Lords’ Rooms

The size and facilities of the tiring house are even more of an enigma than the disposition of the audience; all the Fortune contract tells us about it is that its windows were glazed. We do not know its depth, though it presumably extended back into the gallery space behind the stage, minimizing the amount of actual stage space it took up. Nor do we know how many windows there were, or how the rooms behind them were divided or what each was used for. But there is a strong presumption (“as seems almost certain,” is how E. K. Chambers puts it: ES, 3:118–19) that they included a lords’ room, or multiple lords’ rooms, for the wealthiest members of the audience, overlooking the stage.

We first hear of such a room when Henslowe repaired the Rose in 1592, paying out 10s “for sealing the room over the tirehouse” and 13s “for sealing my lord’s room” (ES, 2: 535). Henslowe’s latter phrasing suggests that at least one of these rooms was meant for the lord who was patron of the company playing at the theatre, so this may have been an innovation when specific companies became identified with particular theatres, as Lord Strange’s Men were then becoming identified with the Rose. But Thomas Dekker’s reference to “the lords’ room” in The Gull’s Hornbook (1609) suggests that they were – at least by then – more generally available to gallants willing to pay the price, perhaps as much as sixpence, six times what people in the pit paid, if not a shilling (ES, 4: 366; see p. 293). This squares with the evidence from Jonson’s first Globe play, Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), which describes a character boasting of familiarity with aristocrats “as if he had … ta’en tobacco with them over the stage i’the lords’ room” (2012i, 2.2.234–6).

This almost certainly means that those buying such seating must have entered through a privileged doorway at the rear of the tiring house.4 Even more decisively than those who used the staircases, they would not have to mingle with the lower orders – but would rub shoulders with the actors themselves and the playhouse personnel, a familiarity between the social élite and stars of the stage which persists to this day. As Richard Hosley puts it:

In addition to the pleasures of seeing and being seen, hob‐nobbing with the players (what we should call “going back stage”) may also have been an attraction of sitting in the Lords’ room, for one must have reached it by a stairway within the tiring‐house. (On “going back stage” compare Gossip Mirth, a “presenter” sitting upon the stage in Jonson’s Staple of News, 1626: “I was i’ the Tiring‐house a while to see the Actors drest.”) And still another attraction of sitting in the Lords’ room may have been, as Lawrence suggests, that one entered the theatre by a door leading from the street directly into the tiring‐house, thus escaping contact with the mob.

(1957, 25; citing Lawrence, 1912, 33)

Earlier playhouses like the Theatre and the Curtain may not have had such a facility. But these rooms seem to be what are indicated in the De Witt / van Buchell drawing of the Swan, a gallery or row of boxes above door height in the face of the tiring house.5 There indeed people “not only see everything well, but can be seen,” as Thomas Platter put it (though he was talking about the gentlemen’s rooms: see p. 159–60). This arrangement thus preserved, after a fashion, the social decorum we observed at performances in colleges and country houses, where the seating of the élite took distinct precedence over the convenience of the players. The rest of the audience could hardly see the action of the play without also seeing those in these rooms – as well as those only marginally socially inferior, occupying the “gentlemen’s rooms,” which seem to have been situated at stage‐level, to its right and left. This would have been especially the case for action on the upper stage, such as when “They heave Antony aloft to Cleopatra” (4.15.38SD) – Antony and Cleopatra (circa 1606–8) is certainly a Globe play.

This presumably means that some of the space either within or adjacent to the lords’ rooms could be used for playing when a show called for it. In the 1597 first quarto of Romeo and Juliet, which presumably describes staging at the Theatre, a stage direction reads “Enter Romeo and Juliet at the window” (3.5.0) which may suggest that, there at least, the upper tier in the tiring house contained a number of discrete rooms with glazed windows, which could be opened for playing as necessary – rather than an open gallery. This would make it relatively easy to limit the number of rooms available for audience use when an upper space was required for playing. As Richard Hosley argued: “the gallery over the stage was also used as a box or boxes for audience” but after showing that barely half of all Globe plays called for such a use, he concluded that it “functioned primarily and constantly as a Lords’ room, and only secondarily, occasionally, and then for relatively short periods as a raised production area; and that during such periods it exercised both functions simultaneously” (1957, 23, 31).

There could be no stronger testament to the difference beween Elizabethan and modern attitudes to the social location of theatre, and the placement within it of its audiences, than this statement that appears in the Glossary section of the “Shakespeare’s Globe” web site: “Lords’ Rooms: located on the upper stage gallery, to the left and right of the musicians’ gallery; these were the most expensive seats in Shakespeare’s playhouse. Today, no one sits in the Lords’ Rooms, as they are used for stage action, but the name has remained.” (http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discovery‐space/adopt‐an‐actor/glossary: accessed 28 November 2016).

Box 6.1 Contentions About the Globe: Size, Audience, Seating on the Stage

Because of its association with Shakespeare, issues relating to the Globe have attracted far more attention and controversy than those relating to any other early modern theatre. It would be tedious to take the reader through them all, blow‐by‐blow. But I should acknowledge that my account of the Globe involves at least two assumptions which modern scholarship has found contentious: the overall size of the building and the issue of privileged seating. The Fortune contract may imply but does not categorically state that the new playhouse should be the same size as the Globe. Shakespeare’s Globe on the Bankside – the modern reconstruction – is actually about 100 ft in outer diameter (30.48 m), significantly bigger than the 80 ft square specified in the Fortune contract. This is because of the scholarship of John Orrell, most particularly that in his The Quest for Shakespeare’s Globe (1983), on which the reconstruction was based. It is a remarkable piece of work, in which Orrell demonstrates that the groundwork for Wenceslas Hollar’s famous Long View of London (1647) was done in the 1630s using a perspective or topographical glass, from the top of St Saviour’s Church (now Southwark Cathedral), ensuring a methodically high level of accuracy. But the Long View itself is not as photographically accurate as it might be, because its elements have been subtly adjusted for artistic effect, and besides the engraving itself was not done on the spot but in Antwerp. (So, for example, it infamously reverses the labels of the Hope and Globe playhouses, the latter being wrongly marked “bear‐baiting”: see Figure 6.1.) However, some preparatory sketches for the Long View are remarkably accurate, including one entitled “West part of Southwark towards Westminster,” which is reproduced in The Quest on pages 2 and 3. Trusting to that accuracy Orrell deduced mathematically that the Globe measured just over 100 ft in diameter, and that was accepted by the builders of Shakespeare’s Globe.6

Image described by caption.

Figure 6.1 Section of Hollar’s famous map vista, London from the Bankside.

Source: Map L85c, no. 29, Part 1, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Aspects of Orrell’s methodology were, however, challenged by Franklin Hildy, who argued that he had introduced certain distortions which might exaggerate the figures. In his view the diameter was not more than 90 ft (27.43 m) (Hildy, 1993). And the controversy was intensified in 1989 by the discovery of the remains, first of the Rose playhouse, and second of the Globe. The archaeology of both sites (but especially the Globe) has been limited by their locations, but one thing to emerge is that the Rose was no more than 72 ft (21.95 m) across. The very small portion of the Globe’s foundations to be uncovered were sufficient to convince Orrell that his original calculations of its diameter, close to 100 ft, were accurate, but some (especially archaeologists) have argued that 90 ft is more realistic.

The issue will presumably remain unresolved until or unless it is ever possible to excavate the Globe remains further. If we accept Orrell’s 100 foot diameter, however, and assume the galleries were the same width as those at the Fortune, we are left with a yard 75 ft (22.86 m) across, and a stage extending more than 37 ft (11.43 m) into the yard – a much more spacious operation, and pretty much what Shakespeare’s Globe offers. In staying with the Fortune’s figures I am not assuming necessarily that they are right, but acknowledging that the relationship of the overall size (inside and out), the depth of the galleries, and the width and depth of the stage to each other is one that consummate theatrical professionals in Shakespeare’s day chose to adopt. However accurate Orrell’s external dimensions might be, all the other figures in his model are guesswork.

On the issue of privileged or conspicuous seating in the lords’ rooms and the gentlemen’s rooms, we need to consider the issue in relation to wider debates about the nature of Shakespeare’s audience. Alfred Harbage first articulated a view of that audience which has lodged in the general consciousness: “I believe that Shakespeare’s audience was a large and receptive assemblage of men and women of all ages and all classes … Unlike some other audiences existing in and near his time, Shakespeare’s audience was literally popular, ascending through each gradation from potboy to prince” (1941, 158–9). The timing of that assertion – as the English‐speaking world was fighting a war to protect democratic civilization – was significant. The main “other audiences” he was probably thinking of were those in the much more exclusive (because expensive) indoor or “private” theatres, for which Shakespeare would write at the end of his career. For Harbage, the Globe was the home of authentic Shakespeare. Some forty years later Ann Jennalie Cook challenged Harbage, arguing that “the more leisured classes” (whom she defines as the “privileged” minority of a very hierarchical society, the ones with the wealth to behave independently) formed the overwhelming majority of his audience (1981). There is plenty of evidence that skilled artisans, apprentices, unskilled workers, and even paupers attended the playhouses, but Cook’s claim was that they were statistical outliers. Much more typical would be students at the Inns of Court, like the young John Donne (described by a contemporary as “a great visitor of ladies, a great frequenter of plays, a great writer of conceited verses”). Those with money and free time would always predominate.

Later again, Andrew Gurr challenged the generalized demographic methodologies of both Harbage and Cook, arguing that it was important to recognize the extent to which different playhouses catered to different clienteles and so attracted different social and economic mixes (2004b; 1987). Moreover, reputations and repertoires changed over time. The reemergence of the boy companies around 1600, and particularly of the Blackfriars boys using the Burbages’ theatre, represented a particular challenge to Shakespeare’s company, since they certainly targeted an élite, high‐paying audience which the Chamberlain’s Men might well have wanted to cultivate.7 Their “railing” style of satirical plays, aimed at the court and courtiers, generated numerous scandals, which I discuss elsewhere (see p. 284). At the other extreme the two northern amphitheaters, the Fortune near the site of the old Theatre and the Red Bull in Clerkenwell, seem to have cultivated audiences of citizens and apprentices, with popular Protestant patriotic fare such as the Elect Nation plays based often on John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs ‐‐ plays like Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody (1604), Samuel Rowley’s When You See Me You Know Me(1604), and Thomas Dekker’s The Whore of Babylon (1606). The Fortune may have been modeled on the Globe, but its repertoire was distinctively different, with a more populist edge. Heywood also entertained the Red Bull audience with his five “Ages” plays (The GoldenSilverBrazen and Iron Ages, the last in two parts, all circa 1610–13), popularizations of classical myths and tales, staged on a grand scale and with spectacular properties and effects. The Silver Age, for example, includes these stage directions: “Enter Pluto with a club of fire, a burning crown … and a guard of devils, all with burning weapons”; “Jupiter appears in his glory under a rainbow”; “Thunder, lightnings, Jupiter descends in his majesty, his thunderbolt burning”; “fireworks all over the house.” The northern amphitheaters developed particular reputations for pyrotechnics.

Shakespeare’s company seems on the whole to have steered a middle course between catering for coterie audiences and pandering to popular tastes. As Andrew Gurr puts it: “As always … its offerings and playgoers stood midway between the familiar extremes of amphitheatre reputation and hall [i.e. indoor] playhouse snobbery, which first began to show themselves in the year the Globe was built” (1987 ed., 190). In the latest edition he puts it slightly differently, arguing that “Shakespeare’s company avoided the ‘public’ or popular tag which clung to Henslowe’s companies and also the risks of being outrageous which the Blackfriars boys ran to get their ‘private’ or ‘select’ playgoers into their seats” (2004b, 188).8

The issue of seating within the Globe, and most particularly the conspicuous position of the lords’ room and the gentlemen’s rooms, can thus been seen as related to commercial competition. The Globe did not cater solely for the most privileged of playgoers, the most extravagant of whom at the Blackfriars paid as much as 6d. or even 12d. (over and above the 6d. entry charge) to sit on the stage itself, as much the center of attention as the play – up to twelve times the cost of entry to the Globe’s pit. But it did cater at somewhat lower cost for a number of such customers wishing to display themselves in the prestige rooms (and, at least for a time, on the stage itself) and demonstrate the kind of social superiority they doubtless enjoyed outside of the theatre. At the same time, almost anyone could – and did – brave the weather and stand in the Globe’s pit.

I need to say more in this context about Leslie Hotson’s Shakespeare’s Wooden O (see p. 5). As I mentioned earlier, Hotson describes many other instances of the kind of hierarchically‐conscious audience arrangements such as I described in Christ Church Hall for Elizabeth at Oxford in 1566. It is perfectly clear that these were the norms in such private theatricals as those at court, university colleges, and other privileged institutions, such as civic guildhalls and the great houses of the aristocracy and gentry – indeed most of the playing spaces we have imagined Shakespeare using before he can be identified on the London stage. But Hotson gets carried away and tries to argue that the model was transposed very substantially into the Globe. He argues, in particular, that not only were there lords’ rooms above the stage but also that substantial numbers of wealthy and well‐dressed people habitually sat on the stage. This is surprising because it is popularly supposed that sitting on the stage was a distinctive feature of the indoor, “private” theatres.9

The Fortune contract confirms that the stage at the Globe was 43 ft (13.11 m) wide, leaving about 6 ft (nearly two metres) on either side between its edge and the galleries.10 It extended to the middle of the yard, some 27½ ft (8.38 m), though some of that depth would have been taken up by the tiring house. It was certainly large enough to accommodate some spectators – far more so, as we shall see, than the Blackfriars (see p. 294). And E. K. Chambers perhaps surprisingly claims, of seating spectators on the stage, that “as it certainly originated in the public houses, so it maintained itself there in spite of the grumbles of the ordinary spectators” (ES 2: 536; my emphasis). He cites two pieces of evidence. One is the Epigrams of Sir John Davies, published (and banned) in 1599, but apparently written some years earlier; Epigram 3 has Rufus, “the courtier at the theater” who “Doth … to the stage transfer” and Epigram 28 speaks of “He that dares take tobacco on the stage.” The second item from 1599 is Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour, which (as noted earlier) is the first printed play to have been written for and performed at the Globe. In it Carlo Buffone offers the foolish Sogliardo a lot of advice about, in effect, how to be even more foolish: “and when it comes to plays, be humorous, look with a good starched face, and ruffle your brow like a new boot, laugh at nothing but your own jests, or else as the noblemen laugh, that’s a special grace you must observe … Ay, and sit o’the stage and flout – provided you have a good suit” (2012i, 1.2.47–52). Paul’s playhouse, the smallest of the indoor “private” theatres, reopened late in 1599 but there is no reason to suppose that either of these items refers to arrangements there: the references are to public theatres, the latter to the Globe itself.

Chambers advances one last piece of evidence. In Dekker’s The Gull’s Hornbook (1609) the gallant is offered this advice: “Whether therefore the gatherers of the public or private playhouses stand to receive the afternoon’s rent, let our gallant (having paid it) presently advance himself up to the throne of the stage” (ES, 4: 366; my emphasis). Hotson too quotes this passage, but Bernard Beckerman peremptorily dismisses it, accusing Hotson of taking “seriously what is patently a satiric description of a fool intruding where he does not belong” (1962, 97). Patently? Leslie Thomson has recently brought together a wider collection of references to playgoers sitting on amphitheater stages (2010). These include Middleton’s Black Book (1604), which refers to “Barnaby Burning‐Glass, arch tobacco‐taker of England, in ordinary, upon stages both common and private” (sig. F2r; my emphasis). She also adduces evidence from litigation that people sat on the stage of the Red Bull (“of all places”) in the latter half of the Jacobean period. And Henry Hutton’s Follie’s Anatomy (1619) contains this passage: “The Globe tomorrow acts a pleasant play … / Go take a pipe of to[bacco]; the crowded stage / Must needs be graced with you and your page” (B2v).

As far as the Globe is concerned, the most compelling evidence against the proposition that members of the audience sat on the stage is, as Beckerman argues, the Induction to John Marston’s The Malcontent. Marston had written the play for the Blackfriars boys but in 1604 the King’s Men somehow acquired it, claiming it was in retaliation for a play of theirs stolen by the boys. John Webster wrote an Induction for it, a piece of metatheatrical joking, in which three of the company play “themselves” – Burbage, Henry Condell, and John Lowin – while William Sly appears as a young theatergoer, accompanied by his cousin, “Doomsday,” played by John Sinklo. It begins:

Enter W. Sly, a tire‐man following him with a stool.

Tire‐man. Sir, the gentlemen will be angry if you sit here.

Sly. Why, we may sit upon the stage at the private house. (1–2)

“Immediately it is apparent that, contrary to Hotson’s fancy, sitting on the stage was not the custom and its introduction was not happily countenanced by the ‘gentlemen’” (Beckerman, 1962, 96). The joke is thus the same as in The Gull’s Hornbook (if that passage is read ironically), at the expense of the gallant who simply does not know the different conventions at the public and private theatres. But Leslie Thomson counters: “Although the extreme metatheatricality of the whole Induction necessarily undermines any exclusively literal interpretation, if one begins with the premise that playgoers did sometimes sit on the Globe stage, it is possible to understand the Sly‐Tireman exchange as an attempt to discourage the practice” (6) – but thereby also as evidence that it existed.

The references in Every Man Out of His Humour and Follie’s Anatomy establish fairly categorically that there was audience seating on the stage at the Globe as early as 1599 and as late as 1619. The evidence from the Induction to The Malcontent and The Gull’s Handbook proves to be more ambiguous about the years in between. Those included the years (1600–1609) when the company was in direct competition with the boys at the Blackfriars, who certainly allowed this practice, and Andrew Gurr maintains that “[s]itting on stools on the stage was clearly taken to be a very distinct mark of the difference between the audiences for the adult plays in the amphitheatres and for boy plays in the hall playhouses through the decade 1600–1609 when they were competing for audiences” (2004b, 36–7). I am less sure.

Hotson was not wrong, therefore, about audience members sitting on the stage of the Globe, though it may not have happened in that key decade when Shakespeare was primarily writing for that stage; and he must surely have over‐estimated the numbers – he speaks of “a many‐hued insolent phalanx of several dozen” (1960, 26). But he was certainly not wrong about the prevalence of hierarchically‐sensitive seating in many other places where Elizabethan drama was performed. Indeed his mistake was in not recognizing that simply in the lords’ rooms and the gentlemen’s rooms Shakespeare’s company (and those in other public theatres by this time) had sufficiently adapted the convention to suit the circumstances of a public amphitheater playhouse. The Queen might never have been there in person, but as the lower‐paying members of the audience looked through the performance to see the lords and the gentry in their finery, whether in the most exclusive rooms or seated on the stage itself, they saw everything she represented. To this extent, the Globe reproduced in its own way the same kind of hierarchical stationing as we have observed in all the other playing spaces where we have imagined Shakespeare performing.11

There remains, however, much that the Fortune contract does not tell us. Despite its careful detail about the main structure, it tells us remarkably little about the stage proper; it does not specify its height; the number or location of doors; whether or not there was a discovery space or trapdoors. Presumably Street would remember all of these from the Globe. It also says nothing about painting the building (though it specifies carved satyrs as decorations), because this was expressly not left to Street and his team but doubtless left to skilled professional painters. We recall Heywood’s description of the “heavens” in Rome’s Campus Martius (p. 98) and even in the much more limited space of the Globe, we must assume that they went for something in rich, glowing colors. The pillars holding up the heavens doubtless emulated the Swan in being painted to look like marble. Hamlet/Burbage presumably gestured to the heavens themselves, decorated with stars, planets and zodiacs, when he spoke of “this brave o’erhanging, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire” (2.2.291–2).

From other sources, we can put together the following: the only contemporary record that specifies the height of a stage is the litigation over Brayne’s Red Lion, where the stage was 5 ft (1.52 m) from the floor. This seems high, but it would certainly ensure everyone in the pit a clear view (though they might acquire a crick in the neck). It would also prevent persons in the pit from getting up on to the stage, probably a necessary precaution. The invasion of the stage by the Citizen, his Wife and Rafe in Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (a Blackfriars play) is not something a company would want to contemplate in reality.

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