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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 23 / 25





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accused a preacher at St. Mary Overies of disloyalty in sermonizing against play- actors, who were, after all, licensed and

patronized by the King.102

At the same time, religious opposition to playgoing extended beyond Puritan sabbatarianism. Replying to the Privy

Council's April 1582 request that, now that the dangers of the plague had passed, plays might be resumed within the City

on holidays if not on Sundays, the Lord Mayor protested that it was not just on the Sabbath that playgoing was

objectionable.103 Indeed, civic attitudes seem to have been determined more

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by disapproval of the theatergoing milieu than the actual contents of the plays. In its call for licensing of plays and

playing-places in 1574, the Common Council asserted that

sundry great disorders and inconveniences have been found to ensue to this city by the inordinate haunting of great

multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes, and shows, namely occasion of frays and quarrels, evil practices

of incontinency in great inns having chambers and secret places adjoining to their open stages and galleries.

With the coming of permanent theaters -- and, indeed, the other amusements of Bankside -- additional complaints arose,

such as the gathering of vagrant and lewd persons on the pretense of coming to the plays, and the fear of increased

incidence of plague due to population growth and overcrowding.104 As a result, City authorities adduced all kinds of

reasons to restrain plays. Theaters, they argued, drew apprentices away from their work and then corrupted them by

presenting stories that were "wanton and profane." They were also frequented by "light and lewd disposed persons, as

harlots, cutpurses, cozeners, pilferers &c., who under colour of hearing plays, devised divers evil and ungodly --

conspiracies." Pepys tells how, on a visit to Southwark in 1668, he left with his waterman gold and other valuables in the

value of Ï40, for fear of his pockets being cut during his stay.105 Nor did it go unremarked that the theaters on Bankside

were situated conveniently close to London's most notorious brothel district, and that themselves provided cover for

assignations of the most dubious kind. "Pay thy twopence to a player," related Thomas Dekker, "in his gallery mayest thou

sit by a harlot."106

As always, however, the real concern of the City governors was the maintenance of law and order; and whereas many

theater historians have readily assumed that municipal authorities were, ipso facto , Puritan sympathizers, the factor which

probably weighed most heavily in

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their attitudes was that playhouses might attract what, in the absence of an effective police force, was most difficult to

control -- a large and excited crowd. The fear that large audiences might get out of hand when plays dabbled in topical and

inflammatory political issues was not without foundation; witness the events surrounding Middleton's Game at Chess

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