The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1686  Thursday, 9 September 2004

From:           Thomas Larque <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 8 Sep 2004 14:35:16 +0100
Subject: 15.1678 Henslowe's 'ne'
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1678 Henslowe's 'ne'

 >I have not yet had the opportunity to read Tiffany Stern's paper, but
 >would not the final statement here, that "A play grew in desirability,
 >it seems, after having been sanctioned *in* performance *by* the
 >spectators", suggest the more logical inference would be that first
 >performances, as tests or trials, would have had lower admission prices
 >as, for example, do previews at Stratford, Ont?

But surely in the modern world, the nearest equivalent to a more
expensive first night performance that we have is film premieres, which
are prestige events which all the richest, brightest, and best (or at
least the most famous) attend to show themselves off as much as to watch
the film.  Now I don't know if you can buy tickets for film premieres,
but I guess that if you could they would be selling for high prices on
E-bay and the like. Given that modern theatre culture might be very
different from Early Modern theatre culture, an expensive first night
with the atmosphere and exclusivity of film premieres would seem a
reasonable possibility, if there were other indications that it occurred
(and several such indications in Early Modern documentary evidence have
been cited in this thread).

As for the question asked earlier of whether people would pay lots of
money for a play that they had never seen and knew nothing about, of
course what people would actually be paying for is the opportunity to be
*the very first* to see a particular star, or a particular famous
theatre company, perform their new blockbuster.  On this basis, people
would be relying upon the reputation of the stars, the company, and
possibly the playwright to guarantee the quality of the evening, and for
the extra money that they paid for a first night performance would be
able to boast - during the Renaissance social round - of having seen the
production before anybody else.  Of course they would risk the play or
the performances being terrible (as star names are not always guarantees
of quality, even now), but better surely to see a few flops than risk
missing being there on the blockbuster night of the year?  This is all
speculation, but I certainly don't see that these questions raise
insurmountable difficulties to the theory of expensive first nights, in
fact such nights make perfect psychological sense as far as I can see.
Since we have independent evidence that suggests that they existed, we
cannot easily dismiss the possibility on the basis that such things do
not happen in the modern theatre world.

Thomas Larque.

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