Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare's Theater shows how the rise of England's first commercialized culture industry also gave rise to the first generation of participatory consumers and their attempts to engage with mainstream culture by writing early modern "fan fiction."
2017 | 256 pages | Cloth $59.95
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Table of Contents
Introduction. "All write Playes"
Chapter 1. "Mayn't a spectator write a comedy?": The Early Modern Idea of Playgoers as Playmakers
Chapter 2. "Some other may be added": Playwriting Playgoers Revising in Their Manuscripts
Chapter 3. "As shall be shewed before the daye of action": Playwriting Playgoers and Performance
Chapter 4. "Watching every word": Playwriting Playgoers as Verse Dramatists
Conclusion. "I began to make a play"
"All write Playes"
Walter Mountfort, sick and impoverished, faced ruin. Following several years in Persia as a clerk for the East India Company, Mountfort had endured a perilous yearlong voyage back to London in April 1633. A few days after his return, workers unlading the cargo for which he was responsible had opened two containers meant to carry bales of expensive raw silk, and out spilled only rocks and dirt. Blame quickly fell upon the clerk. The Company secured warrants, searched houses, cross-examined witnesses, threatened to involve Star Chamber, and withheld wages—desperately needed wages. Mountfort first cast blame on corrupt fellow clerks. He then maintained that he had purchased the bales and resold them, but the court doubted him. It did not help that a shadow had long lain across Mountfort: since he began working for the Company in 1615 he frequently attracted charges of fraud, embezzlement, and, on one occasion, plotting to murder a rival clerk in a bar brawl. In June he begged for back wages to feed his family. He fell ill, and his wife had to appear before the court in his place. Prospects, for Mountfort, were bleak.
It was during this trial that Mountfort found the strength to stop by one of his old haunts: the Red Bull playhouse. There he delivered to the Prince Charles's Men a manuscript with ink fading from exposure to salty ocean air and runny from sea spray, and margins grubby from being thumbed by fingers caked in oakum and tar. Scrawled on the pages in the accountant's hand was The Launching of the Mary, or the Seaman's Honest Wife, a city comedy about the East India Company and its employees, written during Mountfort's voyage. While he was writing the play, the idea had occurred to him that actors might stage it; now, in financial straits, Mountfort desperately needed the money he could get from selling it. Despite this, though, he evidently did not wish to go into the theater business, for he continued to sue for a return to his employment with the East India Company. The actors looked his play over and thought it warranted paying Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, for a license. When Herbert returned the play, the actors invited this playgoer, now playwright, to rewrite around the Master's censorship. Mountfort revised his play and then left it in the hands of the company's bookkeeper.
Mountfort's specific experience was unique, but his broader narrative—the narrative of a playgoer who translated his love of the theater into writing a play and attempting to have a professional company stage that play—was not. In 1635, shortly after graduating from Oxford, John Jones took his tragicomedy Adrasta to a professional company of players. Jones believed deeply that the life of drama lay in action, and he was eager to share his play with the London playgoing public; it was not written (originally) for readers or staging at the university. The company rejected it—because, Jones suspected, his poetry was not quite good enough—but Jones, still enamored of the theater, made some revisions and published Adrasta.
Gentleman-highwayman John Clavell had been out of prison for two years when he wrote a comedy for the King's Men in 1630. Though he had written poetry—most importantly, the flattering poem to King Charles that resulted in his pardon—The Soddered Citizen was his first attempt at playwriting. Before his imprisonment, Clavell had often attended plays at the Blackfriars and so knew something of drama. The King's Men staged his play, and while he never again wrote for them, he remained on good terms with the company and even befriended their regular playwright, Philip Massinger.
Like Clavell, Barnabe Barnes could often be found in both the audience of the theaters and the inside of a prison. Celebrated (and ridiculed) as the most experimental sonneteer of the age, Barnes was fascinated with all things Italian, from Italian history to Italian literature to Italian poisons. Eight years after being convicted for attempted murder by means of mercury sublimate, Barnes—who had escaped jail and remained at liberty—penned a fantastic play of devils, Machiavellian politics, Catholicism, and murder by mercury sublimate. On Candlemas night 1606, the King's Men staged Barnes's The Devil's Charter for King James, and Barnes subsequently revised and published the play.
This narrative of the playgoer becoming a playwright characterizes the experience of a number of other dramatists who wrote for what is commonly called "Shakespeare's theater"—that is, the professional, commercial London theaters of Shakespeare's own time and the years following, up to the closure of 1642. These dramatists attended, read, and wrote plays, but they were not members of the industry that developed around those theaters. They were not actors, managers, sharers, or regular dramatists. They wrote their plays without the advantage of learned knowledge of the industry's working practices enjoyed by even novice professionalizing dramatists. With a few exceptions, they did not follow up their initial attempts to write for the stage with subsequent efforts to improve and develop their playwriting skills. They were not theater professionals, and there is no evidence to suggest that they wanted to become professional. Indeed, many expressly indicated that they did not wish to professionalize. And yet they wrote for the professional stage, and some secured performance. Not outliers in a unified field of playwriting—that is, "lesser" professionals—these playwriting playgoers were, to use a modern term too often deployed in an uncritical manner, amateur dramatists. As this introduction will show, and as this book will depend upon in its study of their plays, their status as "amateurs" derives not from their intentions when they wrote, nor from whether or not they were compensated for their labor, nor from the quality of their writing, but from their position as outsiders writing for an increasingly—though always incompletely—closed industry. Although these playwrights were not regular producing participants in that industry, however, they were devoted consuming participants, as audience members, play readers, and, in some cases, members of peri-theatrical coteries. Their plays over and over show us just how effective the experience of theatrical consumption could be as a means for coming to understand theatrical production, and thus just how engaged early modern audience members could be with the performance, rather than only the play. The amateurs' plays thus need to be considered within the context of an audience-stage relationship that was intensely dialogic, participatory, and creative. Situating their plays in this way allows us to use their work—both what they wrote and how they wrote—as evidence to better understand how certain members of the audience saw and understood the professional theater and its playmaking processes.
Even when their plays seem to do, or attempt to do, the same things that the professional dramatists did in their plays, because these dramatists gained their theatrical experience as consumers, their plays require us to ask questions that differ from those we usually ask of plays written by professional dramatists. Rather than compelling us to deduce audience experience and understanding by looking at what professional dramatists wrote, these plays reveal directly what certain audience members wanted to see, how they thought a script should communicate that, and how they thought actors might stage it. In other words, this is not a book about what the professional theater did: it is a book about what particular members of its audience thought that it did. In their use of specific materials, conventions, and techniques, these amateurs reveal how certain playgoers understood the working practices of the professional theater. As the book shows, that understanding was often alert to concerns about effective performance and followed what professional dramatists did in their playmaking practices—a conclusion at odds with the pejorative assumption that amateur writing must be, or is only of interest when it is, eccentric and unconventional, that is, different from (and, by implication, lesser than) professional writing. Most scholarship that describes the work of amateur playwrights falls back, almost reflexively, onto such dismissive terms as "naïve," "ignorant," and "unaware"; a close study of amateurs' plays, however, reveals precisely the opposite: these consumers were highly aware of and attentive to the practices of playmaking. I am interested, then, not in how these plays show what playgoers did not understand or rejected about the theater but in how they show playgoers trying to understand and participate in the theater. This book is not a comprehensive reference guide to these plays or a literary criticism of their formal elements, such as plot and theme (though I draw upon these when they are relevant to my purposes). Rather, I demonstrate how, by recognizing these writers as play consumers, we can more usefully approach their plays' theatrical evidence—for my purposes, revising practices, stage directions, and dramatic verse—to identify what particular playgoers knew (in some cases clearly, but at times imperfectly) about playmaking. This is not all we might do with these plays, nor are these three categories all of the evidence that they contain, nor are playgoers' plays the only source of evidence about theatrical consumers' expectations and understanding. My approach is merely one way that reading playgoers' plays accounting for their authors' status as primarily consumers of theatrical culture can help recover the plays from the usual reductive critical dismissal as merely "bad" plays.
In using these plays in this way, the book also represents a further tactic in the "new audience studies" strategy of approaching the early modern audience and theatrical consumption. Studies of consumers of theatrical culture have traditionally relied upon either demographic analyses of economic class and social rank in the auditorium or efforts to re-create the audience and its experience through plays written for it by the professional dramatists. Though it is certainly true that audiences were composed of discrete socioeconomic groups, because every audience member necessarily comprehended, interpreted, and responded to what her or she saw on stage in a way different from every other audience member, this rubric is inherently insufficient for precisely discerning audience reception. This is also why, incidentally, plays by individual playgoers can only reliably tell us about what that one particular playgoer—who was, almost by definition, different from most other playgoers—understood about the theater. The demographic approach can tell us what groups went to what theaters, and it can hypothesize what those groups as groups might have desired in their plays or understood about the theater (or, at least, what playwrights assumed those groups wanted and understood), but it cannot tell us what individual playgoers thought about what they saw or how they understood it. It considers playgoers in the aggregate rather than as discrete individuals. For these reasons, as Mary Blackstone and Cameron Louis urge, we need to "question further the . . . relative importance of the concept of social class . . . in understanding the success and complexity of the performance text potentially constructed by [the playwright], his players, and playgoers." For example, Ben Jonson's induction to Bartholomew Fair (1614) suggests that the capacity of different segments of the audience to judge the play might be mapped onto where they were physically located in the playhouse, and thus upon their demographic (financial) group, but, as Leo Salingar points out, Jonson adds a further, essential caveat: each spectator may judge "provided, further, that he forms and stands by his own judgment, without copying his neighbor, be the latter 'never so first, in the commission of wit.'" Each playgoer is to interpret the play in his or her own way and not merely try to replicate the reception experience of others, particularly his or her socioeconomic peers. Notwithstanding Jonson's financial parsing of the auditorium, his audience, then, is an audience not of groups but of individuals.
The second category of audience studies has especially dominated scholarship on the relationships between play and audience in Shakespeare's theater, though it is less a "reception response" approach and more a "reflection response" one: the professional's play is assumed to reveal audience expectations, demand, and reaction. This approach sees the audience as something to be "orchestrated," to borrow Jean Howard's term, as something that "surrenders" to the play and its meanings rather than as a force that collaborates in creating those meanings. In this view, the play is "something created and set before an essentially passive audience." The "spectatorial poetics" pursued by this approach belong not to the spectators but to the dramatists; it is poetics for the spectators, but not of the spectators. Such studies see the audience only as the fictional, idealistic creation of the author (and critic), and they operate under the assumption that the audience's experience can be accurately presumed based upon the cues given it by the dramatist—and, very often, that its responses to those cues will accord with the critic's own responses. Though nearly all theater historians have moved away from this model of the stage-audience relationship, many literary critics, particularly those working in the school of new historicism, still find it a useful fiction to underwrite and implicitly authorize conjectures about how early modern dramatic texts "must have" made an audience think, feel, or respond, or even "made" the audience itself. While such an approach, if done carefully and with evidence, might be useful if we wish to try to hypothesize about how professional playmakers thought about and tried to engage their intended audience—and, of course, the most professional of playwrights would necessarily have a fairly accurate sense of the wants, capabilities, and expectations of their audience—it presents essential complications for understanding actual audience experience. Andrew Gurr summarizes the problem with such "projections about audiences [that are] based on the expectations that [can] be identified from the writers' texts": "[The] process works only up to a point, and leads into arguments that become suspiciously circular." Even earlier, E. K. Chambers pointed out that trying to determine "the psychological effect of a drama" must depend not just upon "what the artist puts into his work" but also upon the more elusive factor of "what the spectator brings to the contemplation of it." More recently, Richard Preiss finds similar fault with the "orchestration" approach: "The playgoer has a funny way of disappearing in these accounts: what is really being studied are plays, and their techniques for structuring the experience of an audience that, to them as for us, remain hypothetical and homogenized"; to assume audience experience can be recovered from play texts is to ignore the variable of performance and the fact that in performance, "even as [playgoers] are compelled by the play, they compel it in turn." Professional plays do offer clues about their audience, but only indirectly, and they provide evidence of how the audience may have experienced and understood the performance, but only as a figment of the professional dramatist's own assumptions about that experience and understanding. Jeremy Lopez alluded to this problem at the 2011 Shakespeare Association of America conference when he argued that "theatrical texts silence the audience." As Preiss too observes, "talking to the audience is not the same as the audience talking, which playbooks seldom give us." These claims apply to theatrical texts by professional dramatists, but theatrical texts by playgoers in fact do precisely the opposite by providing audience members with a voice.
Since the early 2000s, a number of scholars, such as Preiss, have begun to focus upon how actual individuals in the audience interacted with and responded to the plays they saw, and, in doing so, have largely overturned the old "orchestration" model. This new audience studies approach reveals a participatory spectatorship that fed input into the theatrical process in such a way that it could potentially influence and (re)shape the performance. Central to its methodology is the understanding that theatrical performance is, and was in the period, dialogic, with audiences just as effectively active in making dramatic meaning as playwrights and players (indeed, in some cases, more efficacious). The audience, in this view, might alter or even entirely subvert the words and actions supplied by the dramatist, becoming a collaborative creator in the making or revising of dramatic meaning. For example, looking closely at "responses of those not professionally engaged in the theatre," Charles Whitney establishes how "audience members bec[a]me agents in the shaping and realizing of meaning" in plays and of "the actual diversity and creativity of early reception." By exercising "imaginative interpretation," Whitney argues, early modern "audience members' creative agency" made meaning out of the dramatic transaction that occurred in the playhouse, blurring the line between producer and consumer. As Alison Hobgood puts it in her study of the audience's emotional experience in the early modern playhouse, playgoers had a "reciprocal role in enabling and cultivating dramatic affect." Though the new audience studies approach is a recent critical phenomenon, Chapter 1 of this book shows that its view of the audience as possessing a creative function in the playhouse was generally understood in the early modern period itself. While most of the new audience studies limit themselves to the question of how consumers responded directly to the plays produced for them by professional playmakers, my approach expands this territory to consider also playgoers who did not simply respond to others' plays but produced their own. The concept of the individual audience member as an autonomous and potentially creative agent, in a figurative sense, contextualizes the motive force that led some playgoers to write their own plays, in the literal sense, not merely drawing upon professionals' plays as sources but expressing their own imaginative visions and articulating those visions in ways that would make them accord with what the playgoers understood about the mechanisms of theatrical production. Rather than read the audience through the plays of the professional theater, my objective is to read the professional theater through the plays of the audience. Doing so recovers these plays as a new category of evidence for studies of the early modern audience, supplementing, refining, and often complicating the evidence provided by both the demographic and the orchestration approaches. Like other methods used by the new audience studies, looking to playgoers' plays for evidence of audience experience and understanding addresses a fundamental shortcoming in both the demographic and the orchestration approaches; namely, rather than aggregating spectators into groups—real or assumed—looking at playgoers' plays as evidence of audience experience and understanding parses that audience into its most fundamental and yet, for purposes of historicizing the Shakespearean stage, most often obscure component: the individual playgoer. A playgoer's play cannot tell us what other playgoers thought about the playmaking process or their experiences in the playhouse, but it is this very specificity that makes that play valuable as evidence, for it provides us with a concrete, granular view of theatrical consumption largely absent from the generalized, macroscale picture drawn by the earlier models of audience studies.
Recognizing that these plays were written not just for audiences but also by audiences opens an additional window onto the early modern playhouse, the dramatists who wrote for it, and the spectators who attended it. My interest in these plays is in what they can tell us, not about playgoers' thoughts about individual professionals' plays, but about those playgoers' thoughts about theater itself—that is, how they can help us historicize certain early modern theatrical consumers' ideas about the stage and the ways playmaking worked. In doing this, and as the remainder of this introduction will explain, it is also my objective to revisit some of the categories that have shaped the study of early modern theatrical culture, with the ideas of playgoing, professional playwriting, and amateur playwriting central to this reappraisal. As noted above, and as Chapters 2, 3, and 4 show, playwriting playgoers often closely follow, or at least approximate, professional practices and processes, which suggests an audience interested not just in the fiction of the play it was watching but also the ways that play was being made. Looking at ideas about playgoing in the period contextualizes this by showing how theatrical consumption could be more than just a mere "pastime."
"To invert a Recreation": Playgoing in Early Modern England
One reason criticism reliant upon the "orchestration" approach often unquestioningly falls back upon the idea of a passive, easily transported audience is that such passivity recurs, often cynically, as a theme in a number of descriptions of playgoing in the early modern period. In these accounts, spectatorship is often described as a "pastime," a concept connoting the leisure of the affluent—those who had the luxury of time to pass. For example, in The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton complains that "the badge of gentry" is "Idlenesse," "a life out of action, and hav[ing] no calling or orindary imployment to busie [itself]": "idlenesse is an appendix to nobility, they count it a disgrace to worke, and spend all their dayes in sports, recreations, and pastimes, and will therefore take no paines; be of no vocation." Descriptions of playgoing as something undertaken by gentlemen merely to while away the hours draw upon many of the terms Burton uses, perpetuating the notion of theater spectatorship as an activity requiring no investment of creative energy and thus producing, ultimately, nothing. Thomas Dekker, for example, imagines that "Sloth himselfe will come, and sit in the two-pennie galleries amongst the Gentlemen, and see their Knaveries and their pastimes." Thomas Nashe observes that during "the idlest time of the day," those most likely to be found "seeing a Playe" were "men that are their owne masters." Likewise, Edward Guilpin satirizes a lazy "Lord" who, after a day of lounging, eating, gambling, and whoring, "gets him to a play" . . . before doing it all over again. Conceptualizing playgoing as a time-wasting activity disempowers the playgoer and represents the audience experience as, though perhaps pleasurable, essentially passive and disengaged. Certainly for some the playgoing experience was, as Andrew Gurr puts it, "a distraction from the serious things of life." For example, in his diary, Sir Humphrey Mildmay repeatedly characterizes his playgoing as unimportant idleness, merely a means of using up spare time: "To the Elder Brother att the bla: ffryers & was idle"; "after Noone I wente to a playe & was soe Jmployed that day"; "to a playe & loitred all the day"; "to the Newe play att Bl: fyers . . . where I loste the whole day"; "after Noone I Loitered att a playe." Mildmay acknowledges that attending the theater wastes his time, though his continuous return implies the pleasure ensuing from that experience. While not everyone enjoyed the opportunity to spend all day at the theater, others who attended more infrequently might also have considered playgoing no more than passive escapism; as the author of Historia Histrionica recalled, "Very good People think a Play an Innocent Diversion for an idle Hour or two." Even playgoers who physically or emotionally responded to a play might be considered passive consumers if that response did little more than react to the fiction of the performance. Certainly the emotional reactions of spectators contributed to the effect of the dramatic event; as Matthew Steggle explains, "The audience, too, have their role as important contributors to the symphony" that is heard in the playhouse during a performance. Numerous descriptions of audiences emphasize their rapt attention, as if, as Preiss puts it, they have been put under "a kind of hypnotic grip" by the play. These audiences are engaged and responsive, but they are not active in terms of paying attention to, and trying to contribute to, the making of dramatic meaning and effect. Stephen Gosson, for example, cites Xenophon's account of an audience response to a performance of the "Tale of Bacchus, and Ariadne" at a banquet, beginning at a moment when Ariadne gestures provocatively to Bacchus:
"At this the beholders beganne to shoute, when Bacchus rose up . . . the beholders rose up, every man stoode on tippe toe, and seemed to hover . . . , when they sware, the company sware, when they departed to bedde; the company presently was set on fire, they that were married posted home to theire wives; they that were single, vowed very solemly, to be wedded." These playgoers respond in sympathy with the performance, a demonstration of their emotional engagement with the fiction, but this engagement—despite the outward markers of "activeness," such as shouting, standing, swearing, and so forth—is still absorption stemming from an acritical acceptance that the fiction is itself real. When the spectators depart for their own sexual adventures, they confirm this absorption, as if they are incapable, or uninterested in, acknowledging the fiction of the performance.
Not every encounter between spectator and stage was one of absorption and passivity: for every Humphrey Mildmay, absorbing the play without critical engagement, there was a Walter Mountfort, assiduously attempting to analyze how that play was made into a performance. The assumption of audience complicity and assimilation characteristic of Gosson, as with most antitheatricalists, is also the fundamental lynchpin of the "orchestration" approach, which prefers—indeed, requires—a passively receptive audience. Our understanding of the audience, however, must also account for the attentive Mountfort; describing his apparent engagement with the stage as a mere "pastime" would be inaccurate. For the Mildmays in the audience, to be at a play was to be "at play," but for the Mountforts, to be at a play was to be, in a manner, "at work." For both, playgoing involved a trade-off against the vocational, socially sanctioned use of their time, but for attentive, participatory audience members, this resulted in no mere idleness—it was heightened activity involving labor, engagement, and even some transgressive assertiveness. The term "recreation" today refers implicitly to activities undertaken purely for pleasure, but in the period it was often used to describe nonvocational activities that involved some fulfilling labor that renewed one's spirit; in this sense, attending plays could effectively "re-create" the playgoer himself or herself. In his commendation to Thomas Heywood in An Apology for Actors, Richard Perkins draws an explicit distinction between unrewarding ways to "spend [his] idle houres"—drinking, gambling, drabbing, or bowling—and the "recreation" of "seeing a play," which will "refresh" his "tir'd spirits": "My faculties truly to recreate / With modest mirth, and my selfe best to please / Give me a play." But it is not only the playgoer who is "re-created" by the encounter; after the performance, the attentive playgoer may be able to re-create the play itself. Indeed, as explored below, to leave the playhouse with the ability to re-create the play—what we might term "re-creative playgoing" rather than merely "recreative playgoing"—was recognized in the period as a particular brand of dedicated, even productive, theatrical consumption, bordering on the avocational.
The religious term "avocation" was first used to describe a diversion from one's proper calling around 1617 and, unlike "recreation" or "pastime," implied a tension with professionalism similar to that evoked by the modern "amateur." It is usually assumed that, while professionals develop their craft in response to the pressures of the market, avocational practitioners, lacking such pressure, simply do not worry about improving their craft, which often leads to the supposition that "success" was unimportant to them. The results of avocational labor are thus usually assumed to be only atypical—reflecting the desires of the individual producer more than the needs or wants of consumers—and, because of infrequent practice, defective. Thus the pejorative connotations of "amateur": someone who has nothing at stake and so is uninterested in working to give others what they want and who settles, instead, for what he himself or she herself desires. Richard Brome warned his audience in the prologue to The Court Beggar (1639-40), that such amateur dramatists "Write / Lesse for your pleasure than their own delight." By contrast, professionals needed to please the audience, and so they had to learn to write plays that appealed to the demands and tastes of the largest group of consumers. It is fallacious, however, to attribute that same definition of "success" to plays written by playgoers who were not interested in, and thus not bound by, the professionals' standard of commercialization. Simply because their ends differed, though (when those ends can be discerned at all), we should not think that amateurs necessarily invested a lower level of attention to their work than professionals; indeed, as the examples in this book demonstrate, amateurs often displayed heightened care and concern for their work and often closely tried to follow the working practices of the profession. As most studies of amateurism conclude, as a driver for effective practice, intrinsic motivation can equal, if not surpass, the extrinsic motivation of financial reward. The desire to find self-determined pleasure in an activity can produce an overwhelming desire to do that activity well: "Every real amateur feels responsible to some notion of doing the loving well, and that entails a kind of caring, both practice and intensity of effort, that could be called work." It is in this "work" that amateurism realizes its affinity with avocation. The resonances associated with "avocation" are thus useful in understanding how playgoers who wrote for the stage can be distinguished from those for whom playgoing was indeed merely a form of entertainment.
Writers in the period, particularly antitheatricalists, often emphasize a moral distinction between occasional playgoing and playgoing that was too committed and crossed the line from leisure into avocation. As Richard Brathwait urged, attending plays was not a cause for concern so long as playgoing remained unimportant leisure:
I doe hold no Recreation fitterBrathwait puns on "a Vocation" (avocation) as the "inverse" of recreation: occasionally and uncritically sitting in the audience requires no diligence or labor and thus does not risk offending the period's avocational taboo. A fine line, however, separates such attendance from playgoing that becomes "familiar" and thus avocational, between recreative playgoing and re-creative playgoing. For playwriting playgoers, plays were far more than mere idle diversions: playgoing was of great importance to them because it was how they learned about playmaking. For them, attending the theater and learning about performance through seeing plays was indeed, to use Brathwait's worried term, a "day-practice," or avocation, because it was through such avocational playgoing that they were able to translate their experiences as play consumers into forays as playmakers.
Than Morall Enterludes; but have a care
You doe not make them too familiar;
for that were to invert a Recreation,
And by day-practice make it a Vocation.
"Into a nearer roome": Professional Playwriting in Early Modern England
Given the potential slippage between the categories of play consumer and playmaker, we might ask what distinguishes an amateur writing just one play from a professionalizing dramatist writing a first play. Why think of a particular single-time writer for the professional stage as an "amateur" as opposed to an "aspiring (or perhaps, failed) professional"? In what ways did amateurs and novice professionals differ? It might be possible to construct an argument distinguishing these categories upon the grounds of intention, but the paucity of reliable evidence about intentions would make such an argument flimsy. Problems exist also for making a distinction along the lines of financial reward, since, as shown below, even an amateur who saw his or her one play staged would have been (or should have been) paid. The dilemma is further exacerbated by the fact that the terms "amateur" and "professional" did not exist in the period and imply a binary that does not entirely accord with the mercurial nature of theatrical creation in the period. Perhaps the best rubric to distinguish professionals from amateurs, then, is that of experience: for my purposes, a professional dramatist is one who writes with prior experience of theatrical production, and an amateur dramatist, a playwriting playgoer, is one who writes with prior experience only of theatrical consumption. It is thus possible to think of writers not as entirely professional or entirely amateur but as occupying different positions along a spectrum of professionalization demarcated by experience.
While the profession of playwriting was fluid and inchoate throughout the period, most dramatists who wrote for the London commercial theaters moved along that spectrum through specific, though informal, systems of professionalization. Some already within the industry, such as actors—like Ben Jonson, Thomas Heywood, Nathan Field, Samuel Rowley, William Rowley, and William Shakespeare—or boys' company managers—like Samuel Daniel and Robert Daborne—drew upon their prior experience with the public stage to write their plays. It would be fallacious to assume that, for example, Jonson's first play represents the same kind of outsider's perspective on the stage as Mountfort's first play because, unlike Mountfort, Jonson had already been exposed to commercial playmaking from his work as an actor. Beginning even before the generation of actor-playwrights, academic dramatists—like Christopher Marlowe, George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Nashe, and later John Marston, George Chapman, Francis Beaumont, John Ford, and James Shirley—translated school, university, or Inns of Court dramatic experience into writing for the public stage. Though perhaps less familiar with the practices of the commercial stage than the player-playwrights, these academic dramatists came to their work with some background in making plays with a writer's understanding of dramatic structure, genre, character, and poetry. Finally, some novice dramatists—such as Philip Massinger, Richard Brome, many of the writers for the companies financed by Philip Henslowe, and the novice playwrights of the short-lived Children of the King's Revels at Whitefriars—served an "apprenticeship" under an established professional dramatist, learning about playwriting through collaborative writing. Playwriting was not a stable profession, and simply because a writer came into the industry through one of these routes does not mean that he succeeded as a playwright or that he remained involved with the commercial stage. Indeed, the very idea of playwriting as a distinct, closed profession was a contested concept in the period. Nonetheless, from a modern perspective we can see that these three systems provided novice dramatists with the means for developing dramatic concepts into theatrical scripts; through them, playwrights became professional by gaining an internal knowledge of how plays became performances on the commercial stage.
Not all dramatists writing for that stage underwent such training. In his commendatory verse for Brome's Northern Lass (1629), Jonson makes this clear; first, he lauds his onetime apprentice for taking the "proper" route into the profession:
I Had you for a Servant, once, Dick Brome;In describing his relationship with Brome, Jonson envisions an idealistic, formal system of professionalization modeled upon both the authorized apprenticeship regimens of the guilds and the unauthorized ones of the professional actors. The trainee is the master's "servant," seeking entrance into a closed "fellowship" in which members, after a probationary period, earn the right to "profess" a specialized system of knowledge inherited from—and thus legitimized by—previous generations. A professionalized industry is a field that has experienced "occupational closure," and so to be within it is to be in "a nearer roome"—an image that captures the working conditions for most dramatists in the commercial theaters. Jonson goes on, however, to despair at untrained outsiders who make incursions into the field of playwriting: "Now each Court-Hobby-horse will wince in rime; / Both learned, and unlearned, all write Playes." Courtiers, academics, even the uneducated supply plays to the actors, Jonson grumbles. The defense he mounts draws upon the period's soteriological theme of adhering to one's calling:
And you perform'd a Servants faithfull parts:
Now, you are got into a nearer roome,
Of Fellowship, professing my old Arts.
And you doe doe them well, with good applause,
Which you have justly gained from the Stage,
By observation of those Comick Lawes
Which I, your Master, first did teach the Age.
You learn'd it well; and for it, serv'd your time
A Prentise-ship: which few doe now a dayes.
It was not so of old: Men tooke up tradesJonson's celebration of Brome's apprenticeship and his complaint that "few doe [as Brome did] now a dayes" underscore his idea that playwriting is a vocation that, like piloting a boat, demands training and is—or ought to be—closed to aspiring practitioners who have not been properly trained. Even earlier, in the prologue to Volpone (1606), Jonson proudly declares that his play comes "From his owne hand, without a Co-adjutor, / Novice, Jorneyman, or Tutor." Jonson's vision of professionalism involves freedom from the oversight of a training collaborator—an earned autonomy that contrasts with the self-appointed amateurs he singles out for scorn in his Northern Lass verse. His complaint there gains meaning only if the dramatists he describes supplied their plays without undertaking the proper training; in other words, with no intention of professionalizing. The problem, so to speak, that Jonson identifies stems from the fact that, as Gary Taylor puts it, "because commercial playwrights were never organized into a livery company, authors could not control the free movement of labour within their profession"—including when that labor was not professional. Because these amateurs did not participate in the usual systems of professionalization, it would be misleading to dismiss them as failed novices. As academic dramatist Jasper Mayne explains in the preface and prologues to the 1639 edition of his 1637 The City Match, "he is not oth' trade" and is not one of those professional writers "who eat by th'stage" and so must worry "Whither their sold Scenes be dislikt, or hit." Rather, Mayne and others like him were outsiders who only temporarily and briefly crossed (or attempted to cross) the porous line between theatrical consumer and theatrical producer.
That knew the Crafts they had bin bred in, right:
An honest Bilbo-Smith would make good blades,
And the Physician teach men spue, or shite;
The Cobler kept him to his nall; but now
Hee'll be a Pilot, scarce can guide a Plough.
These outsiders were able to write for the professional theaters for the simple reason that writing was an open field in comparison to nearly all other occupations. After accounting for the basic elements of literacy and available time, the range of potential dramatic authors was as wide—in terms of socioeconomic level, education, dramatic taste, and theatrical understanding—as the playhouse audiences themselves. The assumption that playwriting for the commercial stage was fully, or even nearly, closed is an idealized modern view predicated upon the dominance that plays by professionals have enjoyed in the formation of the English canon. Contradictory to the assumption that "everyone knew their place in the playgoing community," in the early modern playhouse there were no fixed "places" into which "everyone" dutifully fell. Hence professional playmakers' frequent complaints about and warnings against consumers attempting to get involved in playmaking: they would not so frequently and stridently warn against something that was not happening or, at least, perceived to be happening.
Lacking the kinds of controls imposed upon most other fields of labor in the period (including acting), playwriting was a field wide open to amateur participation. No state, church, city, or guild restrictions regulated who could write plays for the public stage or how they could go about writing them. Privy Council edicts, City of London petitions, even antitheatricalist polemics centered almost exclusively upon the problems of play content, playing, playgoing, and the operation of playhouses, never upon the question of who could provide plays to the players. The socially marginalized position of commercial playwriting, coupled with the private nature of the act of writing, likely protected dramatists from becoming the focus of official control. The closest the state came to legislating over the work of playwrights was controlling the kind of content plays could contain by establishing rules that would create an atmosphere of anticipatory censorship. As Glynne Wickham notes, "Control of theatre means control of play, actors, and audience"; while what was in plays was a matter of state interest, control over who wrote them was not. Despite Jonson's hopes, anyone could write for the commercial stage, whether he was professional or not.
"They write [for] their own delight": Amateur Playwriting in Early Modern England
The phenomenon Jonson lamented was not new to the English stage. The history of theater in England begins with provincial and local amateurs staging plays in towns, guildhalls, and great halls. In London, even after the opening of the commercial playhouses, amateur drama could still on occasion be found within the city. As the commercial theater itself grew increasingly institutionalized, it diminished but did not entirely banish amateur dramatics. Most often, amateur playing, rather than playwriting, serves as the focus of commentary on these activities, probably because playing, unlike writing, was a publicly visible activity. Nonetheless, the terms used in those commentaries are useful in contextualizing early modern views of amateurism within the largely professional domain of London theatrical culture. In 1584, William Fleetwood, recorder for the City of London, described amateur players in the city: "It hath not been used nor thought meet . . . that players have or should make their living on the art of playing; but men for their livings using other honest and lawful arts, or retained in honest services, have by companies learned some interludes for some increase to their profit by other men's pleasures in vacant time of recreation." Fleetwood's description is perhaps the closest we have to a period definition of "amateur": these players make money from acting, but it is secondary to their "other honest and lawful arts"; their playing is not regular, not their principal labor, and is undertaken for "pleasures" when time allows. Receiving financial reward does not make them professional; indeed, lack of payment is not a defining component of amateurism in the period. The only consistent marker of amateurism in the early modern theater was this irregular engagement with the stage: an amateur occupied a position outside the industry and made no sustained efforts to change that position.
Similar valences for "amateurism" appear in the prologue to W. Smith's The Hector of Germany, staged by amateurs for paying audiences at the Red Bull and the Curtain in 1614:
If you should aske us, being men of Trade,The prologue acknowledges that playing is a closed profession and that the incursion of the amateurs into it is a peculiarity. Their motivation is neither to attempt comparison with the professionals nor, even if their play is well received, to make a living from the stage. Rather, the amateurs cite the precedent of others who have used theater as a means of recreation outside their proper vocations:
Wherefore the Players facultie we invade?
Our answere is, No ambition to compare
With any, in that qualitie held rare;
Nor with a thought for any grace you give
To our weake action, by their course to live.
As in Camps, and Nurseries of Art,Amateurism thus described is a form of heightened theatrical engagement, and one that has a long and distinguished pedigree. Like the city apprentices who staged The Hector of Germany, instances of playgoers becoming players on the public, even commercial, stage can be found occasionally throughout the period. Later in the century, for example, Thomas Killigrew recounted to Sir John Mennis how as a boy he got involved with the theater through his engagement as a participatory playgoer: "He would go to the Red Bull, and when the man cried to the boys, 'Who will go and be a devil, and he shall see the play nothing?' then would he go in, and be a devil upon the stage, and so get to see plays." The boys were not paid for their labor, except the in-kind payment of seeing plays for free; as with the amateurs who staged The Hector of Germany, their participation in the public theater was an exercise in pleasure and recreation. Robert Burton even suggests medical benefits to transforming idle spectatorship into active, amateur playing: all physicians, he notes, "will have a melancholy, sad, discontented person, make frequent use of honest sports, companies, and recreations. . . . Not to be an auditor only, or a spectator, but sometimes an actor himselfe." For every novice Killigrew who translated that exercise into a career in the industry, countless others—the other boys only briefly glimpsed in Killigrew's anecdote and now lost to history—remained amateur participants, outsiders stepping only momentarily onto the stage they usually only patronized as audience members (indeed, in Killigrew's experience, spectatorship and participation are integrated: involvement in the performance is an essential component to seeing it). Like the amateurs who staged The Hector of Germany, a troupe of apprentices staged amateur dramatist Robert Tailor's Hog Hath Lost His Pearl at the Whitefriars and then the Red Bull in 1613, and sometime between 1623 and 1629 a company of young men of the Strand staged The Resolute Queen. E. K. Chambers suggests that amateur players also occasionally rented out other playhouses as well. Just as amateur players participated in a London theatrical culture that was increasingly professionalized, there were outsiders who did the same as writers.
Learning and valour have assum'd a part,
In a Cathurnall Sceane their wits to try,
Such is our purpose in this History.
Emperours have playd, and their Associates to,
Souldiers and Schollers; tis to speake and do.
If Citizens come short of their high fame,
Let Citizens beare with us for the name.
If we define the professional dramatist as someone who, as a regular, internal member of the institutionalized systems for playmaking, went through some informal training as a playwright and accrued further experience by consistently plotting, writing, and revising to address pressures placed upon the play by the actors, Master of the Revels, and audience, then we can define the amateur as someone who lacked this experience and did not try to obtain it. It is important to reiterate, however, that this lack of interest in professionalizing does not equate to a lack of interest in effective playwriting. Many amateurs tried to use the same tools and processes as the professionals in making their plays viable for performance. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of this book look to some of the ways in which amateurs attempted to adopt what they assumed to be "professional" playwriting practices and consider what those efforts suggest about the perspective and understanding certain playgoers had of the professional stage.
As with amateur players, amateur dramatists were often financially compensated for their labor. In March 1614, for example, the University of Cambridge paid Thomas Tomkis twenty pounds for writing the comedy Albumazar. Likewise, though the original audience for Tailor's Hog Hath Lost His Pearl at Whitefriars in February 1613 was "invited," the title page of the 1614 quarto notes that the play was subsequently "Divers times Publickely acted." The term "Publickely" suggests that it was performed for paying audiences, and accordingly the actors likely recompensed Tailor for his labor. Playgoers such as Mountfort and Clavell, who supplied their plays to professional companies, were no doubt paid for their scripts, whether or not the play was eventually staged and even though they themselves evidently did not seek to enter the profession. Being paid for having written a play is thus an inadequate criterion for determining what makes certain dramatists "professionals," just as not being paid fails to account for what makes others "amateurs." Even if they were compensated for their labor, many of these amateur writers, like amateur players, participated in the playmaking process for the personal pleasure of it rather than out of concern for public reception. Many courtier dramatists, who wrote really to please a very small target audience, were particularly, often proudly, unconcerned with what general audiences might think of their work. The minor aristocrat and amateur dramatist Sir Cornelius Fermedo, for example, declares to the audience of his play The Governor that even "if he wrote for gaine / He would not give a feather to obtaine / All yore approfes": he wishes to be "vnderstood," not "flatter'd," and he has seen in the audience only twelve people—probably fellow courtiers—who possess sufficient "prudence and impartiallitie" to be "his Jury in this place." This adversarial tone is amplified in the epilogue, where Fermedo notes, "Who writes for pleasure never taketh care / Whether he's Where lik't or not"; he points out that he can always
ingageFermedo proudly declares his freedom from the financial need to please the audience, but he also reiterates his desire to "ingage" the players, fill the auditorium, and, if need be, write more plays: "Hisse if you dare," he challenges the audience, "if so . . . heele write: some thing that's new & worse" because "hee'd rather be twice hiss't then have one clap." Brathwait adopts a similar attitude to Fermedo's, conflating audience understanding of his (now lost) plays with socioeconomic position: because his plays were "free-borne, and not mercenarie," they "received gracefull acceptance of all such as understood my ranke and qualitie"; that is, writing for pleasure elevates the author above the usual quality of work produced by commercial authors. Brathwait—again cautious about making theater an avocation—justifies his forays into playwriting upon the grounds of personal pleasure: they were simply meant "to allay and season more serious studies" rather than to serve as "any fixt imployment." Again, the distinction between the amateur's involvement with the theater and the professional's centers upon the professional's continuous ("fixt") practice and hence internal familiarity with how it worked.
The players by filling of the stage
. . . to a play that's new [because] before tis knowne
either for good or bad the people come.
Glynne Wickham has argued that "by the start of the seventeenth century virtually all amateur play production (excepting that among courtiers and students) had ceased." This totalizing language has led to the assumption that if someone wrote a play for the public stage after 1567, it must have been because he wanted to become professional or was an aristocrat uninterested in professionalizing. Scholars following Wickham have largely taken the evolution of public theater in London into a professional enterprise as both inevitable and absolute. As "amateur play production" in London became scarcer after the 1570s, however, the public stages became some of the last available venues in which nonprofessional playmakers could participate in dramatic culture. Amateur playwriting increased in frequency the more established the professional theater became, reaching in the Caroline era the crescendo that professionals such as Jonson and Brome found most irritating. For many amateurs, playwriting was indeed merely a hobby undertaken at the universities, among coteries of readers, or by courtiers seeking to impress the court. It is this last group, the courtiers, that scholars usually acknowledge as the only amateurs writing for the post-1567 professional stage, and so amateurism has come to be seen as a privilege of only the upper classes.
This class-limited definition of amateur playwriting derives in large part from the influence of J. W. Saunders's 1964 Profession of English Letters. In a brief chapter on amateur writing in the Renaissance, Saunders describes the amateur as exclusively aristocratic and centered upon the court. Concomitant to Saunders's view is the generalization that amateur writing required leisure time and freedom from economic need, and hence was unavailable to the nonaristocratic writers, who must have therefore been interested only in monetizing their labor. Although Saunders's assumption is contradicted by the actual socioeconomic diversity of amateur dramatists, it has shaped most scholarship on early modern playwriting because being paid to write for the stage, though potentially lucrative, was socially marginalized—ideal conditions for his hypothesis. It is true that throughout the period, but particularly after 1630, courtiers seeking prestige and influence at court supplied plays (usually with money) to professional actors (usually the King's Men) for performance before the monarch and in commercial playhouses (usually the Blackfriars). Defining "amateurism" as a practice of these writers exclusively, however, overlooks nonaristocratic amateurs such as Mountfort and Clavell. While the work of the courtier dramatists is important to understanding the larger picture of amateur playwriting in the early modern period, it is not the focus of this book. Because of the influence of Saunders's work, these writers have already received critical attention, both in individual studies and as a group more generally. Focusing only on aristocratic amateurs—indeed, defining the category "amateur" exclusively on socioeconomic grounds—has shaped the questions scholars ask about amateur playwrights, often taking focus away from matters of theatricality and putting it on matters of politics. The disciplinary dominance of Saunders's class-based definition of amateurism has prevented us from fully taking advantage of the evidence provided by amateurs whose perspective on the stage was not centered upon the court or its culture. There is a distinct difference in perspective upon, and access to, the professional stage between a politically influential and potentially powerful aristocrat who might even pay the players to stage his play and a socially and economically marginalized single-time dramatist who has little to offer beyond his play. The two types of amateurs differ in their position relative to the stage, and thus their plays will reveal different types of information about their views of that stage.
In his 1986 The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's Time, G. E. Bentley broadened the definition of "amateur" beyond Saunders's socioeconomic classification by identifying the amateur playwright as a writer of any class who did not make a living from the writing of plays, wrote infrequently, and did not develop a sustained relationship with a commercial playing company; "though numerous and diverse," Bentley observes, "and indicative of the strong appeal of the drama in these years, [they] were never people who looked to the commercial theatres for a living." Other historians since Bentley have followed his lead in taking infrequent dramatic activity and external position to the social, economic, and artistic community of the commercial stage as the defining characteristics of the amateur. Counting writers of private plays for household and town performances, academic dramatists, closet dramatists, and courtier dramatists, Bentley estimates that between 1590 and 1642, more than two hundred such amateurs wrote approximately 265 surviving plays. Unfortunately, the four spaces counted by Bentley in making this tally have become tacitly accepted as the only domains of amateur playwriting in the period: the "closet," the home or town, the academy, and the court. Because of the continued influence of Saunders's work, scholars still typically assume that, except for the courtiers, amateurs wrote only for amateur actors (as with academic dramatists and dramatists who wrote for private performances) or readers (as with closet dramatists). This assumption has led most accounts of the early modern stage to take Bentley's four categories as the only categories of amateur playwriting in the period, either ignoring nonaristocratic amateurs entirely or concluding—often contrary to biographical and textual evidence—that they were actually minor, essentially failed, novice professionals.
Contrary to Bentley and Saunders, Charles Whitney suggests that the example of the playwriting playgoer Richard Norwood—a young, unemployed sailor who tried to write a play while stuck in London due to a bout of seasickness in 1612—was "probably typical of several kinds of apprentices as well as of people of low degree"; that is, more nonaristocratic amateurs likely wrote for the public stages than we realize or have extant evidence for (a caution, perhaps, to scholars looking to attribute the period's many anonymous plays to known authors). In 1639, Lewis Sharpe—himself a nonaristocratic playwriting playgoer—noted that even "the briske Shops fore-man undertakes with's Ell / To sound the depth of Aganippas Well." Certainly the opportunity for almost anyone to write was apparent: in 1617, Henry Fitzgeoffrey complained, "Who'd not at venture Write? So many waies / A man may proue a Poet now a daies." Just as an aristocrat like Lodowick Carlell might justify his foray into playwriting because, as his stationer John Rhodes put it, "his profit was his pleasure," we should not assume on the basis of class alone that a nonaristocratic amateur like Norwood or Mountfort might not also write a play for the commercial industry for reasons of personal pleasure and engagement.
Although Bentley neglects to consider its critical or historical value, he does briefly point out the existence of this group of nonaristocratic playwriting playgoers—"citizen amateurs" is his term—and admits that playgoers of any class could and did write for the commercial theater without looking to make playwriting their profession. As examples of this group, he offers Clavell's The Soddered Citizen, Mountfort's The Launching of the Mary, and Thomas Rawlins's The Rebellion (1640), but there were several more than just these. Bentley himself disparagingly shrugs, "In a time of great dramatic activity, more plays than we now know were probably written by totally untalented amateurs." And yet, but for some generalizations to distinguish these writers from professionals, Bentley offers no sustained analysis of these amateurs or their plays. The extent of his interest in playgoers' plays consists of speculating on what he assumed to be the inevitability of their rejection: "One would guess that even in a time when the social status of the playwright was low, a fair number of amateur plays would have been boldly or surreptitiously offered to the London acting companies and rejected by them." Not all amateurs' plays were rejected by the London companies (we have evidence for only one such rejection), nor are Bentley's qualifying adverbs—"boldly" and "surreptitiously"—accurate descriptions of the nature of the relationship between the professional industry and the amateurs whose plays survive, a relationship that was for the most part open, connected, and dynamic rather than, as Bentley implies (and as Jonson wanted), closed, divided, and static. An amateur supplying a play to the professional players would have needed to be neither bold nor surreptitious. Furthermore, by associating the value of amateurs' plays exclusively with the question of their acceptance by professional players, Bentley overlooks their primary, indeed, unique, value as evidence, not of actual industry practices, but of how well audience members perceived those practices. To make use of playgoers' plays for this purpose, it does not actually matter whether the plays were staged or not. Bentley recognizes that "a very small percentage of the amateur plays did get to the London theatres" but asserts that "they were very seldom intended for them." In some instances, however, amateurs who did not "look to the commercial theatres for a living" did indeed intend their plays for those theaters. Martin Butler points out that from 1637 to 1640, a group of amateurs saw their plays (which he dismisses as "hardly . . . a thrilling output") staged by the Queen Henrietta's Men at Salisbury Court, probably as part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the troupe's manager, Richard Heton, to compete with Christopher Beeston's troupe at the Cockpit and the King's Men at the Blackfriars. The amateurs' plays that appeared in the Salisbury Court repertory included Richard Lovelace's The Scholars, Lewis Sharpe's The Noble Stranger, William Rider's The Twins, and John Gough's The Strange Discovery. Most of these writers explicitly indicated their disinterest in professionalizing, and, despite the fact that Heton likely paid them for their plays, none of them continued to write for the stage; they were also not courtiers or aristocrats (which raises a complication for Butler's theory that Heton was attempting to make Salisbury Court "a venue for amateur drama of a kind more usually associated with the Blackfriars"). They therefore represent, along with Mountfort, Rawlins, and Clavell, and others, further evidence of how even nonaristocratic early modern theatrical consumers could become theatrical producers even in the context of the commercial theater—indeed, if Butler's hypothesis about Heton's intentions is correct, because of that commercial context.
In keeping with our definition of "amateur," dramatists such as Lovelace, Sharpe, Rider, Gough, Mountfort, Clavell, Barnes, Rawlins, Norwood, and others like them were outsiders writing for an increasingly professionalized industry. They possessed an awareness of the industry's needs, practices, and limitations, but, unlike that of their professional counterparts, their awareness derived largely from observation rather than previous participation; accordingly, the evidence they provide of those needs, practices, and limitations reflects the perspective and understanding of consumers, rather than regular producers. The evidence of their plays can also, in some instances, suggest specific ways in which theatrical consumers rejected what was typical for the profession, or thought differently about plays and playmaking than the professionals did, as we will see in some aspects of Robert Yarington's use of stage directions in Two Lamentable Tragedies (Chapter 3) and Alexander Brome's use of rhyme in The Cunning Lovers (Chapter 4). The 1642 political tragedy The Queen of Corsica, by Francis Jaques, is a good example of this: in his play (which was probably never acted), Jaques employs all of the conventional devices of Caroline courtly tragicomedy—platonic love in contest against base lust, a lost royal child found again, near incest, a blocked romantic relationship, an escape from pirates, a hunting scene in the woods, and a concluding wedding—but then upends that generic expectation by tying all of these threads together in a blood-soaked final act that includes incest realized, murder, suicide, torture, and rebellion. There were, of course, professional dramatists who also experimented with defying or complicating generic expectations, but the evidence of an amateur dramatist doing this points to a model of cultural consumption that was capable of imagining alternatives to the mainstream content being produced for it by the commercial theater industry. Indeed, the more established and commercialized that industry became, the more risk averse it would grow in its own experimentation with content and form (often when professionals did experiment, they were greeted with failure—as with Jonson's Epicoene, Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess, and Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle); at the same time, the domain of the amateur remained free of such conservative pressures, open to explore, innovate, and contradict tradition in ways the largely convention-bound profession could not.
In keeping with our definition of "amateur," these dramatists were also only occasional writers. Though they may have been committed playgoers, deeply engaged in writing their plays and interested in seeing them performed, they displayed no sustained commitment to the industry, no trajectory of experience gained through consistent practice, failure, and success. Many—even some, such as Thomas Rawlins, whose plays were quite successful on stage—explicitly indicate their lack of interest in professionalizing (so common are these statements of disinterest among the amateurs that Bentley considers them "one of the hallmarks of the amateur"). When these amateurs approached companies with their scripts there is no positive evidence that they intended to become professional and often positive evidence to the contrary. Although they may have taken intrinsic pleasure in writing for the theater, this is not in itself reason to think that they therefore sought a career in that theater; the unevidenced belief that they must have derives from Saunders's class-oriented definition of "amateur" and the lasting effect it has had upon our assumptions about participation in the industry. If we too readily export to the early modern theater modern (or Jonsonian) notions of playmaking as a closed field of labor, any attempt to participate by an outsider—particularly one that we assume lacked the leisure time to engage in an activity without recompense—will seem an attempt to enter the profession. The field of playwriting for the commercial stage was, however, open to dramatists of any socioeconomic group or background, regardless of their ultimate objective in writing for the stage or their position relative to the stage when they wrote. Dramatists need not have been professional, or seeking to become professional, in order to write plays for the professional players. In this respect, nonaristocratic amateurs, such as Walter Mountfort, were no different from aristocratic amateurs, such as, for example, Sir William Berkeley, author of the King's Men's tragicomedy The Lost Lady (1638); we should not assume that simply because Mountfort was a clerk and Berkeley an aristocrat that the former would not write a play for the same nonprofessional purposes as the latter. As the prologue to The Launching of the Mary, Clavell's commonplace book, and other pieces of evidence attest, these amateurs could indeed be motivated by the same ends for which Brome mocked courtier amateurs: writing for "their own delight." The pertinent question, then, is not about intentions, that is, why these playgoers wrote plays, but rather what their plays can tell us about how they saw or thought they saw the stage from their perspective as theatrical consumers. Playgoers writing for professional actors may have been, as Bentley puts it, "minor participants" in the theater, but they were participants nonetheless, and participants who have gone largely unexamined, despite the fact that their work provides unique evidence of how closely certain playgoers understood and interacted with the stage. Apart from passing recognition of the kind given by Bentley and Butler, most scholarship on the early modern stage and playwriting either ignores the unique position occupied by these writers or simply omits them altogether. This book seeks to undo that legacy by restoring to our narrative of early modern theater history the work of playgoers who wrote plays for the professional stage and recognizing how those plays reveal that, in early modern England, cultural consumers could be a species of cultural producers.
The first chapter of this book revisits some of the evidence—both the familiar and the less often considered—that demonstrates that this idea of the audience as a collaborator in the making of meaning during a play's performance was an inherent and pervasive part of theatrical culture in the period. Opinions about that perceived collaboration varied from those who took it to be mere benign, inward imaginary response that had, for other audience members, no effect upon the meaning of the play, to those who viewed externalized physical and verbal responses as a way of changing for other audience members the play's course and meaning. Whether playgoers' collaboration was in keeping with what professional playmakers intended or whether it deviated from that intention, authority to determine the ultimate meaning of a play in performance was recognized as residing not with the producers but with the consumers; or, more precisely, in the theater, the consumers were understood to be the play's final producers. Though many professional playmakers contested the fact, the early modern playhouse was taken by many to be a space of shared, rather than exclusory, creation. Viewing audience experience as an encounter requiring creative interaction with the performance, in which consumers are conditioned to take on the role of producers as well, we can see how dedicated playgoers like Mountfort could look to become actual participants in the playmaking process. While others in the audience were content to limit their participation to imaginative engagement and the occasional verbal or physical responsive outburst during a performance, playwriting playgoers took their participation a substantial, creative step further. How playwrights responded to the concept of the audience as a collaborator in the playhouse reveals that many within the industry perceived the idea of audience involvement in the playmaking process as a threat to the aesthetic and dramatic integrity of the theatrical event and, implicitly, the ongoing (never fully completed) professionalization of the field of playmaking itself. Most amateurs, on the other hand, represent playgoers exercising creative authority as aesthetically and dramatically productive, even restorative, and thus a validation of their own desire to participate in the playmaking process. My interest in Chapter 1 is less in attempting to determine whether, or to what extent, audience members were in fact participants in the making of meaning in the playhouse—though establishing that function is crucial to contextualizing the work of the playwriting playgoers; rather, my focus is upon establishing how those in the period thought about and represented the relationship between theatrical consumers and the theater they consumed. For that reason, the chapter draws on both literary works (including plays by professional dramatists themselves) and documentary evidence to show that playgoers and playmakers in the period understood the audience's relationship with the stage to be fluid, open, and dialogic, in which playgoers' creative input could be just as authoritative as that of professional playmakers.
The remaining chapters turn from the concept of the playmaking playgoer to its reality, focusing on the working practices of several such amateur dramatists. My purpose in these chapters is to determine what plays by playgoers can tell us about a theatrical consumer's understanding of the way plays were written and staged. The intention is not to track down specific content they may have borrowed from particular plays by professional playwrights. Though there are places where certain professional plays, playwrights, or companies influenced some amateur dramatists—and I draw attention to those debts when relevant to my analysis—there is no evidence that any of them intended a direct response to one particular professional play or playwright. Indeed, to assume that playgoers' plays are only primarily of use or interest in how they might reflect or tell us about professionals' plays falls back into the critical fallacy of consigning amateurs' plays to the status of mere "plagiarisms" (the term to which Jonson often returns), only significant when they repeat or reuse material from a particular professional play. This book's focus, rather, is upon the problem of recovering what certain early modern theatrical consumers thought about the stage, how it worked, and how play scripts became play performances. My interest is not in what these writers "took" from professionals' plays in terms of literary content but what, theatrically speaking, they learned from them. Analyzing these plays as creative, rather than derivative, works approaches them on their own terms and not through the conditioning lens of the profession. An essential goal of the book is to broaden our notion of authorship in the early modern period by placing amateur writers—rather than canonical professionals—at the center of analysis. These chapters are therefore not a "source study" shedding light on the oft-studied work of professionals but a study of the audience's potential for deep theatrical understanding as expressed in the oft-neglected work of the amateurs.
Chapter 2 explores two playgoers' plays in manuscript in order to show how engaged theatrical consumers drafted and revised to address the needs of specific users of those manuscripts. The first case study uses Mountfort's The Launching of the Mary to reconstruct how a playgoer tried to negotiate around the censorship of the Master of the Revels. The second case study considers how Arthur Wilson's The Inconstant Lady (1630), a play that exists in both foul papers and an authorial presentation copy, reveals a playgoer's process of revising in order to make his play suitable for a specific reader. Chapter 3 turns to stage directions to consider how playwriting playgoers understood and attempted to employ the materials, conventions, and practices of the commercial theaters. The chapter begins by analyzing how Robert Yarington's position in the playhouse as a playgoer influenced one particular, pointedly theatrical stage direction that he repeatedly used in his Two Lamentable Tragedies (1594-1601). The second case study shows how a number of stage directions in Clavell's The Soddered Citizen signal the playgoer's understanding of performance practices and conventions and his concern also to explicate actions and materials that he knew to be unconventional. Finally, the chapter's study of William Percy's Mahomet and His Heaven (1601; revised 1606-8 and 1636-47) examines stage directions that give two or more choices to performers, depending on whether the play is staged by boys or by adults, in order to recover the playgoer's understanding of how different performance auspices required different practices and materials. Chapter 4 interrogates the efficacy of playwriting playgoers as verse dramatists, using plays by playgoers who were also nondramatic poets to demonstrate the kinds of verse effects amateurs incorporated into their plays, thus suggesting what poetically attentive audience members might have recognized about the nature and purpose of poetry on stage. The chapter begins with transitions between prose and verse in Robert Chamberlain's The Swaggering Damsel (1625-40) in order to demonstrate the playgoer's understanding of how modal shifts in language on stage could serve specific performance purposes apart from the simplistic rubric of genre. A similar sophistication marks the use of rhyme in Alexander Brome's The Cunning Lovers (ca. 1639); Brome's frequent blending of rhymes for various purposes distinguishes the playgoer's play from contemporaneous plays written by professionals and so presents a more complex picture of the audience than we might assume if we were to judge that audience from the professionals' plays alone. The chapter concludes with a study of how Barnabe Barnes uses metrical variants to characterize the changing emotions of two characters in The Devil's Charter (1607). Just as professionals shaped dramatic meter to control mood or action, Barnes recognized that deliberate deviations from ideal iambic pentameter could be used to create the illusion of dynamic characters.
Reading a playgoer's play as evidence of audience experience will not tell us what all—or even any other—audience members experienced in the playhouse, even audience members from the same socioeconomic class or background as the playwright. These highly invested, literate audience members were self-selecting and peculiar, and displayed a depth of interest and attention that likely set them apart from their peers. If it is true that, as Gurr speculates, the "ordinary type of playgoer [was] more absorbed in the story than the verse or characterizations [and] not at all interested in symbols or their application, inclined to moralise only in [a] conventional way," playwriting playgoers reveal a much more heightened engagement with all of these elements. A loose modern analogue to plays written by playgoers may be found in "fan fiction," in which deeply engaged cultural consumers subvert the producer-consumer hierarchy by asserting their own creative agency in ways that might reaffirm or critique texts made for them by mainstream, institutionalized commercial producers. Just as a script or story written by a dedicated follower of a particular television show will tell us, not about the show itself, but about that follower's understanding of that show and its culture (in a way that a script written by a regular writer on its staff could not), a play written by a playgoer can tell us about that playgoer's understanding of the stage. These playwrights' plays merit reconsideration as primary evidence of particular audience members' experiences because thus far the questions we have been asking of them (when we ask questions of them at all) have been, for the most part, methodologically inappropriate. When these plays have failed to live up to the expectation that they will, or should, provide the same kind of evidence as professionals' plays, they have been pushed to the margins as unreliable and unimportant. Recognizing these plays as the work of writers whose knowledge of the theater derived almost entirely from their experience attending and reading plays, rather than making them, allows us to reposition our expectations and, at the same time, refine our own perspective on the early modern audience. If the early modern playhouse was a community of playmakers, plays by audience members afford the best access to the creative vision, as well as practical theatrical knowledge, of individuals in an otherwise largely mysterious and inscrutable part of that community.