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There’s no business like Shakespeare’s business

We’re based in London, and this is about London at one of its most glorious moments, the one that gave us William Shakespeare (1564-1616):

The London theaters represented a revolution in culture; they were apparently the first capitalist businesses in the world built entirely around entertainment. The heart of this cultural business model was the actors company, in which a group of actors invested money in a common stock of properties, costumes and plays. Each company of actors obtained finance from an impresario, who got a share (usually 50%) of the box office. Shakespeare was 10% owner not only of the Chamberlain’s Men but also of the Globe (that is, the building and real estate itself.)

Theaters were “big business” for the time. Costs included hundreds of very expensive costumes (velvet cost 1 pound a yard), plays (which if bought freelance were usually purchased outright for about 6 or 7 pounds), the salaries of “extras” and minor actors on stage and the salaries of about 30 paid hands (including musicians, actors, prompters, bookkeepers, stage keepers, and wardrobe keepers) behind the scenes. Hundreds of playbills, pasted up around the City, served as advertisements. The range of business affairs was so complex that each company had an administrator, usually called an actor-manager.

So just keep all this in mind next time you attend a Shakespearian play—what you are seeing was NOT created as “art for art’s sake.”

Friedrich of 2 Blowhards dot com wrote that after himself reading Peter Hall‘s book Cities in Civilization. I wonder if the people – scriptwriter Tom Stoppard in particular – who made the film Shakespeare in Love, the running joke of which is how similar Shakespearean London was to present-day Hollywood, had also read this book. I possess a copy myself. Friedrich’s piece reminds me that it’s about time I read it.

In general, 2 Blowhards looks really good and I’m going to be reading that some more also.

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