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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0303 Thursday, 20 June 2013
Date: June 19, 2013 12:06:00 PM EDT
Subject: Boys’ Companies
I’d be interested in the response of SHAKSPER to this article and to boys’ companies in general. Although they didn’t perform Shakespeare’s plays, they did Ben Jonson’s, so there’s an overlap with the adult companies. With the apprentice system, their boy players are treated differently than those in the boys-only companies, which apparently did not consist simply of choristers and willing lads.
[Editor’s Note: The following is from a June 17, 2013, posting on BBC online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22938866 -Hardy]
Elizabethan child actors ‘kidnapped and whipped’
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent
Child performers on the Elizabethan stage were subjected to abduction, cruelty and violence, reveals a study by a University of Oxford academic.
Dr Bart van Es says court documents show some child actors had been forcibly snatched from the streets and threatened into performing.
Their parents were then legally obstructed from rescuing them from working in London’s seediest theatres.
Dr van Es says these children faced “systematic exploitation and abuse”.
The study of London’s theatre in the late 16th and early 17th Century reveals a dark underside of cruelty to children.
[ . . . ]
These street kidnappings were not illegal, as the theatre owners had licences to forcibly recruit children. These powers had been granted by Queen Elizabeth I and carried her royal seal.
[ . . . ]
Henry Clifton, father of 13-year-old Thomas Clifton, said that a gang of men “did haul, pull, drag and carry away” his son on his way to school, inflicting “great terror and hurt”.
He was being held at the Blackfriars Theatre - and rather than returning him to his family, the theatre owners said the boy would be whipped if he failed to obey.
[ . . . ]
Dr van Es says there also seems to have been sexual exploitation, both in the staging of these children’s performances and how these child actors were viewed by Elizabethan audiences.
The academic says there are references by contemporary writers to child performers in a way that is “clearly sexual”.
And he says that the plays performed by children’s companies were often much more sexually explicit than those presented by adult theatres and much more misogynistic in their content.
Dr van Es says he was surprised by what he had found about the child actors, particularly against the backdrop of modern scandals about child abuse. He says that the children’s companies were “bizarre” and “dubious” and should not simply be seen as a peculiarity of the Elizabethan era.
Dr van Es has uncovered his findings while researching a book, Shakespeare in Company, and he says that William Shakespeare emerges with some credit from this dark story.
Shakespeare’s writing suggests his distaste for this use of “captive children” for entertainment, he says.
[ . . . ]