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Abstract

A small number of references to Elizabethan ‘shewes’, dramatic performances and theatres occur among thousands of prosecutions for petty crime recorded in the Bridewell Hospital archives. The earliest of these references concerns an allegedly planned ‘maye game’ that threatened public order in 1575. Among further allusions, Thomasine Breame, a notorious brothel madam, returned from a play in the winter of 1577 to lie all night with the prostitute wife of a pimp, Thomas Wise. In 1578, Elizabeth Everys attended a play at the Bell inn, Bishopsgate where she was given money, and a year later Jane Wolmer went with one of Leicester’s men to a play at the Curtain. In 1579, John Gosse was caught whipping boys for sexual gratification near the Theatre. Alice Pinder, returning from a play perhaps at Blackfriars in 1600, gave one Robert [?] Welche ‘thuse and carnall knowledge of her bodye’. Finally, the Bridewell depositions make two hitherto unknown references to the Rose playhouse. Such particularities add to our understanding of playgoing in the period, but do not settle broader questions regarding the social composition of audiences at the early theatres.

Author Biography

Duncan Salkeld is Senior Lecturer at the University of Chichester. He is author of Madness and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Manchester University Press, 1993) and several articles, chapters, translations and notes on Shakespeare and Renaissance drama. His recent work presents new evidence of playgoing, criminality and identity from the Bridewell Hospital archives, including a prosecution of Christopher Beeston for rape at which Shakespeare may well have been one of the 'plaiers' present (Review of English Studies, Summer 2005). He has articles forthcoming on immigrants in London, minstrelsy, Bethlem Hospital and the textual history of Henry V.

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