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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 22 / 25





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play-acting could be politically risquĊ½; Stephen Gardiner certainly found it so, and requested the Lord Protector's assistance

in restraining the Southwark players. Much more dangerous was the Globe acting company's acceptance of the Earl of

Essex's commission to perform the deposition and murder of Richard II on the eve of what turned out to be an abortive

rebellion.98 Under other circumstances, Essex found the players less accommodating, when, at the nadir of his fortunes, he

wrote to the Queen: "as if I were thrown into a corner like a dead carcase, I am gnawed on and torn by the basest creatures

upon earth -- and shortly they will play me upon the stage."99

The City, with its keen eye to business and its strong Puritan traditions, looked askance at theaters and the irregularities

which frequently accompanied them, and was glad that they should remain on the south side of the river. Unsurprisingly,

sermonic literature denouncing plays and interludes flourished during the period. As Sir Walter Besant so appositely put it:

"There was dancing in it, music, mockery, merriment, satire, low comedy; all these things the misguided flock enjoyed and

the shepherd deplored."100 The main Puritan line of argument was that the plays fostered immorality: "Players and Playes,"

wrote Northbrooke in his 1577 Treatise , "are not tollerable nor sufferable in any com mon weale, especially where the

Gospell is preached -- it is a spectacle and schoole for all wickednesse and vice to be learned it." "The blessed word of

GOD," added relentless killjoy Phillip Stubbes, "is to be handled, reuerently, grauely, and sagely, with veneration to the

glorious Majestie of God -- and not scoffingly, flowtingly, & iybingly, as it is upon stages in Playes & Enterluds" -- often,

moreover, mixed incongruously with wanton and bawdy matter.101 The effect of such

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strident denunciation was to create a pamphlet war between these godly crusaders on the one hand and, on the other,

embattled defenders of the theater, who argued that, far from fostering immorality, most plays pointed the moral that sin

was punished and virtue rewarded. Jonson, noting some criticisms of the stage, declared in his dedication to Volpone that

the office of the common poet was "to imitate justice and instruct to life, as well as purity of language, or stir up gentle

affections." John Taylor, penning a commendatory poem for Heywood's Apology for Actors (1612), followed Hamlet's

"but thinking makes it so" argument:

A Play's a briefe Epitome of time Where man may see his vertue or his crime Layd open, either to their vices shame, Or to

their vertues memorable fame. A Play's a true transparant Christall mirror, To shew good minds their mirth, the bad their

terror: Where stabbing, drabbing, dicing, drinking, swearing Are all proclaim'd vnto the fight and hearing, In vgly shapes

of Heauen-abhorrid sinne, Where men may see the mire they wallow in. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For Playes are good

or bad, as they are vs'd, And best inuentions often are abus'd.

And some, of course, were more unaffected in their apology: Nathan Field (son of John Field of Godly Exhortation fame)

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