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Posts Tagged ‘globe theater’

Art: Georges de La Tour, 17th century.
I’m not suggesting that 17th century female investors were pickpockets, but they knew what they were doing.

Do you get the feeling these days that history is in constant flux? It all has to do with how past historians emphasized the role of people with whom they identified, omitting the perspective of women, say, or indigenous people and people of color.

The Guardian is good at finding research with a new historical angle, as in today’s article about 17th century female arts investors. Who knew?

Dalya Alberge reported recently on research into the women who bankrolled a rival to the Globe theatre, which we know was famous for Shakespeare’s productions.

“Male performers may have dominated the early modern stage,” Alberge writes, “but female investors were a driving force behind one of the foremost playhouses of the 17th century, according to new research.

“Academics have discovered that women made up a large part of the financial force behind the Fortune theatre, the great rival to the Globe, partly built by the actor for whom Christopher Marlowe wrote plays, and where Thomas Middleton’s dramas were first staged.

“While a few women investors in the Fortune were previously known, it has now been revealed that they made up a third of the playhouse’s financial backers between the mid-1620s and late 1640s. Of 71 investors, including the carpenter who had worked on the playhouse, 24 were women and, from time to time, owned the majority of shares. While some inherited theirs, others purchased them for themselves, despite having no previous connection with the theatre.

“Lucy Munro, professor of Shakespeare and early modern literature at King’s College London, told the Observer that, in researching the playhouse, she never expected to discover that women had such a huge financial stake in it. …

“ ‘We know that the people who performed in plays at the Fortune were men and boys, but I find it really exciting that these women thought that the theatre was for them, and that it wasn’t just for men.’

“The Fortune theatre was built in 1600 by Edward Alleyn, one of the foremost actors of his day, and his stepfather-in-law, Philip Henslowe, the most important English theatre owner and manager of the Elizabethan age. …

“Its initial resident company was the Admiral’s Men, on whom James I bestowed the patronage of his son, Prince Henry. Audiences flocked to see plays such as Doctor Faustus by Marlowe and The Roaring Girl by Thomas Dekker and Middleton. The playhouse was named after the Roman goddess of fortune but it was destroyed by a fire in 1621, almost a decade after the Globe burned down.

“The research has been conducted by Munro and Clare McManus, professor of early modern literature and theatre at the University of Roehampton.

“In [an] online post, they write: ‘In order to finance rebuilding the playhouse – this time in brick – Alleyn created a 12-part lease, issuing full and half shares in the second Fortune to investors who paid £83 6s 8d for a full share and £41 13s 4d for a half share. This would be around £11,000 [$13,000] and £5,500 [$6,600] today, so leaseholders had to be relatively well-off.’

“But they add: ‘Most of these women came from what historians have termed the “middling sort” – those who were neither very rich nor very poor. They were the daughters, wives and widows of London tradesmen, officials and actors. Many of them had enough literacy to leave signatures or complex marks on legal documents such as wills and depositions.’ Munro said: ‘These playhouses were vulnerable but, when it was going well, they could make a lot of money.’ …

“The Fortune’s female investors included Margaret Wayte Wigpitt, widow of its bricklayer Thomas, and Elizabeth Pierpoint, a servant whose appreciative mistress had left her two half shares.

“While documentation for early modern playhouse investment rarely survives, original lease documents issued by Alleyn are within the archive of his papers at Dulwich College, the charity he founded in 1619.

“The academics write … ‘These fascinating documents detail the payment – or nonpayment – of rent by the Fortune leaseholders, quarter by quarter, between 1626 and 1649, when the college evicted the leaseholders for nonpayment of rent during the civil war. …

“Asked why the Fortune’s female investment had been overlooked until now, Munro said documents had been ‘almost hiding in plain sight’ in the archives: ‘They are catalogued, but only in an outlined sort of way. I’d actually come across a reference from a scholar saying that the Fortune’s accounts don’t survive. Well, they do.’

“Noting that they also studied wills and other documents at the National Archives at Kew, she believes historians have often stopped researching after reaching 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death, because they were more interested in him than anything else: ‘But interesting things happened after that.’ ”

Can’t help wondering what else these women were investing in. After all, it was really not entirely new in the 1600s for women to invest. Remember my post of a couple years ago about a female investor back in 1870 BC? Read that here. More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
The new director at Shakespeare’s Globe, herself an actor, wants to take the hierarchy out of theater.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book about the making of Tony Kushner’s monumental Angels in America, which you may recall is a play about AIDS, the Reagan years, the awakening of gay activism, Mormons, the unscrupulous McCarthy-ite Roy Cohn, bias, love, and theater.

I’m still in the beginning, where I’m learning about a 1970s political-theater group in San Francisco called the Eureka. One of its high-minded goals was to take hierarchy out of theater.

That’s a goal yet to be met, or yet to be met for long, as appears from this article on Shakespeare’s theater by Mark Brown at the Guardian.

“The new artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe has promised to give more power to the casts and audiences of plays, saying she wants to dismantle theatre hierarchies.

“Michelle Terry announced a new season opening with Hamlet and As You Like It. Eye-catchingly, none of the actors turning up for rehearsals will know which role they are taking, with the whole ensemble choosing who plays whom.

“In a similar vein, when the plays The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night go on tour, some audiences will be able to choose which one they want to see that night. …

“Some eyebrows were raised because Terry, while a hugely accomplished Shakespearean actor, has never directed. [In January] Terry said theatre culture was too ‘director-centric. with ‘too much responsibility on one person.’ …

“The first two plays will be presented by a Globe ensemble of 12 actors, two co-directors and one designer. The ensemble will decide who plays, for example, Hamlet or Rosalind.

“Terry said she had chosen Hamlet and As You Like It because they were both written around 1599, the year the original Globe was built, and were conceived with its architecture in mind.

“The democratisation will continue later in the season when one group of eight actors will have to learn three plays. …

“Terry promised diversity across the organisation, with the bottom line being: ‘We just have to do it. We can’t keep talking about it. … If our job is to hold a mirror up to nature then we’ve got to truly reflect the society in which we live.’

“Other new measures include allowing people into rehearsals, particularly school parties who might be heartened to see that even the actors don’t understand what some words and lines might mean.”

More here.

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