Thursday, 8 October 2015
The Golden Age
Imagine you're in the thick of a crowd of two thousand or more people, walking through the streets of London. Full of anticipation, you cross the grey, greasy waters of the River Thames, jostling over London Bridge. You walk through the Paris Gardens, glad of a few moments of shade under the trees for the air is hot and clogged with the smell of unwashed bodies, masked by perfumed oils and unguents. People laugh and chatter; call out to their friends; eat apples and nuts bought from wayside stalls. Those who can afford it have dressed in their Sunday best. Where are they all going? Why to the theatre of course.
Elizabethan England has always been known as the age that gave birth to modern drama. Up until then, audiences mostly had to content themselves with mystery plays, but under the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, the authorities considered them "too Catholic" and they were banned.
At first, the new plays were performed in the galleried courtyards of inns, then enterprising entrepreneurs, often playwrights and actors themselves, began to build dedicated theatres. The most famous of these was, of course, The Globe where Shakespeare's works were performed, but eventually London boasted a dozen theatres. When you think that they served a population of around a hundred thousand people, it was a considerable number.
The price of a ticket was low, so theatre going was a relatively democratic pastime. Most of the audience stood in the pit; seats cost twice as much. There would have been no scenery to speak of, although some plays demanded a few props, so actors relied on costume to add glamour. Favoured servants sometimes inherited items of clothing from their masters and mistresses. The strict sumptuary laws prohibited them from wearing these so they often sold them to theatres where there was no prohibition.
Naturally, such a popular pastime needed many plays to keep audiences coming back for more. Most theatres changed their programme daily and performed around thirty plays a year. Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ben Jonson were the greats of the day whose work is still performed five hundred years later but there were many others. Most of their works are known only by title or fragments of text now, but scholars estimate that well over a thousand plays are lost to us.
Were any of those lost plays good enough to rival the great dramatic works we know today? In my novel, Salvation, my hero, Tom Goodluck, sets out to make his fortune in the world of the London theatre, encountering danger, intrigue and love along the way. I like to think he would have made the grade.
Salvation, a winner of the Awesome Indies Gold Award, is on Kindle Countdown until 15th October. Hurry and get your copy at viewBook.at/sal_vation