Thomas Dekker, most associated with plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, was also a prose writer and, in 1609, his The Gull's Hornbook (The Gvls Horne-Booke) was published, a tongue-in-cheek guide for the discerning young gentleman to London life which in fact will expose said gentleman to be a "gull" or a fool. The fifth chapter is How a Gallant ſhould behaue himſelſe in a Play-Houſe.
The theatre is your Poets Royal Exchange, upon which their Muses, (yt are not turnd to Merchants,) meeting, barter away that light commodity of words for a lighter ware than words, Plaudites, and the breath of the great Beast; which (like the threatenings of two Cowards) vanish all into the air. Plaiers and their Factors, who put away the stuffe, and make the best of it they possibly can (as indeed tis their parts so to doe) your Gallant, your Courtier, and your Capten had wont to be the soundest paymaisters; and I thinke are still the surest chapmen: and these, by means that their heades are well stockt, deale upon this comical freight by the grosse: when your Groundling, and gallery-Commoner buyes his sport by the penny, and, like a Hagler, is glad to utter it againe by retailing.
The "paymaisters", are as Dekker said divided into two: the "groundlings" (those who pay cheap rates to stand wand watch) and the "gallery-commoners" (those who pay extra to sit). Then there are of course the plays then the 'factors', or the benefactors. The playhouse is full of a variety of people from various social classes, from the "stinkards", the courtiers, and indeed the critics. The gallant, suggests Dekker, should sit on the stage for,
... the most essentiall parts of a Gallant (good cloathes, a proportionable legge, white hand, the Persian lock, and a tollerable beard) are perfectly revealed.
Dekker goes on to give several other 'good' reasons for sitting on the stage:
By sitting on the stage, you have a signd patent to engrosse the whole commodity of Censure ; may lawfully presume to be a Girder ; and stand at the helme to steere the passage of scenes ; yet no man shall once offer to hinder you from obtaining the title of an insolent, overweening Coxcombe.
By sitting on the stage, you may (without travelling for it) at the very next doore aske whose play it is : and, by that Quest of Inquiry, the law warrants you to avoid much mistaking : if you know not ye author, you may raile against him: and peradventure so behave your selfe, that you may enforce the Author to know you.
By sitting on the stage, if you be a Knight, you may happily get you a Mistress : if a mere Fleet-street Gentleman, a wife : but assure yourselfe, by continuall residence, you are the first and principall man in election to begin the number of We three.
By spreading your body on the stage, and by being a Justice in examining of plaies, you shall put your selfe into such true scenical authority, that some Poet shall not dare to present his Muse rudely upon your eyes, without having first unmaskt her, rifled her, and discovered all her bare and most mysticall parts before you at a taverne, when you most knightly shal, for his paines, pay for both their suppers.
By sitting on the stage, you may (with small cost) purchase the deere acquaintance of the boys: have a good stoole for sixpence : at any time know what particular part any of the infants present : get your match lighted, examine the play-suits lace, and perhaps win wagers upon laying 'tis copper, &c. And to conclude, whether you be a foole or a Justice of peace, a Cuckold, or a Capten, a Lord-Mayors sonne, or a dawcocke, a knave, or an under-Sherife ; of what stamp soever you be, currant, or counterfet, the Stage, like time, will bring you to most perfect light and lay you open : neither are you to be hunted from thence, though the Scarecrows in the yard hoot at you, hisse at you, spit at you, yea, throw durt even in your teeth : 'tis most Gentlemanlike patience to endure all this, and to laugh at the silly Animals : but if the Rabble, with a full throat, crie, away with the foole, you were worse then a madman to tarry by it : for the Gentleman, and the foole should never sit on the Stage together.
Dekker then goes on to advise the gull on how to impress the other members of the audience:
It shall crowne you with rich commendation, to laugh alowd in the middest of the most serious and saddest scene of the terriblest Tragedy : and to let that clapper (your tongue) be tost so high, that all the house may ring of it : your Lords use it; your Knights are Apes to the Lords, and do so too : your Inne-a-court-man is Zany to the Knights, and (mary very scarvily) comes likewise limping after it : bee thou a beagle to them all, and never lin snuffing, till you have scented them : for by talking and laughing (like a Plough-man in a Morris) you heap Pelion upon Ossa, glory upon glory : As first, all the eyes in the galleries will leave walking after the Players, and onely follow you: the simplest dolt in the house snatches up your name, and when he meetes you in the streetes, or that you fall into his hands in the middle of a Watch, his word shall be taken for you : heele cry Hees such a gallant, and you passe. Secondly, you publish your temperance to the world, in that you seeme not to resort thither to taste vaine pleasures with a hungrie appetite: but onely as a Gentleman to spend a foolish houre or two, because you can doe nothing else : Thirdly, you mightily disrelish the Audience, and disgrace the Author: marry, you take up (though it be at the worst hand) a strong opinion of your owne judgement, and inforce the Poet to take pity of your weakenesse, and, by some dedicated sonnet, to bring you into a better paradice, onely to stop your mouth.He then suggests what to do if the author has given some personal offence:
Now sir, if the writer be a fellow that hath either epigrammed you, or hath had a flirt at your mistris, or hath brought either your feather, or your red beard, or your little legs &c. on the stage, you shall disgrace him worse then by tossing him in a blancket, or giving him the bastinado in a Taverne, if, in the middle of his play, (bee it Pastoral or Comedy, Morall or Tragedie) you rise with a screvvd and discontented face from your stoole to be gone : no matter whether the Scenes be good or no ; the better they are the worse do you distast them : and, beeing on your feet, sneake not away like a coward, but salute all your gentle acquaintance, that are spred either on the rushes, or on stooles about you, and draw what troope you can from the stage after you : the Mimicks are beholden to you, for allowing them elbow roome : their Poet cries, perhaps, a pox go with you, but care not for that, theres no musick without frets.Finally, if all else fails,
... turne plain Ape, take up a rush, and tickle the earnest eares of your fellow gallants, to make other fooles fall a laughing : mewe at passionate speeches, blare at merrie, finde fault with the musicke, whew at the childrens Action, whistle at the songs : and above all, curse the sharers...Dekker then concludes:
... hoard up the finest play-scraps you can get, which your leane wit may most favourly feede, for want of other stuffe, when the Arcadian and Euphuized gentlewomen have their tongues sharpened to set upon you: that qualitie (next to your shittlecocke) is the onely furniture to a Courtier thats but a new beginner, and is but in his A B C of complement. The next places that are filled, after the Playhouses bee emptied, are (or ought to be) Tavernes : into a Taverne then let us next march, where the braines of one Hogshead must be beaten out to make up another.The following chapter will be "How a Gallant should behave himself in a Taverne."
This is a surprisingly tough read for one who is not well acquainted with the style and slang of the early 17th Century. This is a short essay, yet I struggled through it and kept finding myself completely lost! From what I did glean, however, it is an interesting insight into the late Elizabethan / Jacobean playhouse. I've read quite a few plays now from this era, so it was good to step back a moment and consider the audience members.
And that was my 6th essay for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - The College Fellow who has Taken Orders by Anthony Trollope.