William John Lawrence.

The Elizabethan playhouse and other studies online

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on Theatres, written, from internal evidence, about the year
1740, and first published in The Harleian Miscellany 1 , one
finds the following curious passage : —

So have I seen large-letter'd bills proclaim

(In red lines 2 France was mark'd, in black the name)

The celebrated H — n 3 was to dance,

His first performance since arriv'd from France.

The house was crowded ; the third act was done ;

A chorus-figur'd entry brought him on.

He came ; he conjur'd once ; & off he run —

The pomp so solemn, ended in a joke

For ah, the strings that ty'd his breeches broke.

The point is not well assured, but it would seem that in
the beginning the vending of programmes was no concern
of the theatrical managers but simply a printer's perquisite,
given to him as a partial set-off against his bill for printing
and delivering a certain number of the bills for use as posters. 4
One notes, by the way, that at Covent Garden, in 1757,
the daily expense for the printing of bills was 2js. y and the
daily payments to "bill-setters", 1 u. 6d.° This impression
regarding the initial arrangement is gained from the practice
then established of selling bills outside the theatres before
the opening of the doors as well as inside afterwards. The
vendors were the orange-women, and, unless we can assume
that they were regularly employed by the theatre managers,
it must be concluded that the bills were delivered to them
by the printer at a discount, much as papers are sold to-day
to newsboys. That the orange-girl was a playhouse institu-

1 Vol. v. p. 580.

2 Rubricated lines were common in French bills as early as 1671. See V. Fournel,
op. cit. p. 127.

3 Quaere, M. Hardouin, maitre a darner, for whom see Emile Dacier, Mademoiselle
Salle, p. 78.

4 Even within living memory a somewhat similar arrangement was effected in
connexion with a number of fashionable London theatres. In or about 1876 the right
of printing and vending programmes was granted for a consideration to Eugene Rimmel,
the perfumer, who utilized them as an advertising medium, and scented them heavily.

5 Account Books of the T. R., Covent Garden, in Egerton MSS., 2267-72.

90 The Origin of the Theatre Programme

tion from Restoration days is shown by the well-grounded
tradition concerning Nell Gwyn :

But first the basket her fair arm did suit,

Laden with pippins and Hesperian fruit ;

This first step raised, to the wondering pit she sold

The lovely fruit smiling with streaks of gold.

Inthe curious scene of the playhouse in Shadwell's comedy,
A True Widow, as produced at Dorset Gardens in 1678, we
see the audience trooping in and hear the orange-woman cry,
" Oranges ! will you have any oranges." She has, however,
no bill of the play to sell, and when the First Bully enters,
he proceeds to ask her, "what play do they play?"

Search as one will, one can nowhere discover that the
managers paid the orange-women a wage and took the
profits of their sales. Even proof that they were the original
vendors of bills is lacking unless we can argue a posteriori
and fall back once more on the longevity of theatrical custom.
Hogarth shows us the orange-women plying their trade in
the pit in his sketch of The Laughing Audience, but he affords
us no glimpse of their sheaf of bills. The earliest reference
to the vending of programmes is associated with February,
1 748, when Foote gave his entertainment at Covent Garden
and imitated Peg Wofrington, in the suppositious role of
"an Orange Woman to the Playhouse," calling out "Would
you have some oranges, — have some orange chips, ladies
and gentlemen, — would you have some nonpariels, — would
you have a bill of the play ? " ! This, of course, only testifies
to the custom within doors, but, three-quarters of a century
later, we find Charles Lamb making sympathetic revealment
of the custom without. Writing of Old Drury in 1782 in
"My First Play", he says :

In those days were pit orders, — Beshrew the uncomfortable
manager who abolished them — with one of these we went. I
remember the waiting at the door — not that which is left — but
between that and an inner door in shelter. O when shall I be
such an expectant again ! — with the cry of nonpareils, an indispens-
able playhouse accompaniment in those days. As near as I can

1 Tate Wilkinson, Memoirs of bis own Life (Dublin, 1 791), i. p. 22.

The Origin of the Theatre Programme 91

recollect, the fashionable pronunciation of the theatrical fruiteresses
then was, 'Chase some oranges, chase some numparls, chase a bill
of the play; — chase pro chuse. But when we got in, and I beheld
the green curtain that veiled a heaven to my imagination, which
was soon to be disclosed — the breathless anticipations I endured !

One old woman sold bills outside Sadlers Wells for fifty-
five years. 1 As a matter of fact, the practice lasted till well
within living memory ; and many old London playgoers
must still recall how, when driving to the theatre thirty odd
years ago, their vehicles were vigorously pursued, as they
neared their destination, by rival playbill vendors. A little
before that, about the year 1 870, managers had discounten-
anced this selling outside, through finding that bills were
being falsified. But the custom had wonderful vitality, and
recurred for a brief period as a sort of epilogue to its history.

Confused from its inception with the daybill, the pro-
gramme had no separate identity, or at least none of any
permanence, until it came to be looked upon as " an ex-
cellent medium for advertising ". The transition, however,
was not abrupt. In the London theatres of forty years ago,
two kinds of programmes were simultaneously provided.
In the cheaper parts of the house a replica of the ordinary
folio daybill was on sale, thin in texture, and pungent to
the nostrils with its heavy burden of undried printer's ink.
This was the last relic of the old "bill of the play". No
one could apply the term to the delicately-perfumed pro-
gramme of octavo size supplied at the same time to the
occupants of the boxes. This was an invidious distinction
to be set up in so democratic an institution as the playhouse.
But, perhaps, on the whole, the advantage was with the man
in the pit. He got what he paid for and nothing more. The
kid-gloved lounger in the boxes, seeking distraction from
actuality, had all its grey grimness thrust upon him by the
matter-of-fact advertisements. The era of rank commer-
cialism — a commercialism which blighted as it progressed
— had dawned in the theatre.

1 For her portrait "in character", see The New Tork Mirror for 30 March, 1889,
W. Marston's article on "The Oldest Theatre."

Early Systems of Admission

Early Systems of Admission

Much of what was distinctive about Elizabethan play-
going arose from the circumstance that the builders of the
first London theatres, instead of charging a fixed annual
rental for the use of their houses, received payment by
results. The system of taking a proportion of the receipts
was the fairest possible. It made all interests identical ;
the proprietors only prospered when the players prospered.
No arrears of rent accrued during those frequent visitations
of plague when the theatres had to be closed. Curiously
enough, this proportional division of the receipts between
the actors and the proprietors conditioned some of the
architectural peculiarities of the early theatre. Separate
entrances were not provided for every section of the house
as now. Even in the largest theatres there were only two
doors, the one leading into the auditorium proper, and the
other into the tiring-house at the back of the stage. * It was
by the latter that the gallant, who came "to publish a hand-
some man and a new suit," by occupying a stool on the
rush-strewn boards, made his entry. The first Globe theatre
on the Bankside was no better provided. It was destroyed by
fire on 29 June, 16 13, and nine days later John Chamberlain
wrote to a friend in the country, describing the occurrence.
According to him the misadventure " fell out by a peal of
chambers (that I know not on what occasion were to be used
in the play), the tampin or stopple of one of them lighting
in the thatch that covered the house, burn'd it down to
the ground in less than two hours, with a dwelling house
adjoining, and it was a great marvaile and fair grace of God,
that the people had so little harm, having but two narrow
doors to get out." 2

1 Cf. J. D. Wilson, Life in Shakespeare s England, p. 92, contemporary record of a
riot in Moore-fields, in 1584. Mention is made of people standing near "Theater
door", as if only one door. See also T. F. Ordish's Early London Theatres, p. 227, for
Taylor's lines dealing with the Hope in 1614, "Some runne to the door to get againe
their coyne." 2 Winwood's Memorials, iii. 469.

96 Early Systems of Admission

Unless the Elizabethan playgoer were content to remain
standing throughout the performance in the seat-less pit,
jostled by stinkards and pickpockets, it was impossible for
him on going to the public theatre to settle finally for his
admission at the door. In 1596 we find Lambard writing
in his Perambulation of Kent, " those who go to Paris Garden,
the Bell-Savage, or Theater, to behold bear-baiting, in-
terludes or fence-play, must not account of any pleasant
spectacle, unless first they pay one penny at the gate, another
at the entry of the Scaffold, and a third for quiet standing."
As each theatre was a law unto itself in the matter of prices
of admission, and as the tariff fluctuated at different periods,
no hard and fast deduction can be made from this passage ;
but, broadly speaking, the curious system of iterated pay-
ment 1 held good until the Restoration.

The question naturally arises, how chanced it that the
playgoer in Shakespeare's day was unable to pay for his box
or gallery seat at the door and have done with the matter ?
To arrive at the answer one has to delve into the documents
published by Halliwell-Phillipps in his Outlines of the Life
of Shakespeare, dealing with the dispute between the sharing
and non-sharing actors at the Globe and Blackfriars in
1635. Going back to a period of more than half a century
previously, Cuthbert Burbage, in his defence, states that his
father, James Burbage, borrowed the large sum of money
at interest with which he built the first playhouse, known
as "The Theater". Writes Burbage : "The players that
lived in those first times had only the profitts arising from
the dores, but now the players receave all the commings
in at the dores to themselves and half the galleries from the
housekepers." In other words, the players in 1576 and
thereabouts shared among them the moneys taken by way
of preliminary admission to the auditorium. The second
payments made by the occupants of the boxes and galleries
accrued to Burbage as rent. Sixty years later the players

1 A somewhat similar arrangement is still pursued in some parts of Southern
Europe. For a modern Spanish analogue, see Henry Lyonnet's Theatre en Espagne
(1897), p. 17.

Early Systems of Admission 97

also received half the takings in the galleries, but out of this
they had to pay "all expenses for hirelings, apparel, poets 1 ,
light and all other expenses of the playhouses." 2

Let us look for a moment more closely into the system
of collecting payment at the Bankside houses three hundred
years ago. With the exception of the few who occupied
stools on the rush-strewn boards or boxes at the rear of
the stage, and who therefore went in by the tiring-house
entrance, peer and pauper, gentle and simple, all made their
way into the house by a common door. In the vestibule
stood an attendant with a box into whose narrow orifice the
playgoer, no matter of what degree, slipped his penny or
twopence, giving preliminary admission to the pit. (The
reader will kindly remember that money in those days had
fully seven times its present purchasing power.) In the
section on the "Price of admission to Theatres," in his
History of English Dramatic Poetry, 3 Payne Collier clearly
shows, by contemporary citation, that all payments, whether
at the door or inside the house, were made not to the
gatherer himself but to his box. This arrangement was
seemingly designed with the view of preventing theft,
and apparently did not permit of change being given.
But pilfering was a common occurrence, and Dekker in
dedicating his play, If it be not good, the Devil is in it
(16 1 2), to his cronies, the Queen's players, wishes them
"a full audience and one honest door-keeper."

1 "Expense of poets" probably meant that the players had to pay the earnest
money handed over to the dramatist to secure the rights of a commissioned, or partly
written play, as well as money for the altering of old plays. In 1614, the Princess
Elizabeth's Servants complained that Henslowe had received from them ^200 or there-
abouts in payment of playbooks, and yet had refused to give up the copies of any of
them (Collier, Annals, iii. 419). It would appear that the first method of remunerating
authors was by a modest lump sum before the production, and that this developed into
the payment of earnest money plus a benefit. Lines 16-25 °f Dekker's prologue to
If It be not Good, the Devil is in it, apparently indicate that at the period of delivery
(according to Fleay, c. Xmas, 1610) authors' benefits were a recent innovation.

2 Outlines (3rd edit., 1883), p. 549. For the arrangements at the Swan, c. 1597,
see Prof. C. W. Wallace's paper on "The Swan Theatre and the Earl of Pembroke's
Servants," in Engliscbe Studien, Band 43, pp. 340 ff. The interpretation at p. 360 of
the Stowe-Langley documents is, however, disputable. For the rules and monetary
allocations at Salisbury Court in 1639, see the puzzling details in Shakespeare Society
Publications, Vol. iv. p. 99.

3 Edit. 1831, iii. 341.


98 Early Systems of Admission

Dives and Lazarus, having made common entry by the
auditorium door and duly paid their pennies to the box, went
along the single passage and found themselves in the pit or
"yard". There Lazarus remained; he had no more to pay.
But Dives desired to make his way to the boxes, or may-
hap to the middle or upper gallery — how did he manage it?
Scrutinize the old Dutch sketch of the interior of the Swan
theatre, and by careful exercise of your intelligence you
will solve the puzzle. Remark that on either side of the
stage is a flight of steps leading from the pit to the boxes
and inscribed "ingressus". Up these steps had to go all
intending occupants of the boxes or galleries ; there were
doubtless connecting staircases behind. No arrangement
could have been clumsier. Attendants must have been
placed at frequent intervals to keep each portion of the
audience in its place during the performance, otherwise the
groundlings would have been unceasing in their invasion
of the higher regions. * One marvels that in the primitive
theatres the utility of separate doors and stairways to each
part did not so far suggest itself as to render the arrange-
ment an imperative necessity. But the fact is that, beyond
permanency of structure and increased accommodation,
they presented little that could be called an improvement
on the temporary playing places in the old inn-yards. To
such an extent, indeed, did the Globe and the Swan and
the Fortune perpetuate the elementary physical conditions
of the inn-yard stages, one shrewdly suspects that many
early theatrical customs — such as the hoisting of flags and
blowing of trumpets — were mere survivals of the older
routine. In the inn-yards payment must in some instances
have been difficult to enforce. Doubtless a fee was exacted
of those who entered the yard by the public gateway, but
the better class people who occupied rooms at the back
of the surrounding gallery were answerable to the inn-
keeper, and not to the players. One takes leave to think

1 Hence the reference in the second Prologue to The Netv Inn (unspoken, but
intended for the Globe or Blackfriars in 1629), "We mean the court above the stairs
and past the guard."

rey JcU£ atenoy


[To face p. 98.

Early Systems of Admission / 99

that their generosity was appealed to, and that the box
was borne round the gallery during the inter-acts precisely
in the manner that buskers send round the hat after a
street performance. 1 The practice would survive like
other customs of the inn-yards, and thus lead to the quaint
system of iterated payments and interior gathering.

judging by what dregs of the old habitude existed at
the Restoration, it would appear that the extra charge for
admission to the boxes and galleries was not collected until
the termination of the first act, and that those who chose to
go out before the gatherer came round had nothing further
to pay. Karl Mantzius, who has probed deeply into the
subject, 2 arrives at the conclusion that the gatherers did
duty on the stage as supernumeraries. There may be some
inclined to doubt this, owing to the paucity of evidence
advanced, but the matter can be placed beyond the regions
of conjecture. The supernumeraries and the gatherers
were not always identical — men adapted to the one task
were not always adapted to the other ; but that both offices
were occasionally fulfilled by the one person is clearly
apparent. Steevens in striving to elucidate "The Plott
of Frederick and Basilea" (1597) was mystified to find the
word "gatherers" placed opposite "the guard", and gave
it as his opinion that "without assistance from the play,
of which this is the plot, the denomination gatherers is
perhaps inexplicable." Collier, in demonstrating that the
puzzle could be solved without any such resource, shows
that he himself had but an imperfect idea of the duties of the
gatherers. He seems to have concluded that all payment
for admission was made at the doors. "The gatherers",
he says, "were those who gathered or collected the money,
and who, during the performance, after all the spectators
were arrived and when their services were no longer needed
at the doors, were required to appear on the stage as the
guard of Myron-hamet." 3

1 Gathering during the performance was one of the oldest of players' customs.
Itinerant companies performing moralities adopted it late in the fifteenth century. Cf.
A. W. Pollard, Macro Plays, Introd. p. xii, and text, p. 17.

2 See his History of Theatrical Art, iii. (1904), p. 109 et seq. 3 op. cit., iii. 403.

ioo Early Systems of Admission

The honest supernumerary could do double duty by
taking round the box in the galleries between the acts, but
not all gatherers were qualified as "supers ", for the reason
that some of them were women, and women were not then
employed in any capacity on the stage. Among the Alleyn
Papers is a document recommending Mrs. Rose, the wife of
a player, for the position of gatherer. l Most of the inferior
actors were anxious (to supplement their scanty income)
that their wives should be employed in this way. In the
will of Henry Cundall, 2 made in 1627, one finds an item
beginning :

I give and bequeath unto my old servant Elizabeth Wheaton
a mourning gown and forty shillings in money, and that place or
priviledge which she now exerciseth and enjoyeth in the houses of
the Blackfryers, London, and the Globe on the Bankside, for and
during all the term of her natural life, if my estate shall so long
continue in the premises, etc. etc.

The " place or priviledge" referred to was doubtless that
of gatherer 3 or doorkeeper. In the epilogue to The Scholars ,
as acted at Salisbury Court circa 1634, we read :

The stubborne author of the trifle crime,
That just now cheated you of two hours' time,
Presumptuous it lik'd him, begun to grow
Carelesse, whether it pleased you or no,
But we who ground th' excellence of a play
On what the women at the dores will say,
Who judge it by the benches, and afford
To take your money, ere his oath or word.

These lines testify that a progressive spirit actuated
the builders of the last of the private theatres, for they
indicate that in Salisbury Court, which dated from 1629,
playgoers were provided with more than one entrance to
the auditorium proper.

1 J. P. Collier, The Alleyn Papers (Shakespeare Society, 1843), P- S*«

2 Cited in extenso in Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1794), ii. pp. 168-72. Cundall
was the original Cardinal in The Dutchess of Malfi.

3 The custom of employing women as gatherers seemingly long persisted. Under
date 25 January, 1705, Luttrell records, "Last night, Captain Walsh quarrelling with
Mrs. Hudson, who keeps the boxes in the playhouse, she pulled out his sword and
killed him." The only playhouse then open was Drury Lane.

Early Systems of Admission 101

With respect to the custom of gathering, an interesting
side-issue calls for some discussion. It is an extraordinary
fact that many writers who have expatiated upon the subject
of the payment of Elizabethan dramatists have told us
merely of the preliminary earnest money handed over and
ignored the chief source of emolument. 1 What excuse
they could proffer for this amazing omission, with Collier's
section, "On the payment of Authors," confronting them,
it would be interesting to learn. The truth is that the
dramatist, like the chief players, was paid largely by results.
If his play was a success he profited accordingly, for he
received the overplus of the second or third day. 2 The
overplus evidently meant the net receipts after the daily
charge of 45^. for hirelings and other expenses had been
deducted. In the case of a successful play or a popular
author this would often amount to a considerable sum,
seeing that admission to the first few performances of a
new piece was invariably doubled. Of this sustainment of
advanced prices we have indication in Jasper Mayne's lines
to the memory of Ben Jonson :

So when the Fox had ten times acted been,
Each day was first, but that 'twas cheaper seen.

Some authors, however, mere dilettanti, looked for no
earnest money and took no benefit. Mayne himself was
among the number, and in his prologue to The City Match,
as spoken at the Blackfriars in 1639, wrote :

Were it his trade, the author bid me say,
Perchance he'd beg you would be good to th' play ;
And I, to set him up in reputation
Should hold a basin forth for approbation.
But praise so gain'd, he thinks were a relief
Able to make his comedy a brief.

Here we have broached the side-issue already spoken of.
How did the author collect his dues on his benefit day ?

1 Cf. Karl Mantzius, History of Theatrical Art, Vol. iii. pp. 123 ff; Rev. £. R.
Buckley, article, "The Elizabethan Playwright in his Workshop," in Gent's Mag.,
June, 1903 5 J. Churton Collins, Posthumous Essays, p. 24.

2 Cf. Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin, 1 794), ii. pp. 1 1 5-6 and 267 ; also Collier, loc. cit.

102 Early Systems of Admission

Did he leave the matter to the tender mercies of the
regular gatherers, putting his trust in Providence, or had
he the right to appoint his own representatives ? As a
passage in Every JVoman in her Humour attests, basins in
those days were usually placed at church doors for collecting
purposes, but we have no other record that they were ever
employed in the playhouse auditorium. Might it not have
been that the basin was the sign and token of the author's
day, and that when it was held forth "for approbation",
the pleased spectator was expected to drop in a trifle extra?
One is prompted to speculate as to the possibility of the
author figuring as his own gatherer. Mayne's sneer half
implies some such arrangement. 1 Custom might have
sanctified so humiliating a procedure, but, somehow, try
as one will, one cannot imagine rare old Ben making per-
sonal appeal of this order.

Old customs die hard, the theatrical custom perhaps
hardest of all. Notwithstanding the dismantling of the
playhouses by the Puritans and the disruptive tendencies
of the Civil War, despite the fact that the new type of
Restoration theatre differed from the Elizabethan type in
possessing separate entrances to every part of the house,
many of the old customs still held sway. 2

Any respectable person who made the excuse that he
wanted to see a friend on pressing business, or who gave
the undertaking that he would not remain longer than
an act, could go into the house without paying. Worthy
Master Pepys records on 7 January, 1667-8, how he
visited both theatres, going "into the pit, to gaze up and
down, and there did by this means, for nothing, see an act

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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 9 of 22)