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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Groundlings & Literacy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0218  Tuesday, 9 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Frances Barasch <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Feb 1999 09:59:45 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0206

[2]     From:   Frances Barasch <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Feb 1999 10:12:31 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

[3]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Feb 1999 19:06:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances Barasch <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Feb 1999 09:59:45 EST
Subject: 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

My apologies to Rick Jones for not "seeing" the irony and his accepted,
of course.  Perhaps, if ironic statements were indicated somehow, email
reading would be more accurate: would "quotation marks" do?  On
literacy, there is some work going on (in SAA seminars) on "cultural
literacy" (not ironic) which is acquired with or without reading: i.e.,
through playgoing, church sermons, puppet shows, picture books, and
marketplace communications.  I think oral/visual information ought to be
added to literacy discussions.

Frances Barasch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances Barasch <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Feb 1999 10:12:31 EST
Subject: 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

Yes, Ed Pixley, I have re-read Rick Jones and apologized for missing his
point.  I probably agree with your additions.  Here's the line I took in
my in-progress study of Elilzabethan puppet theater:  "Although social
superiority is expressed or implied by this literate class of English
playwrights [Shakespeare, Jonson, et al.] over the less literate puppet
men whose shows they mocked, none of their disclaimers changes the fact
that they co-opted the motion man's perception of society from below and
exploited puppet violence, slapstick, and bawdy to enchance their own
plots."  Frances
Barasch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Feb 1999 19:06:27 -0500
Subject: 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

>Moreover, the conflation of the London public with Shakespeare's
>audience seems to me a bit hasty.  It's been twenty years since I've
>really studied this matter, but two things stick out in my memory.
>First, although we think of the Elizabethan theatre as being
>inexpensive, wages were very low, too.  The cost of entrance to the
>theatre as a percentage of the daily wage of a laborer was about the
>same then as now.  And, considering the general standard of living was
>lower, I can we might reasonably interpolate that the cost of going to
>the theatre as a percentage of "disposable income" was in fact higher in
>1599 than in 1999.

You know, I'm not adequately persuaded of this, for one critical
reason-a lot of the time wages included meat and drink (see the wage
regulation sheets in 1588).  Food prices were pretty high too.  A cooper
(barrel maker) in 1589 gets 8 pence a day with meat and drink, 13 pence
without.    A cheap ticket to the theater is 1/8th your day's wages; for
an extra halfpenny you can have a big drink of beer.  A big drink of
beer.  If you are working at a job where your room and board is taken
care of, however humbly, you can choose whether to save or to spend your
income.  Many apprentices and journeymen would have saved their wages in
order to afford the hefty initiation fees to their craft guilds, but
sometimes they must have chosen to spend their money on pleasure.

If you're working minimum wage now, full time, one eighth of your day's
wages is about 6.50 before taxes.  You can't even go to the movies on
that.

>Secondly, plays were presented in the afternoon,
>when the butcher, baker and candle-stick maker (not to mention their
>journeymen and apprentices) were at work.

That's a good point, and one I've often wondered about.  Even
considering that sometimes the players broke the rules about Sunday
playing, how could one account for this?

>This was really the source of
>my question: has there been any recent work that would challenge my
>impression of the literacy rate (as well as the wealth, social status,
>etc.) of Shakespeare's actual audience, as opposed to the
>Elizabethan/Jacobean society as a whole?

At half-capacity, the Globe holds about 1,500 people. That is 9,000
people a week.   Adding in the other theaters brings the theater-going
population up even higher, even if you allow for the fact that I'm sure
some people went more than twice a week.   Estimates of the population
of London circa 1600 vary from 100,000 to 250,000, or roughly the
population of the two towns of which I've most recently been a resident,
Madison WI and Ann Arbor, MI.  So that brings the percentage of
theater-goers in London up a bit higher than you might at first expect.
Bottom line-the theaters can't have been patronized only by "privileged
playgoers," at least not the amphitheaters. They'd have gone out of
business.

Melissa D. Aaron
University of Michigan
 

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