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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Groundlings & Literacy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0200  Sunday, 7 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Frances Barasch  <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Feb 1999 09:21:35 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

[2]     From:   Franklin J. Hildy <
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        Date:   Friday, 05 Feb 1999 09:42:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Literacy

[3]     From:   William Williams <
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        Date:   Thu, 04 Feb 1999 15:57:09 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

[4]     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Feb 1999 11:41:14 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Bloom & Illiteracy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances Barasch  <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Feb 1999 09:21:35 EST
Subject: 10.0195 Re: Groundlings
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

>Taking due notice of our colleague's gadfly instincts, and of the
>rhetorical device of hyperbole, I am still forced to wonder about
>exactly how many of those spectators really were illiterate.  I have
>long believed that the "groundling" character was largely a Victorian
>caricature of what those people were really like, a myth propagated to
>explain the bawdry: prosperous, educated folk don't laugh at dirty
>jokes, after all.  Is not this rather romanticised view of Shakespeare's
>audience simply an inversion of the assertion that a glover's son from
>the provinces could not have written these plays?

>Or has there been recent work (say, in the last ten years or so) which
>would support an argument for a largely illiterate audience?

 Rick Jones

Rick Jones is much mistaken about what "prosperous educated folks" laugh
at than or now.  continental theater history bears out the fondness for
bawdry in ducal and royal courts of renaissance Europe .  Frances
Barasch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Franklin J. Hildy <
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Date:           Friday, 05 Feb 1999 09:42:56 -0500
Subject: 10.0195 Re: Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Literacy

Like Rick Jones I too have wondered just what the literacy rate among
the audiences at the Elizabethan Playhouses must have been. The normal
estimates for literacy in London seem too low and I think a good case
can be made for it being higher among those who attended the theatre in
any event. Certainly Londoners were buying a great many broadsides and
not a few books-someone had to be reading them. Has anyone been working
on this?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Williams <
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Date:           Thu, 04 Feb 1999 15:57:09 -0600
Subject: 10.0195 Re: Groundlings
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

>Audience simply an inversion of the assertion that a glover's son from
>the provinces could not have written these plays?

>Or has there been recent work (say, in the last ten years or so) which
>would support an argument for a largely illiterate audience?

What is illiterate?  We know that many people were taught to read in
Shakespeare's time but were not taught to write.  Probably a majority of
the population could read +Titus Andronicus+ but only a small fraction
could have written it.

William Proctor Williams

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Feb 1999 11:41:14 -0600
Subject:        Re: Bloom & Illiteracy

Rick Jones, responding to Terence Hawkes, wonders if the illiterate
groundlings aren't a Victorian myth.  According to David Cressy's
Literacy and the Social Order, a study that has been qualified but I
believe not superceded, the literacy rate in Elizabethan London was less
than 50%, and less than 40% in less cosmopolitan areas.  (Sorry for the
inexactness; the book is at home.)  Cressy arrives at these figures by
counting signatures, a method that has its problems: is the ability to
sign one's name really "literacy"?  What about folks who were taught to
read but not write?  Perhaps a method that focuses better on how many
people read drama is to look at the number of plays actually printed
during the period.  Peter Blayney's essay in the recent New History of
Early English Drama assembles data to show that plays generally weren't
very widely available for reading, nor were they all that sought after.
So, no, the non-reading audiences of Shakespeare's time are probably not
a revisionist figment.

David Knauer
 

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