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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

XIV. The Puritan Attack upon the Stage

§ 14. Effects of changes introduced under the Stewarts

After Elizabeth’s death, and under a new dynasty, a change came over the character and position of the stage. In 1604, the right of noblemen to patronise players was virtually withdrawn by the repeal of the previous statutes exempting the members of their companies from the penalties of vagrancy. This gave a formidable weapon into the hands of any provincial corporation and magistrates that wished to rid their community of the presence of travelling actors, as Sir Edward Coke carefully explained to the good people of Norwich on his circuit of 1606. On the other hand, by extending the policy introduced by Walsingham in 1583 and placing the great companies, one after the other, under the direct patronage of the crown, the position of the London stage was rendered practically impregnable. Yet the theatre lost more than it gained. It ceased to be a national institution and became a department of the revels’ office; while its direct subordination to the court made it more unpopular than ever with the puritans, who were rapidly becoming the anti-court party. The actor could scarcely be anything but royalist. The dramatist could see but one side to those great questions which were sweeping England on to civil war. But there was another side to this matter, which should not be overlooked. While there can be no doubt whatever that, among the generality of puritans, the destestation of the stage was steadily on the increase at this period, wealthier citizens now began to look with more favourable eye upon theatrical performances. The playhouses, in short, or, at least, the best known among them, by entering into close relations with the court added the finishing touches to the reputation for respectability which they had been slowly acquiring during Elizabeth’s last years. They lost, to a large extent, their popular character and became fashionable resorts which citizens and, more especially, citizens’ wives found it both pleasant and socially advantageous to attend. This fact helps to explain the almost complete cessation of the city’s attacks and later pamphleteers, such as Rawlidge, do not hesitate to compare the more complacent citizens of Stewart London with “the religious senators” of a previous day.