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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

§ 26. Financial arrangements

The bulk of the profits on a play went, not to the author or authors, but to the company. Finance was mainly conducted on the share system. One share or more might be purchased, or might be allotted instead of salary; and, in the second half of the period, shares were clearly regarded as property that could be sold or devised by will. The proceeds of each performance, after certain deductions had been made, were divided among the members of the company according to their holdings of shares. In the case of Henslowe’s company, at the Hope, those deductions, at one time, in 1614, included the money received for admission to the galleries and through the tiringhouse, half of the sum going to Henslowe and Meade as owners of the theatre, and the other half to Henslowe on account of advances made by him for the stock of costumes, which was also the company’s property. Henslowe has been generally accused of harshness and injustice in his dealings with the companies under his control. Pawnbroker and moneylender, he acted, doubtless, to some extent, on the principle put into his mouth by his players in their Articles of Grievance and Oppression of 1615: “should these fellowes Come out of my debt, I should have noe rule with them.” Execessive value placed upon clothes and other property which he purchased for them, bonds for repayment and the not infrequent “breaking, ” or disbanding, of companies which protested, kept his actors in a state of subjection. The case may have been different with the Chamberlain’s and King’s company; but we are ignorant of its internal arrangements during nearly the whole period. The recent discovery of documents setting forth the company’s financial arrangements during the years 1598 to 1615 is entitled to rank among the most important contributions to what is known in this field. In 1599, a lease of the site of the Globe was granted for 31 years, one half of the interest in the property to the brothers Burbage, who paid one half the whole annual rent of £14. 10s. 0d., the other half to Shakespeare, Heminge, Phillipps, Pope and Kemp, who paid the other half of the rent in equal sharaes, i.e. £1. 9s. od. each. In 1610, Shakespeare and the four other holders of tenths admitted Condell to an interest, their shares thus becoming twelfths; and, in 1612, these twelfths were further divided into fourteenths by the admission of William Osteler. This arrangement lasted till 1630, each share, it appears, being assigned on the death of its owner to the Burbages or the survivor of them, to be reassigned to some new actor. In the Blackfriars, Richard Burbage held one seventh share, leaving pne seventh each to Shakespeare, Heminge, Cuthbert Burbage, Condell, Style and Thomas Evans, each of the seven paying an annual rental of £5. 14s. 4d.—a total of £40. 0s. 4d. This arrangement also lasted till 1630. In the documents in the suit brought by Thomasin Osteler against her father Heminge, the purchase value of one seventh of the Blackfriars is estimated at £300, and the purchase value of one-fourtheenth of the Globe at the same sum; and a year’s profits on each are estimated—no doubt somewhat in excess, for purposes of the suit—at £300. In return for this, each actor-sharer not only paid his share of the cost of building and keeping up the play-house nad of the incidental expenses—wardrobe, servants and so forth—but gave his services as actor; and the passing of the shares by sale or demise into the hands of persons other than actors led to dispute and litigation. The almost equally important discovery by Halliwell-Phillipps of papers concerning a dispute of this nature among sharers in the Globe and Blackfriars playhouses in 1635 has thrown a light on the later finances of those houses. The company was then divided into three classes: housekeepers, sharers and hired men and boys. The housekeepers’ shares in the Globe were sixteen in number, and, at the date of the dispute, they were held as follows: three and a half by Cuthbert Burbage, son of James and brother of Richard, three and a half by the widow of Richard Burbage, now Mrs. Robinson, two by the widow of Henry Condell, three by the actor John Shankes and two each by the actors Taylor and Lowin. There were thus, among the housekeepers, three actors holding seven shares, all of which they had purchased, and the remaining nine shares shares were owned by “neither actors, nor his Majesties servants,” but the heirs or legatees of actors. The Blackfriars was divided into eight shares, three being in the hands of Cuthbert Burbage and the widows of Richard Burbage and Condell, the remaining five in the hands of Shankes, who held two, and Taylor, Lowin and Underwood (another actor), who had one each. The housekeepers had to pay the rent of the two houses (which they put down at £100 yearly, while their opponents reckon it as £65, less a sum of between £20 and £30 for a sub-let portion of the premises), and to keep them in repair; they received one half of all the money taken except at the outer doors, that is to say, half of all the fees for galleries, “rooms” and admission through the tirehouse, for which a fee was charged, and for stools on the stage, which had to be hired. The shareholders; i.e actors who were not housekeepers, had, in earlier years, received money taken at the outer doors only; by 1635, they divided exactly with the housekeepers the fees for galleries, and so forth, and have to deduct out of their earnings about £3 a day for wages to hired men and boys, music, lights and the like, and also sums spent for costumes and for purchase of plays. Considerable though their profits seem to have been, certain shareholders felt that too much money went into the hands of the housekeepers and that the existing distribution among the actor-housekeepers was unfair, and their petition to the lord chamberlain for a compulsory sale to themselves of certain shares was, apparently, granted.

The price of shares, doubtless, varied with the company, the circumstances and the date. In 1593, Francis Henslowe appears to have paid only £15 for a share in the Queen’s company on the eve of a provincial tour, and, two years later, the same actor paid £9 for a half share in another company. The values of shares in the Globe and the Blackfriars in 1615 have been mentioned above. In 1633, Shankes paid £350 for one housekeepers’ share in the Blackfriars for a term of five years, and two housekeepers’ shares in the Globe for a term of one year. The pleadings in the dispute referred to state that actors who were not housekeepers received £180 each in the year 1634, while the housekeepers’ shares appear to have brought in something over £100 each share. A writer in 1643 speaks of housekeepers sharing as much as 30s. a performance. The sums are not surprising when we remember that, to the price of admission (which varied between one penny at a public playhouse to six at a private) paid to the single “gatherer” at the entrance door, were added the extra fees, amounting sometimes to 2s. 6d., demanded by the extra “gatherers” within, for the use of the various parts of the galleries. Hired men were engaged by contract either by the company or the manager, and received a weekly salary, varying from 5s. to 8s. Boys were bought as apprentices by individual players, for sums varying from £2 to something like £15, their masters, presumably, also maintaining them; and, in some cases, boys appear to have been bought and maintained by the company. Strict regulations were made for the behaviour of all members of the company, shareholders and hired men alike, and fines were exacted for lateness, drunkenness, absence from rehearsal and other offences.