Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part Two > The Elizabethan Theatre > Social position of the Actor
  Financial arrangements  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

X. The Elizabethan Theatre.

§ 27. Social position of the Actor.


A man who was at once a sharing actor and a playwright, like Shakespeare, clearly had it in his power to make fairly large sums of money; 44  and Alleyn, who had other sources of income, was in an even more fortunate position. No surprise need be felt at Shakespeare’s purchase of New Place, or at Alleyn’s heavy outlay on property at Dulwich and his renowned benevolence. The forunate and respectable actor—even though he held no office under the crown like Alleyn’s—was received into good society and was befriended and admired by the best intellects of his time; he lived a comfortable and secure existence, and, perhaps, indulged in the purchase of a coat of arms. Henry Condell was a sidesman of the parish of St. Mary’s, Aldermanbury, in 1606: his respectability is unimpeachable. But the besetting sins of the player—luxury, extravagance and intemperate living—for which Hazlitt found generous excuses in later years, seem to have existed then as ever. We read much of the player’s love of fine clothes and display. And there can be no doubt that the frequent interruptions caused by the plague, the deterrent action of such managers as Henslowe and the notorious uncertainty of theatrical affairs, resulted in much poverty and distress among lesser actors and lesser companies. Those on tour, especially, suffered hardships, being forced to pawn their wardrobe, to “pad the hoof” instead of riding from town to town and to beg, instead of play, for their keep. The extremes of the profession were as far apart then as now; but the age of Elizabeth and James undoubtedly raised it as a whole into respect as well as popularity; and the outspoken envy of those—by no means all of puritanical bent—who railed at the pride and display of actors was the natural result of the advance which the period witnessed. During the reign of Charles, the greater prevalence of the plague, the shadow of coming troubles and the deterioration of the drama itself caused something of a decline, and the rebellion brought all to a close.   54

Note 44. Wallace, u.s., calculates Shakespeare’s yearly profits from the Globe as never exceeding £300, and a similar amount from the Blackfriars. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Financial arrangements  
 
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