chapter  3
41 Pages

· Players and playing

Although the Elizabethan theatrical companies bore the names of noble families, their financial organization was quite independent of their aristocratic patrons. Before the construction of the playhouses, London drama had been dominated by boy companies attached to schools or religious institutions, and by small groups of adult players who acted more or less regularly in the City's inns or in the halls of the nobility for occasional performances. Payments for performances by the boys at Court and elsewhere went to the master who had schooled them; what could be gathered from the inn audiences was presumably split among the players. The capital investment in playhouses together with large stocks of costumes and properties, however, necessitated a more sophisticated financial structure. Evidence from the diary of Philip Henslowe, who had a close financial relationship with the Admiral's and Lord Worcester's Men, as well as from a number of legal documents reveals that the main companies at least were owned by a syndicate of their leading players. Each company had about five or ten 'sharers' who, in return for investing capital in the company, took their profits by dividing among themselves the receipts from one part of the house, first the yard, later the galleries.' Shares in companies could be bought, sold, bequeathed, or divided among several individuals. The rest of the takings went to the owner of the playhouse and to support the rest of the organization: the tailors and tire-men who had care of the costumes, the book-holder and stage-keepers, and the gatherers - as well as the hiremen and the boys. For before he could acquire the status (or the capital) of a sharer, a player often progressed through two stages analogous to the degrees found in most Elizabethan trades, that of apprentice and that of hireman or journeyman. Actors did not, however, form a craft guild and the fiction of feudal patronage meant that boys had the status of servants to full members of the company. 'Hirelings' played minor parts and were paid a weekly salary or might be taken on for a particular performance. The

articles of agreement between Henslowe and several players have survived: I reprint the memorandum for the playwright Thomas Heywood who bound himself to play at the Rose for two years: 2

Memorandum that this 25th of March, 1598, Thomas Heywood came and hired himself with me as a convenant servant for two years by the receiving oftwo single pence according to the statute of Winchester and to begin at the day above written and not to play anywhere public about London not while these two years be expired but in my house if he do then he doth forfeit unto me by the receiving of these two pence forty pounds ...