The Rise of Commercial Playing in 1540s London


  • David Kathman



The advent of custom-built playhouses such as the Theatre in the 1570s has rightly been seen as an important turning point in the development of English theatre, but these playhouses did not arise in a vacuum, as some scholars have long recognized. This paper argues that a similar turning point occurred more than thirty years earlier in the early 1540s, when commercial playing -- in which players had to find a venue and attract their own audience, rather than being hired for a specific occasion -- became widely popular in London. Only in the late 1530s and early 1540s do we start to see evidence of players paying to rent out livery company halls, and at the same time we find the earliest records of London authorities trying to control playing that was occurring outside official channels. This paper provides much previously unknown information about the people and places named in these records, allowing us to gain a fuller picture of the social context and physical conditions of this early London playing.