Prologue: The Problem of the Audience

  • Rebecca Yearling


In the latter half of the sixteenth century, English theatre underwent a revolution. In 1567, the first public theatre building was erected: John Brayne’s Red Lion, in Stepney, East London. This was soon followed by a host of others: the Theatre, which opened in Shoreditch in 1576, the Curtain, also in Shoreditch, in 1577, and the Rose, on the Bankside, in 1587.


Sixteenth Century Private House Contemporary Account Ordinary Spectator Public Theatre 
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  1. 1.
    Paul Yachnin, Stage-Wrights: Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and the Making of Theatrical Value (Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1997) p. 12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alexander Leggatt, ‘The Audience as Patron: The Knight of the Burning Pestle’, in Shakespeare and Theatrical Patronage in Early Modern England, ed. Paul Whitfield White and Suzanne R. Westfall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp. 295–315, 298.Google Scholar
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    M.C. Bradbrook, The Rise of the Common Player: A Study of Actor and Society in Shakespeare’s England (London: Chatto and Windus, 1962) p. 265.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Dekker, The Gull’s Hornbook, ed. R.B. McKerrow (London 1904; repr. New York: AMS Press, 1971) p. 49.Google Scholar
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    Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes Upon Don Quixot (1654), excerpted in Elizabethan-Jacobean Drama: A New Mermaid Background Book, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (London: A&C Black, 1987) p. 34.Google Scholar
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    Alfred Harbage, Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1952) p. 71. Rosalyn Knutson argues that the lists of the boy company plays from around 1600 do not, in fact, ‘reveal the “preponderance of satirical comedies” of which Alfred Harbage spoke so confidently’, but her argument is somewhat unconvincing. She describes the early Paul’s repertoire as consisting of ‘a two-part revenge play [i.e. the Antonio plays], a couple of humors comedies [...], and a couple of pastorals’Google Scholar
  7. (Rosalyn Knutson, Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare’s Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) p. 56). However, the Antonio plays are satirical works, despite their revenge theme; the humour plays are also satirical; and the pastorals (Dr Dodypoll and The Maid’s Metamorphosis) may well have been revivals of pre-1590 works. In other words, all the surviving works from St. Paul’s that were definitely new in the early 1600s were satirical in bent.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Philip J. Finkelpearl, John Marston of the Middle Temple: An Elizabethan Dramatist in His Social Setting (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1969) p.27. According to Marston’s Histriomastix, or, The Player Whipt (c.1598), there was a vogue for playgoing among young lawyers: as one such character says, ‘Why this going to a play is now all in the fashion’ (Histriomastix 1: 252).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    J.B. Morton (‘Beachcomber’), Theatrical Digest 4 (1949), quoted in Dan Rebellato, 1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama (London: Routledge, 1999) p.106.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless, ed. Stanley Wells, The Stratford-upon-Avon Library 1 (London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., 1964) pp. 64–5. Richard Levin lists numerous other accounts of audiences responding emotionally to plays: Levin, ‘The Relation of External Evidence to the Allegorical and Thematic Interpretations of Shakespeare,’ Shakespeare Studies 13 (1980) pp. 11–15.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rebecca Yearling 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca Yearling
    • 1
  1. 1.Keele UniversityUK

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