which gave way was in a private house, and appropriated to the service of religion.
I am unable to ascertain at what time the Globe theatre was built. Hentzner has alluded to it as existing in 1598, though he does not expressly mention it. I believe it was not built long before the year 1596. It was situated on the Bankside, (the southern side of the river Thames,) nearly opposite to Friday Street, Cheapside. It was an hexagonal wooden building, partly open to the weather, and partly thatched. When Hentzner wrote, all the other theatres as well as this were composed of wood.
* In the long Antwerp View of London in the Pepysian Library at Cambridge, is a representation of the Globe theatre, from which a drawing was made by the Rev. Mr. Henley, and transmitted to Mr. Steevens. From that drawing this cut was made.
The Globe was a publick theatre, and of considerable size, and there they always acted by day-light. On the roof of this and the other publick theatres a pole was erected, to which a flag was affixed. These flags were probably displayed only during the hours of exhibition; and it should seem from one of the old comedies that they were taken down in Lent, in which time, during the early part of King James's reign, plays were not allowed to be represented, though at a subsequent period this prohibition was dispensed with.
I formerly conjectured that The Globe, though hexagonal at the outside, was perhaps a rotunda within, and that it might have derived its name from its circular form. But, though the part appropriated to the audience was probably circular, I now believe that the house was denominated only from its sign; which was a figure of Hercules supporting the Globe, under which was written, Totus mundus agit histrionem. This theatre was burnt down on the 29th of June, 1613; but it was rebuilt in the following year, and decorated with more ornament than had been originally bestowed upon it.
The exhibitions at the Globe seem to have been calculated chiefly for the lower class of people; those at Blackfriars, for a more select and judicious audience. This appears from the following prologue to Shirley's Doubtful Heir, which is inserted among his poems, printed in 1646, with this title : “ Prologue at the GLOBE, to his Comedy called The Double
ful Heir, which should have been presented at the Blackfriars.
“ Gentlemen, I am only sent to say,
ballads ;-this goes
6 But you that can contract yourselves, and sit,
“ This play, meant for your persons, not the place.” The superior discernment of the Blackfriars audience may be likewise collected from a passage in the preface prefixed by Hemings and Condell to the first folio edition of our author's works : “And though you be a magistrate of wit, and sit on the stage at Blackfriers, or the Cockpit, to arraigne plays dailie, know these plays have had their trial already, and stood out all appeales.”
A writer already quoted informs us that one of these theatres was a winter, and the other a summer, house. As the Globe was partly exposed to the weather, and they acted there usually by day-light, it appeared to me probable (when this Essay was originally published) that this was the summer theatre; and I have lately found my conjecture confirmed by Sir Henry Herbert's Manuscript. The king's company usually began to play at the Globe in the month of May. The exhibitions here seem to have been more frequent than at Blackfriars, till the year 1604, or 1605, when the Bankside appears to have become less fashionable, and less frequented than it formerly had been.
Many of our ancient dramatick pieces (as has been already observed) were performed in the yards of carriers' inns, in which, in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the comedians, who then first united themselves in companies, erected an occasional stage. The form of these temporary playhouses seems to be preserved in our modern theatre. The galleries, in both, are ranged over each other on three sides of the building. The small rooms under the lowest of these galleries answer to our present boxes; and it is observable that these, even in theatres which were built in a subsequent period expressly for dramatick exhibitions, still retained their old name, and are frequently called rooms, by our ancient writers. The yard bears a sufficient resemblance to the pit, as at present in use. We may suppose the stage to have been raised in this area, on the fourth side, with its back to the gateway of the inn, at which the money for admission was taken. Thus, in fine weather, a playhouse not incommodious might have been formed. Hence, in the middle of the Globe, and I suppose of the
other publick theatres, in the time of Shakspeare, there was an open yard or area, where the common people stood to see the exhibition: from which circumstance they are called by our author groundlings, and by Ben Jonson " the understanding gentlemen of the ground.”
The galleries, or scaffolds, as they are sometimes called, and that part of the house which in private theatres was named the pit, seem to have been at the same price; and probably in houses of reputation, such as the Globe, and that in Blackfriars, the price of admission into those parts of the theatre was sixpence, while in some meaner playhouses it was only a penny, in others twopence. The price of admission into the best rooms or boxes, was, I believe, in our author's time, a shilling; though afterwards it appears to have risen to two shillings, and half a crown. At the Blackfriars theatre the price of the boxes was, I imagine, higher than at the Globe.
From several passages in our old plays we learn, that spectators were admitted on the stage, and that the criticks and wits of the time usually sat there. Some were placed on the ground; others sat on stools, of which the price was either sixpence, or a shilling, according, I suppose, to the commodiousness of the situation. And they were attended by pages, who furnished them with pipes and tobacco, which was smoked here as well as in other parts of the house. Yet it should seem that persons were suffered to sit on the stage only in the private playhouses, (such as Blackfriars, &c.) where the audience was more select, and of a higher class; and that in the Globe and the other publick theatres, no such licence was permitted.
The stage was strewed with rushes, which, we learn from Hentzner and Caius de Ephemera, was in the time of Shakspeare the usual covering of floors in England. On some occasions it was entirely matted over ; but this was probably very rare. The curtain which bangs in the front of the present stage, drawn up by lines and pullies, though not a mo, dern invention, (for it was used by Inigo Jones in the masques at court,) was yet an apparatus to which the simple mechanism of our ancient theatres had not arrived; for in them the curtains opened in the middle, and were drawn backwards and forwards on an iron rod. In some playhouses they were woollen, in others, made of silk. Towards the rear of the stage there appears to have been a balcony, or upper stage; the platform of which was probably eight-or