The Private Theaters in Crisis: Strategies at Blackfriars and Paul's, 1606-07

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Love, Christopher Bryan
Leinwand, Theodore B.
This study addresses the ways in which the managers and principal playwrights at second Paul's and second Blackfriars approached opportunities in the tumultuous 1606-07 period, when the two troupes were affected by extended plague closures and threatened by the authorities because of the Blackfriars' performance of offensive satires. I begin by demonstrating that Paul's and Blackfriars did not neatly conform to the social and literary categories or commercial models typically employed by scholars. Instead, they were collaborative institutions that readily adapted to different circumstances and situations. Their small size, different schedules, and different economics gave them a flexibility generally unavailable to the larger, more thoroughly commercial adult companies. Each chapter explores a strategy used by the companies and their playwrights to negotiate a tumultuous theatrical market. The first chapter discusses the mercenary methods employed by the private children's theaters. Occasionally, plays or play topics were commissioned by playgoers, and some performances at Paul's and Blackfriars may even have been "private" in the sense of closed performances for exclusive audiences. In this context, I discuss Francis Beaumont's <em>The Knight of the Burning Pestle</em> (Blackfriars, 1607), in which Beaumont uses the boorish citizens George and Nell to lay open the private theaters' mercenary methods and emphasize sophisticated playgoers' stake in the Blackfriars theater. The second chapter discusses the ways private-theater playwrights used intertextuality to entertain the better sort of playgoers, especially those who might buy quartos of plays. Here I explore John Marston's <em>The Wonder of Women (or Sophonisba)</em> (Blackfriars, 1606) and Francis Beaumont's <em>The Woman Hater</em> (Paul's, 1606-07), private-theater plays with related titles and shared features that premiered within a year of each other at rival playhouses. The final chapter discusses the crosscurrents between tragedy at the public and private theaters and the ways playwrights looked to opportunities such as the King of Denmark's visit in the summer of 1606. In this context I discuss Thomas Middleton's <em>The Revenger's Tragedy</em> (King's Men, 1606), a highly Italianized version of <em>Hamlet</em> that originally may have been composed for Paul's, for whom Middleton wrote almost exclusively during the 1603-06 period.