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REVIEWS Ann Jennalie Cook. The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare’s London, 1576-1642. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981. Pp. 316. $20.00. In her first paragraph, Ann Jennalie Cook poses her central question: “Who were the people for whom Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, and their fellow dramatists wrote plays?” (p. 3). To answer this question, we quickly learn, is no easy matter, for even though just about anyone in London at the time must have known the answer, the historian today must work with direct evidence that is clearly “oblique, incomplete, and highly colored by the writers’ varying intents” (p. 8) and indirect evidence (from literature, demography, economics, social history, and contemporary documents) that is equally hard to evaluate. Indeed, one of the strengths of this book is the author’s ability to face squarely the limitations of her evidence yet still build a convincing (and for some readers a disconcerting) argument. Scholars have few doubts about who patronized the smaller private playhouses during this period, playhouses that charged higher admission prices and clearly catered to a more elite clientele. But thanks to the influential work of Alfred Harbage, most of us have assumed the presence of a different audience at the Globe and the other large public theaters where presumably significant numbers of apprentices, trades­ men, and other “average” Elizabethans (the often cited “groundlings”) stood in the yard for only a penny. Only a penny—ay, there’s the rub (or one of several rubs), for Cook makes astute use of many available resources, including areas like social and economic history often bypassed by Shakespeareans, to test such assumptions about the theatrical clientele. Thus, by the end of chapter six the reader is painfully aware of how little one penny could buy (in 1595 one egg according to Stow) or conversely how precious one penny could be, not to mention other evidence (e.g., pay scales, working hours) that strongly suggests that a plebeian clientele would be unable to provide even occasional attendance at the theaters, much less the kind of regular playgoing needed to sustain the various theatrical enterprises that re­ mained reasonably healthy for sixty years. Who then could have supported the companies that did survive, even thrive, at the public playhouses? Drawing upon a large arsenal of wea­ pons, Cook argues forcefully for what she terms the “privileged” play­ goers, a distinctive minority that includes “the nobility, the gentry, the wealthier merchants, and the professionals (advocates, clerics, teachers, military officers, and an occasional physician) together with their wives 372 Reviews 373 and children” (p. 16) or, in Sir Thomas Smith’s terms, any person who “can liue idlely, and without manuall labour, and will beare the Port, charge and countenance of a Gentleman” (p. 17). In her second and third chapters she paints a picture for us of the place of the privileged first in England, then in London (where she estimates their number to range from about 27,000 in 1576 to 52,000 in 1642). She then devotes two substantial chapters to the many links between this privileged minority and playgoing: on the one side, education, taste, finances, leisure time; on the other, playhouse locations and capacities, times of performance, prices. For example, she notes that the key to financial success for the large playhouses lay in receipts from the gallery, not the yard, “yet dependence upon the galleries meant dependence upon those prepared to pay double and triple the initial charge or even more” (p 190). A significant part of her argument emerges as “who else but . . .?” As she puts it: “Whose pockets save the privileged were fat enough to pay the price of admission, support the many parasites sucking a living from the theatergoers, and guarantee large profits to the major compa­ nies?” (p 214). Cook then devotes her sixth chapter to the plebeian playgoers, with her emphasis not upon their presence (clearly some were in attendance) but the extent of their patronage at the public theaters. Using the same yardsticks (e.g., wages, available leisure time, times of performance, prices), she argues forcefully that seeing plays “was much above the reach of the poorer sort,” for “on weekday afternoons, with most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 372-374
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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