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used comedies, tragedies, interludes, and histories botb. true and feigned. For acting whereof certain public places, as the Theatre, the Curtain, &c. were erected. They played also in inns, as the Cross Keys, the Bull, the Globe, &c. But this which was once a recreation, and used therefor now and then occasionally, afterwards by abuse became a trade and calling, and so remains to this day. In those former days, ingenious tradesmen, and gentlemen's servants, would sometimes gather a company of themselves and learn interludes, to expose vice, or to represent the noble actions of our ancestors in former times; and these they played at certain festival times, and in private houses at weddings, or other splendid entertainments, for their own profit, acted before such as were minded to divert themselves at them."
From these passages, we learn the several stages through which acting passed, previously to becoming a regular trade and calling.
For the recreation and diversion of the Queen, the Students of the Inns of Court, and the Members of the Universities, acted plays before her.
These were entirely complimentary. The Queen paid nothing for witnessing, neither did the performers receive anything for enacting them.
Ingenious tradesmen, servants and retainers of noblemen, citizens, and gentlemen, also gathered a company of themselves together, and acted plays for the amusement of their customers and employers. These entertainments were of the same character, and dictated by the same feelings, as those given by the lawyers and university men to the Queen.
But, with the permission and license of the noblemen with whom they were connected, these servants and retainers sometimes acted plays at certain festival times, and in private houses, “at weddings and other splendid entertainments, for their own profit.” Here we have a slight change in the nature of Play-acting; for though the play is still acted in a private house, and to a private audience, it is clear that the Actors perform for gain. Then-probably about the year 1570—came the final change, which has endured until the present time. Play-acting became a trade and calling, and certain persons devoted themselves exclusively to it as a means of livelihood. They were engaged by those who were minded to divert themselves at them, or they themselves engaged some House, Inn, or Yard, and admitted persons upon payment to witness their performances.
Shortly after this great change in the economy of play-acting, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the city of London passed an act, which, after enumerating the moral and physical evils which resulted from “the inordinate haunting of great numbers of people, especially youth, to plays, interludes, and shows,” enacts, “ to the intent that such perils may be avoided, and the lawful, honest, and comely use of plays, pastimes, and recreations in good sort only be permitted,” that "no play, comedy, tragedy, interlude, nor show, shall be openly played, wherein shall be allowed any words, examples, or any doing of any unchastity, sedition, nor such like unfit or unseemly matter, upon pain of imprisonment for fourteen days, and a penalty of £5 for every such offender.”
This act also enacts, that every play, &c., shall be perused and allowed by a proper officer before it is performed, and no additional matter interlaced, added, mingled, or altered, after it has been so allowed, under a penalty. That no person shall suffer any plays to be openly played, or take any benefit or advantage from such performance, unless with the license and permission of the Chamberlain of the city of London. And after enacting that all persons so licensed, shall make a certain contribution to the support of the hospitals or sick poor of the city of London, the act concludes thus :-"Provided always, that this act, otherwise than touching the publishing of unchaste, seditious, and unmeet matters, shall not extend to any plays, interludes, comedies, tragedies, or shews, to be played or shewed in the private house, dwelling, or lodging of any Nobleman, Citizen, or Gentleman, which shall or will then have the same there played or shewed in his presence for the festivity of any marriage, assembly of friends, or any like case, without public or common collection of money of the auditory or beholders thereof. Referring always to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen for the time being the judgment and construction according to equity, what shall be counted such a playing and shewing in a private place; anything in this act to the contrary notwithstanding."
From this act we learn that in 1573, the players were in the habit of openly playing—that is, of acting plays to which any person might resort at different inns and taverns of the City.
These inns and taverns were of every variety of consequence and respectability, in accordance with the rank and character, of the parties who resorted to them; and as the company varied, so doubtless
did the nature and scale of the amusements thereat provided.
We may well suppose that one tavern-keeper would provide play-acting as part of the entertainment of his guests, as private individuals did for theirs. Another would allow actors to perform before his guests, obtaining from them, for themselves, such gratuitous remuneration as they could collect. Whilst another would let them the use of his House or Yard, with permission to impose a charge upon any person witnessing their performance.
Now, all this is provided for in the act of Common Council passed in the 17th of Queen Elizabeth. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen do not attempt to prevent plays being acted: their act only affects them when openly played. “The public or common collection of money of the auditory or beholders thereof,” would seem to be a notable characteristic of open playing; but these wise mayors and aldermen, seeing that is not conclusive evidence, reserved to themselves "the judgment or construction, according to equity, of what shall be considered an open playing, and what a playing or shewing in a private place.”
Against this act of Common Council, the Queen's