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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 21 / 25

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which meant that shopkeepers, craftsmen and their apprentices could afford to go and did. Within a short time,

waterman-poet John Taylor reported that three or four thousand people were being carried over every day to the plays on the

Bankside.94 It is quite certain that before the end of the sixteenth century there were four theaters there: the Rose in Rose

Lane, built at least as early as 1584; the Swan near Paris Garden landing, which was used for fencing exhibitions in James

I's reign; the Hope in Bear Gardens, which was built only in 1610 and was devoted to plays for most of the week

(Jonson's Bartholomew Fair was first produced there in 1624) but was used for bear-baiting on Tuesdays and Thursdays;

and the Globe in what is now Park Street, built by Richard Burbage in 1599 from the timbers of the theater at Shoreditch

when the former's lease ran

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out. All of these theaters can be found on maps and views of the period. Of the four, the Globe is certainly the most

famous. It is referred to unmistakably as a new theater in the prologue to Henry V (1599), quite possibly its opening piece,

and indeed is best known for its associations with Shakespeare as part proprietor, as an actor in the Lord Chamberlain's

Company (later the King's Men), and as a dramatist. Many of his plays were produced there, but so were many of those of

Jonson, Dekker, Webster, Fletcher, Massinger, Field, and Ford. Thomas Platter, who saw Julius Caesar performed there,

described the Bankside theaters:

daily at two in the afternoon, London has two, sometimes three plays running in different places [in 1559], competing with

each other, and those which play best obtain most spectators. The playhouses are so constructed that they play on a raised

platform, so that everyone has a good view. There are different galleries and places, however, where the seating is better

and more comfortable and therefore more expensive.... And during the performance food and drink are carried round the

audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment.95

It must be remembered, of course, that dramatic performance in the age of public playhouses enjoyed none of the

upper-class associations of the modern theatrical experience. Audiences were heterogeneous, containing persons of almost

every social degree from low-born spectators to raffish upper-class punters and courtiers.96 Not watchful silence but rather

active and vocal participation was the usual audience reaction to a play that caught their interest. If it turned out to be a bad

play, this was likely to take the form of hissing and pelting the unfortunate actors with oranges. During an indifferent play,

however, the audience diverted itself with a variety of activities

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ranging from dicing and card-playing -- sometimes on the stage itself -- to swearing, spitting, munching apples, cracking

nuts, making passes at the women, and, for some, cutting purses.97 In addition to its distinctly low-brow character,

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