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Shakespeare Quarterly 58.1 (2007) 119-122

Reviewed by
Barbara D. Palmer
Global Economics: A History of the Theater Business, the Chamberlain's/King's Men, and Their Plays, 1599–1642. By Melissa D. Aaron. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005. Pp. 250. $47.50 cloth.

Finding "rise and fall" theater history narratives based, variously, on Shakespeare's career, political forces, artistic decline, and courtly decadence to be inadequate, Melissa D. Aaron's Global Economics offers "a market study focused exclusively on the Chamberlain's and King's Men" (16). Using "four economic snapshots of the company which owned the Shakespearean and other Early Modern playtexts, with no attempt to provide continuity" (18), she creates what she calls "'economic readings': readings that place dramatic texts in a detailed economic context" (17). Her "economic moments" (18) or chapters are "Global Economics: The [End Page 119] Chamberlain's Men, 1599–1603"; "The Court and the Stage: The King's Men at Blackfriars and Whitehall, 1610–13"; "The King's Men, Second Generation: The Company without Shakespeare, 1623–26"; and "Golden Handcuffs: The King's Men and Economic Failure, 1632–42." Chapters begin with economic overviews and then focus on "economic case studies, using plays by Shakespeare and other playwrights, theatrical documents such as contracts and account lists, historical events, and material elements such as costumes, props, and the theater buildings themselves" (19). This "snapshot" (18) method allows for a great deal of darting about and selective cherry picking of extant records.

Aaron writes as if all the records have survived, which they clearly have not; and she limits herself, by and large, to London records in print, primarily as decanted by E. K. Chambers, G. E. Bentley, and Andrew Gurr. She thus adopts some outdated, or at least arguable, premises to guide her market study, among them the competitive, exclusionary "duopoly" of the Lord Chamberlain's and the Admiral's Men; dismissal of touring, impelled only by London plagues, as a commercial factor; "bad quartos" and inferior, scaled-down resources when forced to tour; and a general disregard for the numerous professional companies playing public and private venues throughout England between 1599 and 1642. Consequently, when Aaron's market study attempts to calculate "potential playing days a year" or "the playing season" (51), the limitations of her data and her methods make for unreliable financial projections.

She writes, for example, that "there were no plague closures from 1596 until 1603. Both companies [the Admiral's and the Lord Chamberlain's Men] stayed in London for an unprecedented amount of time, abstaining almost entirely from touring" (61–62). The Lord Chamberlain's Men, however, played in 1596–97 at the Bath Guildhall and in 1597 at the Bristol Guildhall, while the Admiral's Men played in Newcastle upon Tyne, Gloucester, Bath (in both 1599–1600 and 1603), Bristol, and York.1 She again reports that "the death of James and a severe plague in 1625 forced the company to close from the end of March until the end of November or the beginning of December. They were probably in economic trouble when they began to play again at the Globe and the Blackfriars" (120). Actually, they were in Doncaster and at Londesborough, touring in the North to no little profit.2 She reiterates this 1625 London plague closure at least three times, concluding that "the plague caused every company except the King's Men to [End Page 120] go bankrupt, and even they were in a perilous financial state" (145). Her assertion that "touring was not much of an option, since increasingly the company was paid not for their performances, but rather not to perform at all and to leave the city limits" (168) is both vague and inaccurate.3

Besides these debatable issues, this study's manipulation and inflation of the extant primary documents make for uneasy reading. Henslowe is a sorry excuse for a modern businessman, as evidenced by his "slipshod" record keeping in...


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