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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
"Liberties"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0543  Wednesday, 7 March 2001

From:           Matt Kozusko <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Mar 2001 02:16:43 -0600
Subject:        "Liberties"

Several of the documents reproduced in E.K. Chambers's _The Elizabethan
Stage_ regarding the city's authority over playing make ambiguous use of
the term "liberties."

A 1574 response to the Lord Chamberlain's request for
Master-of-the-Revels type privileges for one "Holmes" is denied by the
Lord Mayor and Alderman, with the explanation:  "we cannot, with our
duties, byside the precident farre extending to the hart of our
liberties, well assent that the sayd appointment of places be committed
to any private persone" (_ES_, vol 4., 271, entry xxvi).

The more familiar Act of Common Council of 1574 (ibid., page 274, entry
xxxii) makes frequent use of the term:  "...henceforthe no playe,
Commodye, Tragidye, enterlude, nor publycke shewe shalbe openlye played
or shewed within the liberties of the Cittie....no Inkeper Tavernekeper
nor other person whatsoeuer within the liberties of thys Cittie shall
openlye shewe or playe, nor cawse or suffer to be openlye played, within
the hous, yarde or anie other place within the Liberties of this Cyttie
any playe, enterlude, [etc.]"

I initially understood the term "liberties" in these excerpts as a
reference to the areas in and around the city of London that for
whatever reason were not officially under the city's jurisdiction.  But
one might expect such a use of "liberties," analagous to "suburbs," to
be accompanied by some specific mention of "within the Citie," as it is
in a minute of the Court of Aldermen from 1549:  "...pervse all suche
enterludes as hereafter shalbe pleyed by eny comen pleyr of the same
within the Citie or the liberties therof..." (_ES_ 4, 261, entry iv).

Used without reference to "within the Citie," the term "liberties"
perhaps means something more like "jurisdiction" itself?  The OED is not
of specific help in the matter.  Can anyone on this list resolve the
matter with any certainty?  Or offer any thoughts?  Infinite thanks...

Matt Kozusko
 

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