We know rather less about stage‐keepers. We have no grounds to suppose that the men who actually performed this duty were as garrulous, fixed in their (poor) judgments, or convinced that everything was so much better in Tarlton’s time as the character in the Induction to Bartholomew Fair. Little in that role relates to his real work, except when he talks of his “judgment” and the book‐keeper asks him “For what? Sweeping the stage, or gathering up broken apples for the bears within?” (2012b, 37–9). Collecting up discarded apple‐cores for the bears would only apply to the Hope, where Jonson’s play was staged; it doubled as a bear‐baiting arena. But stages doubtless always needed sweeping, being fairly open to the elements. And they would have been strewn with fresh green rushes for each performance, a common recourse in houses with wooden floors; they helped freshen a room, protected the floors, absorbed or hid stains, and possibly softened the sounds of movement (see p. 268).

We know that rushes were also used for freshness in the gentlemen’s rooms and may suppose that was the case in the lords’ rooms (p. 234). It would make sense for the stage‐keeper to attend to all these contexts. And there would always have been need to tidy up the playhouse after a large crowd. Yet again, however, this hardly seems like a full‐time job. Possibly he was responsible for overseeing stage machinery, such as descent apparatus and trapdoors, but there is no record of this. He also might have had some responsibility for the security of the building, which housed so much of the company’s property.

The playwright Robert Daborne does suggests another function the stage‐keeper fulfilled, in a letter to Henslowe: “I pray you, sir, let the boy give order this night to the stage‐keeper to set up bills against Monday for Eastward Ho and on Wednesday the new play [i.e. the one Daborne was writing]” (Greg, 1907, 71). Bills were an important – and still quite novel – way of advertising the companies and their offerings: such mass entertainment as they were able to offer from the 1570s onwards was a new phenomenon, and it would be essential to spread the word when a company came to town, especially if it was putting on a play in a suburban amphitheater, some way from where most people lived (see p. 106). Even with an established company, it would be essential to keep spreading the word about an ever‐changing repertoire. From at least 1587 these bills were printed rather than handwritten – the right to print them became a lucrative monopoly for one printer at a time – and so could be posted in numbers (Stern, 2006).

Hence in the anti‐theatrical literature bills are often coupled with the drums and trumpets which similarly announced the company’s presence, both signs of the devil at work. This is the thrust of an anonymous rant to Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s Secretary of State, in 1587: “The daily abuse of the stage plays is such an offence to the godly, and so great a hindrance to the Gospel, as the papists so exceedingly rejoice at the blemish thereof, and not without cause; for every day in the week the players’ bills are set up in sundry place of the city … so that when the bells toll to the lecturer [preacher], the trumpets sound to the stages” (ES, 4: 303–4). In 1581 the Lord Mayor of London had given specific orders to his officials not to allow theatrical bills to be posted: “give straight charge and commandment to all the inhabitants within the same ward that they do not at any time hereafter suffer any person or persons whatsoever to set up or fix any briefs upon any posts, houses, or other places within your wards, for the show or setting out of any plays, interludes or prizes within this city … and that if any such shall be set up, the same presently to be pulled down and defaced” (ES, 4: 283). This order had no lasting effect – as the letter to Walsingham attests.

Some “person or persons,” then, had the chore “every day of the week” of posting these bills for the players “in sundry places” (“posts, houses”) all over the city. This apparently included the doors of the theatres themselves. During the Commonwealth period Richard Flecknoe bemoaned: “From thence passing on to the Blackfriars, and seeing never a playbill on the gate, no coaches on the place, nor doorkeeper at the playhouse door” (1653, 141). It is unlikely that the stage‐keeper would have handled the whole operation on his own, but he does seem to have been involved.

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