« AnteriorContinuar »
To the honour of Mr. Addison, it should be remembered, that he first discontinued the ancient, but humiliating, practice of distributing tickets, and soliciting company to attend at the theatre, on the poet's nights.
When an author sold his piece to the sharers or proprietors of a theatre, it could not be performed by any other company, and remained for several years unpublished; but, when that was not the case, he printed it for sale, to which many seem to have been induced from an apprehension that an imperfect copy might be issued from the press without their consent. The customary price of the copy of a play, in the time of Shakspeare, appears to have been twenty nobles, or six pounds thirteen shillings and four-pence. The play when printed was sold for sixpence; and the usual
present from a patron, in return for a dedication, was forty shillings.
On the first day of exhibiting a new play, the prices of admission appear to have been raised, sometimes to double, sometimes to treble, prices; and this seems to have been occasionally practised on the benefit-nights of authors, and on · the representation of expensive plays, to the year 1726 in the present century. Dramatick
in ancient times, as at present, were admitted gratis into the theatre.
It appears from Sir Henry Herbert's Office-book that the king's company between the years 1622 and 1641 produced either at Blackfriars or the Globe at least four new plays every year. Every play, before it was represented on the stage, was licensed by the Master of the Revels, for which he received in the time of Queen Elizabeth, but a noble, though at a subsequent period the stated fee on this occasion rose to two pounds.
Neither Queen Elizabeth, nor King James the First, nor Charles the First, I believe, ever went to the publick theatre; but they frequently ordered plays to be performed at court, which were represented in the royal theatre called the Cockpit, in Whitehall : and the actors of the king's company were sometimes commanded to attend his majesty in his summer's progress, to perform before him in the country. Queen Henrietta Maria, however, went sometimes o the publick theatre at Blackfriars. I find from the Council-books that in the time of Elizabeth ten pounds was the payment for a play performed before her; that is, twenty nobles, or six pounds, thirteen shillings, and four-pence, as
the regular and stated fee; and three pounds, six shillings, and eight-pence, by way of bounty or reward. The same sum, as I learn from the manuscript notes of Lord Stanhope, Treasurer of the Chamber to King James the First, continued to be paid during his reign : and this was the stated payment during the reign of his successor also. Plays at court were usually performed at night, by which means they did not interfere with the regular exhibition at the publick theatres, which was early in the afternoon; and thus the royal bounty was for so much a clear profit to the company : but when a play was commanded to be performed at any of the royal palaces in the neighbourhood of London, by which the actors were prevented from deriving any profit from a publick exhibition on the same day, the fee, as appears from a manuscript in the Lord Chamberlain's office, was, in the year 1630, and probably in Shakspeare's time also, twenty pounds; and this circumstance I formerly stated, as strongly indicating that the sum last mentioned was a very considerable produce on any one representation at the Blackfriars or Globe playhouse. The office-book which I have so often quoted, has fully confirmed my conjecture.
The custom of passing a final censure on plays at their first exhibition, is as ancient as the time of our author; for no less than three plays of his rival, Ben Jonson, appear to have been deservedly damned; and Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, and The Knight of the burning Pestle, written by him and Beaumont, underwent the same fate. · It is not easy to ascertain what were the emoluments of a successful actor in the time of Shakspeare. They had not then annual benefits, as at present. T'he clear emoluments of the theatre, after deducting the nightly expences for lights, men occasionally hired for the evening, &c. which in Shakspeare's house was but forty-five shillings, were divided into shares, of which part belonged to the proprietors, who were called housekeepers, and the remainder was divided among the actors, according to their rank and merit. I suspect that the whole clear receipt was divided into forty shares, of which perhaps the housekeepers or proprietors had fifteen, the actors twenty-two, and three were devoted to the purchase of new plays, dresses, &c. From Ben Jonson's Poetaster, it should seem that one of the performers had seven shares and a half; but of what integral sum is not mentioned. The person alluded to, (if any person was alluded to, which is not certain,) must, I think,
have been a proprietor, as well as a principal actor. Our poet in his Hamlet speaks of a whole share, as no contemptible emolument; and from the same play we learn that some of the performers had only half a share. Others probably had still less.
It appears from a deed executed by Thomas Killigrew and others, that in the year 1666, the whole profit arising from acting plays, masques, &c. at the king's theatre, was divided into twelve shares and three quarters, of which Mr. Killigrew, the manager, had two shares and three quarters; and if we may trust to the statement in another very curious paper, (which however was probably exaggerated,) cach share produced, at the lowest calculation, about 250). per ann. net; and the total clear profits consequently were about 31871. 10s. Od.
These shares were then distributed among the proprietors of the theatre, who at that time were not actors, the performers, and the dramatick poets, who were retained in the service of the theatre, and received a part of the annual produce as a compensation for the pieces which they produced.
In a paper delivered by Sir Henry Herbert to Lord Clarendon and the Lord Chamberlain, July 11, 1662, he states the emolument which Mr. Thomas Killigrew then derived (from his two shares and three quarters,) at 191. 6s. Od. per week; according to which statement each share in the king's company produced but two hundred and ten pounds ten shillings a year.
In Sir William D'Avenant's company, from the time their new theatre was opened in Portugal Row, near Lincoln's Inn Fields, (April 1662,) the total receipt (after deducting the nightly charges of " men hirelings and other customary expences,") was divided into fifteen shares, of which it was agreed by articles previously entered into, that ten should belong to D'Avenant: viz. two “ towards the house-rent, buildings, scaffolding, and making of frames for scenes; one for a provision of habits, properties, and scenes, for a supplement of the said theatre; and seven to maintain all the women that are to perform or represent women's parts, in tragedies, comedies, &c. and in consideration of erecting and establishing his actors to be a company, and his pains and expences for that purpose for many years. The other five shares were divided in various
proportions among the rest of the troop.
In the paper above referred to it is stated by Sir Henry Herbert, that D'Avenant « drew from these ten shares two
hundreds pounds a week;" and if that statement was correct, each share in his playhouse then produced annually six hundred pounds, supposing the acting season to have then lasted for thirty weeks.
Such were the emoluments of the theatre soon after the Restoration; which I have stated here, from authentick documents, because they may assist us in our conjectures concerning the profits derived from stage-exhibitions at a more remote and darker period.
From the prices of admission into our ancient theatres in the time of Shakspeare, which have been already noticed, I formerly conjectured that about twenty pounds was a considerable receipt at the Blackfriars and Globe theatre, on any one day; and my conjecture is now confirmed by indisputable evidence. In Sir Henry Herbert's Office-book I find the following curious notices on this subject, under the year 1628:
“ The kinges company with a generall consent and alacritye have given mee the benefitt of two dayes in the yeare, the one in summer, thother in winter, to bee taken out of the second daye of a revived playe, att my owne choyse. The housekeepers have likewyse given their shares, their dayly charge only deducted, which comes to some 21. 5s. this 25 May, 1628.
“ The benefitt of the first day, being a very unseasonable one in respect of the weather, comes but unto £4. 15. 0.”
This agreement subsisted for five years and a half, during which time Sir Henry Herbert had ten benefits, the most profitable of which produced seventeen pounds, and ten shillings, net, on the 22d of Nov. 1628, when Fletcher's Custom of the Country was performed at Blackfriars; and the least emolument which he received was on the representation of a play which is not named, at the Globe, in the summer of the year 1632, which produced only the sum of one pound and five shillings, after deducting from the total receipt in each instance the nightly charge above mentioned. It also appears that his clear profit at an average on each of his nights, was £ 8. 19. 4. and the total nightly receipt was at an average-£11. 4. 4.
On the 30th of October, 1633, the managers of the king's company agreed to pay him the fixed sum of ten pounds every Christmas, and the same sum at Midsummer, in lieu of his two benefits, which sums they regularly paid him from that time till the breaking out of the civil wars.
From the receipts on these benefits I am led to believe that the prices were lower at the Globe theatre, and that therefore, though it was much larger than the winter theatre at Blackfriars, it did not produce a greater sum of money on any representation. If we suppose twenty pounds, clear of the nightly charges already mentioned, to have been a very considerable receipt at either of these houses, and that this sum was in our poet's time divided into forty shares, of which fifteen were appropriated to the housekeepers or proprietors, three to the purchase of copies of new plays, stagehabits, &c. and twenty-two to the actors, then the performer who had two shares on the representation of each play, received, when the theatre was thus successful, twenty shillings. But supposing the average nightly receipt (after deducting the nightly expences) to be about nine pounds, which we have seen to be the case, then his nightly dividend would be but nine shillings, and his weekly profit, if they played five times a week, two pounds five shillings. The acting season, I believe, at that time lasted forty weeks. In each of the companies then subsisting there were about twenty persons, six of whom probably were principal, and the others subordinate ; so that we may suppose two shares to have been the reward of a principal actor; six of the second class perhaps enjoyed a whole share each ; and each of the remaining eight half a share. On all these data, I think it may be safely concluded, that the performers of the first class did not derive from their profession more than ninety pounds a year at the utmost. Shakspeare, Heminge, Condell, Burbadge, Lowin, and Taylor had without doubt other shares as proprietors or leaseholders; but what the different proportions were which each of them possessed in that right, it is now impossible to ascertain. According to the supposition already stated, that fifteen shares out of forty were appropriated to the proprietors, then was there on this account a sum of six hundred and seventy-five pounds annually to be divided among them. Our poet, as author, actor, and proprietor, probably received from the theatre about two hundred pounds a year.—Having after a very long search lately discovered the will of Mr. Heminge, I hoped to have derived from it some information on this subject, but I was disappointed. He indeed more than once mentions his several parts or shares held by lease in the Globe and Blackfriars playhouses; but uses no expression by which the value of each of those shares can be ascertained, His books of ae