Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Groundlings & Literacy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0242  Friday, 12 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Charles Whitney <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 11 Feb 1999 06:59:19 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

[2]     From:   Rick Jones <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 11 Feb 1999 09:39:52 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

[3]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 11 Feb 1999 09:02:59 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Whitney <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 11 Feb 1999 06:59:19 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

Citizens and artisans were an enduring and vital part of early modern
public theater audiences.  Playwrights and players must have taken this
into account in the composition and production of plays.  That is an
important point on which I think most people would agree (see Gurr 1985,
1996). The exact proportion of different audience segments is not the
only important issue.  How different segments might have affected
production and what their theatrical experience might have been in
different venues and periods seem central to me.

On money for playgoing: masters who owned their own businesses, even
some small masters, did not depend on wages per se; their ability to
attend depended on what time they could take away for their work and on
the success ofthe business.  As for apprentices and journeymen, studies
by Ilana Ben-Amos and Paul Griffiths have shown that these groups did in
fact have spending money, even those in modest trades.  Sometimes
apprentices did receive casual wages, and journeymen wages beyond the
official rates. Official wage rates may have been only that-official.
My own forthcoming research in Guildhall records  also suggests that
apprentices and journeymen in distinctly unprivileged professions
(carpenter, baker, plasterer, etc.) went to plays in numbers.

Regards to all,
Charles Whitney
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 11 Feb 1999 09:39:52 -0600
Subject: 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

To David Knauer:

You are correct, of course, that we need to be precise about which
Elizabethan/Jacobean audience we are considering, but no one has
suggested that private theatre audiences were much different than what
they are generally thought to be.  The question is whether the
distinctions between those houses and those of the "open and cheap
amphitheaters" is as great as has been generally accepted.  You express
some reservations about reading prologues written during the War between
the Theatres as "sociologically accurate"; I doubt them even more than
you do.  In short, I am not arguing that there were no distinctions, but
the distinctions that did exist have been exaggerated.

To Melissa Aaron:

I should have been clearer: I (sloppily, I confess) used "tourists" as
shorthand for "non-Londoners."  Hence the "people up to London 'on
business' for other reasons" were part of my reasoning.  One might also
suspect that such travelers might stay an extra day or two longer than
their business necessitated, and that going to the theatre might be part
of the attraction.

I also appreciate your comments on the "slipperiness" of terms like
"privileged."  This discussion began as a response to Terence Hawkes's
assertion that Shakespeare's "illiterate" audience helped create _Romeo
and Juliet_.  Literacy, as John Drakakis has pointed out, is a similarly
equivocal concept.  And, of course, the conflation of social and
economic class with literacy is tempting but not necessarily
productive.  We're all just guessing: the point is to make the best
guesses we can.

Finally, I have no argument with your "insist[ence] on the human right
to make impulsive decisions about money."  I merely suggest that, just
as we cannot eliminate people who should have spent their money
elsewhere as prospective audience members, we must also grant that such
extravagances were probably limited, especially in number in an era in
which credit was not so readily available as in ours.  My wife and I go
to the best restaurant in town on our anniversary.  That doesn't mean we
can come close to eating there on a regular basis.

Rick Jones

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 11 Feb 1999 09:02:59 +0000
Subject: 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0233 Re: Groundlings & Literacy

>I wonder if Stephanie Hughes would be prepared to make a distinction
>between "illiteracy" - a disadvantage in the modern literate world- and
>"non-literacy"- a cast of mind radically different from our own and not
>at all a disadvantage?

>It seems to me that this distinction is crucial.  As for only
>illiterates standing around, I'd be interested to know what the
>sociological evidence for this is.

>John Drakakis

Yes, of course, I meant non-literate. We have a problem in dealing with
so much of the period in terms of our present-day experience. Concealed
behind that rather dry term "oral tradition" lies an immensely rich
culture that has translated rather thinly into our present "literate"
culture, to our loss, I think. That we have as much of it as we do we
owe, in large part, to the chap whose work we love so much. And, I would
think, this culture would have been far more available at that time on
the stage than in anything published. But again, no objective "proof."

>As for braving the elements: since Dale Lyles has introduced sports
>analogies, let me suggest that "common sense" would dictate that the
>good citizens of Green Bay would watch Packers games on TV, or read
>about them in the next day's newspaper.  There is currently a six to ten
>year waiting list for season tickets....... "Being there" is a different experience, one that many
>people are willing to sacrifice comfort to attain.

>As to sources: the best and most comprehensive source I have read is Ann
>Jennalie Cook's doctoral dissertation (Vanderbilt, 1972).  I believe it
>was subsequently published, but I haven't read it in that form.  I'm
>sure there's some more recent material available, hence my question in
>an earlier post.  Anyone?

>Rick Jones

Good point about sports. The problem is that in comparing plays to books
we are talking apples and oranges. Still, the prices of the two and
volume of sales remains a valid comparison.  And I'd appreciate the
title of that dissertation.

>Which theaters are we talking about?  The open and cheap amphitheaters
>or the enclosed and more expensive so-called "private" theaters (e.g.
>Blackfriars)?  Alexander Leggatt's book (Jacobean Private Theatre, I
>think) argues that there was a very clear class distinction between the
>audiences of the two; indeed many dramatic prologues of the era describe
>which kind of audience might be found where, and Leggatt quotes a lot of
>them.  Class certainly bears on literacy.  That doesn't mean, of course,
>that dramatists were above flattering one audience at the expense of
>another across town, and so I don't know if we can read these prologues
>as sociologically accurate, as Leggatt seems to do.

I was referring to the public theaters, which, if memory serves (and it
hasn't lately, I'm afeard) had a much bigger audience, more seats, more
performances, etc. The audience for the private theaters was the same
audience for the pamphleteers. Now, again, that's an inference, based on
a number of comments from the time, but I don't have anything solid to
back it up. I wish I did.

>There are a few reasons not to take this for granted.  The experience of
>reading versus hearing/seeing a play is sufficiently different that
>literates wouldn't necessarily prefer one to the other.  As your data
>about the small size of dramatic editions (500-1000) show, plays weren't
>that available for reading generally, and new plays in performance
>usually weren't available as quartos simultaneously.

>David Knauer

I was speaking of reading for entertainment in general, not just plays.
Reading for entertainment, rather than edification, was a new concept,
as is seen by the poor repute in which writing for entertainment was
held. Thus we are comparing reading for entertainment with going to see
plays for entertainment. The ongoing and often nasty argument over the
value of plays often turned on whether or not plays were edifying or
merely entertaining, in which case both those arguing for them and
against them AGREED they were valueless. Where is the quote that defends
them as entertainment? If there is one I'd like to see it.

>One of the problems with trying to decide these Early Modern class
>issues is that much depends on where you draw the line.  When I am
>suggesting that Shakespeare's audience is "privileged," or
>"working-class,"   I need to define what those terms mean in an Early
>Modern society.   Is a master craftsman who owns his own shop working
>class?  or middle class?  What happens if he decides to shut his shop
>for the day?  If I am an apprentice who hopes to own his own shop, am I
>in a different socio-economic class than my master?  only temporarily?
>"Privileged" is a similarly slippery term;  you can manipulate it so
>that an awful lot of people look privileged, but the tone of the term
>suggests a level of money and power that I'd  rather reserve for the
>extreme upper echelons of society.

>I do, however, insist on the human right to make impulsive decisions
>about money.  As those who study debt and credit know, the Early Modern
>period marks a positive explosion in people spending money they can't
>afford.

>Melissa D. Aaron

Such important points! As far as I know, there is not yet any clear
definition of class, or in-depth discussion of class issues relevant to
the period. Is this perhaps because class issues are still so troubling
that we avoid them? If there IS something solid and definitive, or
something that merely asks the right questions, I'd be happy to know of
it.

Stephanie Hughes
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.