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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Groundlings & Literacy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0226  Wednesday, 10 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Feb 1999 10:15:34 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0218 Re: Groundlings & Liter

[2]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 11:16:03 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0218 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

[3]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Feb 1999 09:47:40 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Feb 1999 10:15:34 -0600
Subject: 10.0218 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0218 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

Melissa D. Aaron argues with reason that the inclusion of meat and drink
in wages makes a huge difference.  But I wonder if the high cost of food
undercuts my point considerably: if we take the 13d figure as the base
wage, with an option to receive 8d plus food and drink, we must assume
that over a third of the day's wage would be spent on food for the
worker himself.  Add in a family to feed, and the availability of
disposable income plummets.  Remember, too, that workers often remained
journeymen for years and years (forty-something journeymen were common):
at significantly lower wages than master craftsmen.  Moreover, while
some jobs did provide accommodations for workers, many did not. In
short, while I'm not suggesting that finances were an insurmountable
hurdle, even a penny would be a fairly stiff fee for many potential
theatre-goers.

Melissa also argues that because of the number and size of the theatres
in London relative to the city's population, "the theaters can't have
been patronized only by 'privileged playgoers,' at least not the
amphitheaters.  They'd have gone out of business."  Perhaps.  But I'd at
least offer two counter-arguments.  First, we might suspect that the
theatre was then, as now, patronized by tourists as part of "what one
did" in London.  An extreme example in today's world would be to argue
that there couldn't possibly be a theatre in Stratford, ON, or Ashland,
OR, or Spring Green, WI because the local population couldn't support
it.

Secondly, I'd suggest that the upper classes had more free time-and
spent more of it at the theatre-than their modern equivalents, and that
many of the types of responsibilities which would keep today's
privileged classes away from matinees would not have done so in
Shakespeare's time: the Inns of Court, for example, functioned largely
at night.

All of which does not deny that there were no doubt some working-class
people in Shakespeare's audience: but I am still resistant to the casual
assumption that they constituted anything like a significant majority.

[N.B. I am not suggesting that Melissa is casually assuming anything.]

Rick Jones

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 11:16:03 EST
Subject: 10.0218 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0218 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

Re: getting off in the afternoons for theatre

I seem to recall reading something about this somewhere, that in a less
clock-oriented culture people could make their own schedules.  Also,
remember, it used to be that all baseball games were played in daylight,
and even Americans took off to go see those.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Feb 1999 09:47:40 +0000
Subject: 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0206 Re: Groundlings & 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?

Common sense would tell us that the immense popularity of the public
theater was rather a reflection of illiteracy than literacy. A literate
population would perhaps have been rather less eager to stand out in the
rain and snow than one that could sit by the fire and read the same
material (or some material). Certainly the theater served a far greater
audience than publication, as editions generally ranged between 500 and
1000, if memory serves. With a population of around 200,000, and the
popular plays being run over and over again, some of the theater
audience were obviously willing to come back over and over. Surely there
must be an in-depth study of somewhere working with the population,
publication and production statistics. If someone knows of one, I'd be
most interested to hear of it.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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