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Theatre in London

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posted on 2006-04-26, 12:05 authored by Gabriel Egan
For a thousand years after the departure of the Romans in the fifth-century CE no theatres were built in Britain, and Shakespeare's works are key texts in the rebirth of professional playing in the late sixteenth century. There were travelling troupes of players in the late medieval period, comprising on average 4-6 men, and they might even receive royal patronage, but they lacked the element that characterizes professionalism: accumulated capital. Theatrical capital takes three forms--costumes, scripts, and venues--and the pressures placed upon informal troupes of players around the middle of the sixteenth century gave a strong competitive advantage to those troupes which acquired such capital. Travelling players necessarily use whatever venues they can find in the towns they visit, and might also rent costumes at need. The officers of the royal household who controlled costumes used in state pageants appear to have hired them to players as early as the 1520s. In 1550 the aldermen of the city of London prevented 'common' players (those without an aristocratic patron) from playing in the city, and in 1559 Elizabeth 1 issued a proclamation reminding patrons of their obligation to ensure that their players did not perform anything "wherein either matters of religion or of the governaunce of the estate of the commonwealth shall be handled or treated". It was clear that civic and royal authorities wanted players and their patrons to be held accountable, and casual troupes without a patron found life increasing difficult.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


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EGAN, G., 2003. Theatre in London. IN: WELLS and ORLIN (eds.), Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press


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