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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

§ 6. Royal Patronage

The player, therefore, could expect no mercy from the city authorities; but, fortunately for the development of the English romantic drama, he found a rock of defence in the queen and her courtiers. Elizabeth liked to be provided every Christmas with theatrical amusements, but refused to be responsible for the entire maintenance of a special company. The privy council, accordingly, was instructed to satisfy both her love of pleasure and her passion for economy by seeing that the “common players” were allowed full opportunity, not merely of practising for Christmas festivities, but of earning sufficient to maintain themselves at other seasons. The privy council was not sorry to have an excuse for interfering with the city’s internal policy; but there was no reason why without special royal injunctions, it should have lifted a finger to succour the stage. Throughout its whole career, the Elizabethan theatre, though essentially popular in origin and character, depended for its very existence upon the patronage of the court, and the quarrel which we are now to consider was an early trial of strength between the same forces which, later, broke up England into two hostile camps. Apart from other considerations, the legal status of the actor would have been sufficient of itself to produce a conflict. It was defined by two regulations: the proclamation of 16 May, 1559, issued to prevent the handling of religious and political questions upon the stage, which forbade performances in any town without a licence from the mayor; and the statute of 1572, which imposed the penalties of vagrancy upon any player not in the service of some nobleman. In other words, acting companies, while placed under the direct protection of great lords at court, were not allowed to produce plays without the express permission of the lord mayor. Thus, the stage was subject to two authorities, not only different in character but rivals in policy and interest. The lord mayor was perpetually trying to put his legal powers into force and so to clear the city of actors; the court party, on the other hand, as perpetually intervened through the privy council, or overrode the mayor’s authority by royal patents and other expedients of a similar nature. In the end, the stage succeeded in freeing itself from the grip of the city, but found itself, ipso facto, more than ever dependent upon the court, and under the particular sway of the master of the revels.