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another tradition informs us, that he used to hold the horses of those who rode to the theatre without attendants, till the performance was concluded. Biographers seem to agree in rejecting the last anecdote as unworthy of belief. His situation was not desperate enough to subject him to so degrading an employment: his father, though not
those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horseback to the play, and when Shakespeare fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous, for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will Shakespeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will Shakespeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakespeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will Shakespeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, I am Shakespeare's boy, sir. In time Shakespeare found higher employment, but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare's boys." This story first appeared in Cibber's Lives of the English Poets, 1753, the whole, or at least the greater part, of which book was written by Shiels, the amanuensis of Johnson. William Davenant," we are there informed, "told it to Mr. Betterton, who communicated it to Mr. Rowe; Mr. Rowe told it to Mr. Pope, and Mr. Pope told it to Dr. Newton, the late editor of Milton; and from a gentleman who heard it from him, 'tis here related." The "gentleman" was doubt. less Dr. Johnson.
in easy circumstances, was still probably engaged in trade; his father-in-law was a yeoman of respectability; and it is unlikely that, on his removal to the metropolis, they withheld from him all pecuniary assistance. If, however, his rank was at first subordinate, he soon raised himself to distinction; and but a few years had elapsed before he became possessed of a principal share in the theatres, to which he was attached. As all his dramas 28 appear to have been performed at the Globe and Blackfriars (which belonged to the same comedians), there is no reason to believe that he was ever connected with any other houses.
The following buildings were used for the representation of plays in London, between the time of Shakespeare's first appearance there and his final retirement to Stratford; it must be understood, however, that they were not all open together.
The Theatre (so called by distinction), and the Curtain, both in Shoreditch; the Blackfriars Theatre, near the present site of Apothecaries' Hall; Paris Garden, on the Bankside; the Whitefriars Theatre; the Globe, on the Bankside; the Fortune, in Golden, or Golding Lane, St. Giles, Cripplegate; the Rose, the Hope, and the Swan, all three on the Bankside; the Newington Theatre; and the Red Bull, at the upper end of St. John Street.29
28 Titus Andronicus was played by the servants of the Earl of Pembroke, &o, The First Part of Henry VI. by those of Lord Strange.
29 The Cockpit, or Phænix, does not appear to have been
Nearly all these buildings, it is probable, were constructed of wood. Those which (for some undiscovered reason) were termed private 30 theatres, were entirely roofed in from the weather, while the public theatres were open to the sky, except over the stage and galleries. On the outside of each was exhibited a sign indicative of its name; and on the roof, during the time of performance, was hoisted a flag.
Their interior arrangements resembled those of the present day. There were tiers of galleries or scaffolds; beneath these, the boxes or rooms intended for persons of the highest class, and which at the private theatres were secured with locks, the keys being given to the individuals who engaged them;31 and there was the centre area (separated, it seems, from the stage by pales) at the private theatres termed the pit, and furnished with seats, but at the public theatres called the yard, and affording no such accommodation. converted into a theatre until Shakespeare had finally retired to Stratford.
30 For an account of all the distinguishing marks of private playhouses, see Collier's Hist. of English Dram. Poet. iii. 335.
31" At each side of this balcony [- the balcony at the back of the stage, described at p. xix.] was a box, very inconveniently situated, which sometimes was called the private bor. In these boxes, which were at a lower price, some persons sate, either from economy or singularity." Malone's Hist. Acc. of English Stage, p. 80.-(Shak. by Boswell, iii.) The exact situation of these private boxes is by no means certain.
Cressets or large open lanterns served to illuminate the body of the house, and two ample branches, of a form similar to those now hung in churches, gave light to the stage. The band of musicians, which was far from numerous, sat, it is supposed, in an upper balcony, over what is now called the stage-box; the instruments chiefly used were trumpets, cornets, hautboys, lutes, recorders, viols, and organs.
The amusements of the audience, previous to the commencement of the play, were reading, playing at cards, smoking tobacco, drinking ale, and eating nuts and apples. Even during the performance, it was customary for wits, critics, and young gallants who were desirous of attracting attention, to station themselves on the stage ;32 either lying on the rushes, or seated on hired stools, while their pages furnished them with pipes and tobacco.
At the third sounding, or flourish of trumpets, the exhibition began. The curtain, which concealed the stage from the audience, was then drawn, opening in the middle and running upon iron rods. Other curtains called traverses were used as a substitute for scenes. At the back of the stage was a balcony, 33 the platform of which
32 Malone thought this custom was confined to private theatres, but see Collier's Hist. of English Dram. Poet. iii. 352.
33" It appears," says Malone, "from the stage-directions given in the The Spanish Tragedy, that when a play
was raised about eight or nine feet from the ground; it served as a window, gallery, or upper chamber; from it a portion of the dialogue was sometimes spoken; and in front of it curtains were suspended, to conceal, if necessary, those who occupied it from the audience. The internal roof of the stage, either painted blue, or adorned with drapery of that colour, was termed the heavens. The stage was generally strewed with rushes, but on extraordinary occasions was matted. There is reason to believe, that when tragedies were performed, it was hung with black.
Moveable painted scenery there was assuredly
"The air-blest castle, round whose wholesome crest The martlet, guest of summer, chose her nest,
was exhibited within a play (if I may so express myself) as is the case in that piece and in Hamlet, the court or audience before whom the interlude was performed, sat in the balcony, or upper stage, already described; and a curtain or traverse, being hung across the stage for the nonce, the performers entered between that curtain and the general audience, and on its being drawn, began their piece, addressing themselves to the balcony, and regardless of the spectators in the theatre, to whom their backs must have beent urned during the whole of the performance." Hist. Acc. of English Stage, p. 108.— (Shak. by Boswell, iii.) Though, as Mr. Collier remarks (Hist. of English Dram. Poet. iii. 363), the authorities here cited by Malone do not bear out his supposition, I cannot help thinking that it is right. There was no necessity, however, that, on such occasions, the actors should absolutely turn their backs on the audience.