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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.

X. The Elizabethan Theatre

§ 22. Performances at private Playhouses and at Court

Performances at private playhouses may be taken to have approximated to those at universities, inns of court and royal residences, in aiming at the taste of more refined audiences than did the public playhouse—though too much stress should not be laid on the supposition. Noblemen, ambassadors and other great people went to the public playhouses; but, while it is on record that Elizabeth went to the Blackfriars, she is not known to have ever visited the Globe. Private playhouses were completely roofed over, and, though performances took place there in the afternoons as in public playhouses, they were, occasionally at all events, performed in artificial light, the windows being covered over. Instead of the “yard” filled with “understanding” spectators or “groundlings,” there was a pit, with seats.

The evidence shows that a performance at court was very different from a performance in a public or private playhouse. It was for this honour, ostensibly, that the company worked all the year, and, when the master of the revels had selected, after competition, the companies and the plays they should perform, the author was often called upon to revise his play; and the performance ended with prayers for the queen. Elizabeth’s accounts show an annual outlay for airing and furbishing up the court stock of costumes and appliances, besides considerable expense for wires, lights, properties and mechanical contrivances. The old domus of the miracles survive in the “painted houses” of the players at court; and there can be little question that painted scenery was not unknown. Under James I, great advances were achieved by the arts of stage decoration and production through the masques written by Ben Jonson and mounted by Inigo Jones; but the public stage was little affected, if at all. Not until the return of D’Avenant and other adherents of Charles I and II from France and Italy, to be followed by Betterton’s mission to Paris—not until the drama became more nearly dependent on court favour than it had been made even by the exclusive royal patronage of companies on the accession of James I, did the public stage make a corresponding advance; and then it drew its inspiration from other sources.