chapter  2
18 Pages

The Audiences and Their Culture

A contemporary satiric sketch of 'a common player', possibly by a disgruntled playwright, declares, 'howsoever he pretends to have a royal master or mistress, his wages and dependance prove him to be the servant of the people'.1 In other words, though royal patronage and court performances may have conferred status on the players, their survival depended on the people who filled the playhouses. Who were those people? In the public playhouses, we may fairly speak of a 'popular' audience: popular in the sense that admission prices were low, the capacity of the playhouses was large, and it was here that one could expect to find a mixed general public. David Mayer has defined popular drama as 'that drama produced by and offered for the enjoyment or edification of the largest combinations of groupings possible within that society'; he adds that 'the educated, moneyed, aristocratic and professional classes' can be spectators too, but cannot expect their special tastes to affect the performance. His criteria for separating 'popular' and 'aesthetic' drama include the following:

Does the piece give the undiscriminating spectator 'what he wants' at the expense of meeting the tastes and predilections of an educated class? Is the dramatic plot embellished with actions and displays offered as much for their own effect as for their relevance to the plot? Does the piece reassure the audience in the validity of traditional values and in the continuity of belief rather than reinterpret traditional attitudes, accepted facts, or mythologies?2