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semicircular form. Beneath this were small divisions called rooms, answering in almost every respect to our boxes; these seem occasionally to have been the property of private individuals, who in that case kept them locked. The centre part, which was then called the pit, had neither floor nor benches. The common people standing here to see the performances are therefore called in Hamlet, “groundlings” - a term repeated by Decker, who speaks of “the groundling and gallery commoner buying his sport by the penny.” The pit was separated from the stage by a paling; there was no intervening orchestra; the music, consisting of one or more trumpets, cornets, hautboys, lutes, recorders, viols, or organs, was placed in a raised balcony, nearly occupying the space of the upper stage-box in our modern theatres. The stage was elevated above the pit as at present, and had an upper stage or gallery at the back, which had curtains to draw in front. Part of the performance was carried on in this upper stage, as when the actors were to speak from a window or battlement, or to overhear what was going on, on the lower stage. There were curtains sliding on rings and rods in other parts of the lower stage, through which the actors made their exits and entrances. It may with safety be affirmed that the Blackfriars Theatre had originally no scenery. The locality of the scene was indicated by a written paper placed at the back of the stage; the imagination of the audience supplied the rest.
Sir Philip Sydney, describing the state of the drama and the stage in his time, about 1583, says : -"Now, you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then you must believe the stage to be a garden. By-and-by, we have news of a shipwreck in the same place; then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out an hideous monster, with fire and smoke, and the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the mean time, two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field ?"
Hitherto the description of the theatre has reference to its appearance during the reign of Elizabeth. Decker mentions some other accommodation; but his work, The Guls Horne Book, or Fashions to suit all Sorts of Guls, was not published until 1609; he says, that there were private boxes on each side of the stage, “almost smothered in darkness, and also that seats or
stools were allowed to be placed on the stage, which were usually occupied by the wits, gallants, and critics of the day. “For by sitting on the stage,” says he, "you have a signed patent to engross the whole commodity of censure; may lawfully presume to be a girder, and stand at the helm and steer the passage of scenes.”
He enumerates other advantages appreciated by the fast men of his day.
The prices of admission seem to have varied from a penny up to a shilling, and even two shillings, upon some extraordinary occasions.
Prior to the commencement of the play, the audience amused themselves with cards, smoking tobacco, drinking ale, cracking nuts, and eating fruit, which were regularly supplied by men attending the theatre, by whose vociferations and clamour, as a writer of the time expresses it, "you were made adder-deaf by pippin cry.” The stage had very little if any decoration; it was sometimes hung with black for tragedy; but the wardrobes are reported to have been costly. This we can readily suppose, as the actors performed upon all occasions in the court-dress of the period; and as the clothes of the nobility and gentry descended as heirlooms, and tinsel and tawdry as yet were not, much expense must necessarily have been incurred in providing dresses. Sir Henry Wotton alludes to their magnificence in the letter to Sir Edmund Bacon, in which he narrates the destruction of the Globe Theatre, July 2nd, 1613 :
“Now, to let matters of state sleep I will entertain you with what hath happened this week at the Bankside.
“The King's players had a new play, called All is True, representing some principall pieces in the reign of Henry VIII., which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage, the knights of the order, with their Georges and garter, the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like, sufficient in truth, within a while, to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous.
“Now, King Henry making a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain chambers being shot off at the entry, some of the paper or other stuff wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where, being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds. This
was the fatal period to that virtuous fabrique, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle-ale."
From what has been already advanced respecting players and theatres, we proceed to draw some inferences.
We believe the Blackfriars to have been a public theatre, and that the “common plaies,” being accessible to every one who could command the small sum charged for admission, were resorted to by the very lowest of the people. We say the “common plaies”; for discarding Mr. Collier's distinction of public and private, and adopting the one suggested in its stead, renders intelligible the words, cominon plaies, which occur not unfrequently.
The "common plaies” were, we apprehend, the ordinary performances to which every one could obtain access upon payment; but occasionally noblemen and others commanded a play, and secured the house for themselves and their friends: thus the Blackfriars Theatre was, as every theatre since has been and is, both a public and a private theatre: public, in that the proprietors were licensed or