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theatres; and that in the private theatres, plays were usually presented by candlelight.”
“From various authorities,” says Collier, “I find that there were seven distinguishing marks of a private playhouse.
“1. Private theatres were of smaller dimensions than public theatres.
“ 2. They were entirely roofed in from the weather, while public theatres were open to the sky, excepting over the stage, and boxes or rooms.
“ 3. The performances at private theatres were by candle or torch light.
“ 4. They had pits furnished with seats; and not yards, as they were called in public theatres, where the spectators stood to behold the plays.
“ 5. The audience at private theatres usually consisted of a superior class of persons.
“ 6. The visitors there had a right to sit upon the stage during the performance.
“7. The boxes or rooms of private theatres were enclosed or locked.”
Although agreeing with Mr. Tomlin, “that it is with diffidence that any one should differ with Mr. Collier in matters to which he has devoted so much ability, so perseveringly, and with such unusual advantages,” yet it certainly would not be
difficult," from various authorities,” to controvert or explain away every one of these “
seven distinguishing marks of a private playhouse."
Every one at all conversant with the subject, knows that several of these “distinguishing marks” were not peculiar to private playhouses; and, even if they were their usual characteristics, they, individually and collectively, afford no sufficient reason why such a theatre should be called private.
The word public is definite and intelligible enough. Private does not admit of so precise a definition. Oxford Street is a public way wherein we all may walk at all times. Lansdown Passage, the narrow passage between the gardens of Devonshire and Lansdown Houses, is a private way; so is the road through Hyde Park: yet the former is not discernible from a public way, except on Sept. 1, when it is closed; and the latter is essentially a public way to every one who does not rise before five in the morning, nor journey abroad after ten at night. It would be easy to enumerate various other ways which are so strictly private that few, or none, may walk therein.
In these cases, having defined what "public" is, we may safely assert that "private” is anything that is not public.
It has ever been held, that any place or theatre to which payment alone entitles any person to the right to enter, must be considered a public place or theatre.
A theatre being public or private did not, nor does not, depend upon its construction or the deportment of the auditory, but solely in the circumstances by which admission to it is obtained; and this is often so nice a question, that we see in the act we recently referred to, the Mayor and Aldermen wisely “reserved to themselves the judgment and construction, according to equity, as to what shall be counted such a playing or showing in a private place.”
If the definition of public and private which we have endeavoured to establish, be correct, it will tend to elucidate much that has hitherto been obscure. Plays acted by students of the inns of court, and the members of the universities, before the Queen, and by servants and retainers before noblemen, citizens, and gentlemen, their employers, not being accessible to everybody, are doubtless to be considered private playings. But when these noblemen gave their servants permission to perform for their own profit, besides performing at private houses, at weddings, and other splendid entertain
ments, they also played at inns and taverns. The professed players must have done so, until they obtained a theatre to themselves, and probably continued to do so after that time. But in either case the public playing did not depend upon locality; but wherever a play was openly played, that place was for the time being, whether a tavern or a yard, a public theatre.
The Blackfriars Theatre being exclusively devoted to the acting of plays, was in a special sense a public theatre, at which those persons who had adopted play-acting as a trade or calling found a local habitation, and carried on their occupation for the purpose of obtaining a livelihood.
Some writers will insist that this theatre at Blackfriars was the Drury Lane of the days of Elizabeth, and that the license granted to the players was equivalent to a modern patent. The very reverse of this was the fact : the license was not a mark of approbation, but of toleration; it was not so much to secure them certain privileges, as to confine them within due limits, and render them more promptly amenable to the law. Thus the last clause in the orders of the Privy Council expressly states—“That for breaking any of these orders, their toleration cease.”
There is another sense in which the words public and private are used, which may possibly have misled Mr. Collier. Inns and taverns were called in the days of Elizabeth, as indeed they are now, public-houses; and when the actors performed at the Blackfriars, the Cockpit, and Salisbury Court, they called it playing at a private house; and performing at the Globe, the Cross Keys, or any inns or taverns, they called playing at a public house.
So a public house was ordinarily a private theatre, and the public theatre was a private house.
The following abstract from a pamphlet* in the King's Library, British Museum, supports this view:
Oppressed with many calamities, and languishing to death under a long and (for ought we know) an everlasting restraint, we, the comedians, tragedians, and actors of all sorts and sizes belonging to the famous private and public houses within the city of London and the suburbs thereof, to you Great Phoebus, and you Sacred Sisters, the sole patronesses of our distressed calling, do we in all humility present this our humble and lamentable complaint, by whose intercession to those powers
* The Actors' Remonstrance or Complaint for the Silencing their Profession, and Banishment from their several Playhouses. London : Printed by Edw. Nickson, Jan. 24, 1643.