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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 24 / 25





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(1625), in which the Black King and his men, representing Spain and the Jesuits, were checkmated by the White Knight,

Prince Charles. In the final scene the whole Spanish nation was consigned to hell. And all this at a time when England and

Spain stood poised on the brink of war. This political satire drew rowdy crowds to the Globe in unprecedented numbers,

until the Spanish ambassador protested and James I suppressed the play.107

Significantly, however, the disorders which revolved around the theaters were more frequently perpetrated by mobs which

were not part of the theater audience. Such was certainly the case with the ritualized but nonetheless violent attacks by

apprentices and others on places of entertainment during Shrovetide. The June 1592 riot outside the Marshalsea began when

a crowd of feltmongers' apprentices assembled "by occasion and pretence of their meeting at a play."108 Whether

assembled within or without the playhouse, however, the fear that there was an underlying political subtext, that (as

Northbrooke articulated it) playgoing taught people to "rebell agaynst Princes" and "to ransacke and spoyle cities and

townes," was enough to arouse the hostility of the City authorities.109 What made Southwark particularly threatening in

this regard was its situation in the liberties and outparishes, and that the playhouses were close enough in radical sentiment

to the people who flocked to them to provide a medium for expressing dissatisfaction with what was popularly seen as a

jurisdictionally oppressive municipal authority. In spite of this, the theaters in Paris Garden and the Clink Liberty continued

to defy efforts to regulate them. When plague threatened in 1580, the City had readily complied with an order of the Privy

Council to suppress playacting within their jurisdiction, but the Surrey justices

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needed to be separately exhorted to do the same. Seven years later, the county magistrates again had to be reminded to do

their duty, this time in enforcing due observance of the Sabbath by restraining plays, as the Lord Mayor had already done

within his own liberties. In other words, the theaters of Bankside -- the Rose, the Swan, the Hope, and the Globe -- were

outside the control of the City justices, and the only way that they could bring pressure to bear was by requesting the Privy

Council to give orders to the Surrey justices.110

It is hardly surprising that the area in and around Southwark became the main center of dissipation of sixteenth- and

seventeenth-century London. In its range of purveying (with all its shades of meaning) and social and communal functions,

it had its own existence within and yet separate from established society. Added to this, however, was a more defined

jurisdictional distinction: it was a place where the Mayor's writ, if not always the King's, did not run. Those who had no

place in the paternal hierarchy of society -- the "masterless" men -- came here, bringing with them the alleged baggage of

crime and sedition. The expansive apprentice population made it a traditional place of disorder, especially when political

protest was incited; even its topography seems to have encouraged it. Combine with this the number and, indeed, supposed

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