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Elizabethan theater had a reputation as a signature art form, and journals from travelers to London indicate that the appeal of the English stage was well-known. Records of plays licensed for performance also suggest that the art form was robust, with old and new plays staged with frequency. In his...

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Elizabethan theater had a reputation as a signature art form, and journals from travelers to London indicate that the appeal of the English stage was well-known. Records of plays licensed for performance also suggest that the art form was robust, with old and new plays staged with frequency. In his prime, Shakespeare was known to be a best-seller as well, so we assume he drew a wide audience. So, the question of who was paying to see these plays is apt.

Standing in the Globe Theatre's pit cost a penny, the top seats were 3 pennies, and the box seats near or maybe on the stage were slightly more, about 2 pence. A penny would buy an ale or a modest lunch, so the price of a ticket to stand and see a play would be modest enough but not exactly affordable for the working class. Playgoing was an indulgence but not cost-prohibitive for many.

Young Inns of Court (i.e., law) students and the lower middle class might have paid the penny. Shop keepers or merchants, what we might think of as upper middle class, could afford the covered seating in the galleries. Wealthier patrons, perhaps lower ranking courtly people, could afford the top galleries or the box seats.

Myth sometimes suggests that the Queen or high ranking court figures "snuck" into the Globe but this seems highly unlikely. Shakespeare brought his players to court for their entertainment.

Early Puritans or Congregationalists spoke against theater, so lines were being drawn regarding the morality of playacting, a fact that is often mocked within the period's plays, including Ben Jonson's. In Francis Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), the play presents characters who are grocers in the city, mocking the lack of sophistication in such audience members. This play was performed at the more exclusive Blackfriars Theater, so it delights in mocking the lower class audiences who attend plays in the outdoor theaters. Indoor theaters in the Jacobean era cost about twice what the Globe and other outdoor theaters charged.

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