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Where was the Lords Room in the Shakespearian Playhouse?

[Projector off]Two weeks ago, in this room, Andrew Gurr read to us his British Academy Annual Shakespeare Lecture and offered an attractive model of what he called the 'vertical sociology' of the Shakespearean playhouse. There was, he suggested, a sort of social gradient reflected in the different spectating positions taken by different social classes, rising from the groundlings in the yard at one end of the stage to the lords in the Lords Room in the stage balcony at the other end of the stage; the end that Gurr resisted calling the "back" of the stage because that word suggests a directionality which his thesis challenges. Gurr's model of 'vertical sociology' depends upon the Lords Room being where he said it was, in the stage balcony, and it is this belief that I want to challenge. [Projector on] I want to show that the Lords Room could not have been here [point], in the stage balcony, but must have been here [point], at the extreme ends of the auditorium galleries. I will use this drawing of the Swan by Aernout van Buchel, copied from the original made by his lifelong friend Johannes De Witt, as typical of the interior of an open-air playhouse. It is, after all, the only interior view we have of an open-air playhouse of the period. I will use the term 'gallery' to denote only the auditorium scaffold encircling the stage and the yard (at the public amphitheatres) [Point to De Witt slide], or what would be the stage and the pit (at the private playhouses). The wide aperture half way up the frons scenae I will call the 'stage balcony'. [Point to De Witt slide. Projector off]

In his The Elizabethan Playhouse and Other Studies (1912) W. J. Lawrence argued that the term "Lords Room" found in contemporary documents referred to a spectating position in the stage balcony available to the most socially elevated members of the audience1. It is not clear whether there was more than one such room, nor how many lords it may have held, so when writing of the "Lords Room" placing the apostrophe is a problem. Lawrence's conclusion that the Lords Room was in the stage balcony has been largely accepted and repeated without revaluation of the evidence upon which it was based. The evidence for the use of the stage balcony as a spectating position IS overwhelming, and has been cogently organized by Richard Hosley2. That this position was known as the Lords Room, however, has not been adequately shown, and there are good reasons to suspect that this term actually referred to another spectating position.

The evidence consists primarily of allusions in early printed texts, dramatic and non- dramatic, plus three pictures: De Witt's sketch of the Swan (1596), the vignette on the title- page of William Alabaster's Roxana (1632), and the frontispiece from Henry Marsh's The Wits (1662)3. I haven't got slides of these last two to show you, but all depict persons, probably spectators, in the stage balcony. None of these illustrations can directly help us determine the location of Lords Room because no such label appears in them. In this paper the textual evidence will be organized into two categories: that which explicitly uses the term 'Lords Room', and that which refers to a position 'over the stage'.

The single most important piece of evidence, which refers to the Lords Room explicitly and in detail, is Thomas Dekker's The Guls Horne-booke (1609). Examination of the relevant passage will indicate that there is a problem with locating the Lords Room in the stage balcony. This is extract 1 on your handout:

Whether therefore the gatherers of the publique or priuate Play-house stand to receiue the afternoones rent, let our Gallant (hauing paid it) presently aduance himselfe vp to the Throne of the Stage. I meane not into the Lords roome, (which is now but the Stages Suburbs) No, those boxes by the iniquity of custome, conspiracy of waiting-women and Gentlemen-Ushers, that there sweat together, and the couetousness of Sharers, are contemptibly thrust into the reare, and much new Satten is there dambd by being smothred to death in darknesse.4

Notice how Dekker shifts from a singular 'Lords roome' to a plurality of 'boxes'. This suggests that 'room' is being used not in the sense of 'An interior portion of a building divided off by walls or partitions' (OED sb. 8a) but rather of 'A place in which one is stationed or seated; a particular place assigned or appropriated to a person or thing' (OED sb. 11a). Both meanings were available to Dekker, but the alternative term 'chamber' was more commonly used when the former sense was required by writers of the period. This potential ambiguity must be borne in mind when considering any evidence which refers to a 'room' or 'rooms'. Dekker's Gallant of 1609 could sit either in the Lords Room or on the stage. The disadvantage of sitting in the Lords Room is that it has been 'contemptibly thrust into the reare' and made dark. This can be explained in several different ways. It may be that playhouse design has changed and the Lords Room has been moved. It could be that the terminology itself has altered and now refers to a less favourable position in the playhouse. It is possible that Dekker is using 'thrust into the reare' metaphorically (as he certainly is using 'suburbs') and that we need look no further than Lawrence's explanation that the Lords Room is simply not attracting the quality that it used to5. The simplest explanation, however, and the one that does most justice to Dekker's satirical purpose in this work, is that the very practice of sitting on the stage has effectively relegated the Lords Room to an inferior position by obscuring it. The gallant should sit on the stage because, if he were to sit in the Lords Room, he would be obscured by others sitting on the stage. Presumably the 'couetousness of Sharers' mentioned refers to the management's toleration of the practice of sitting on the stage because of the extra revenue generated. Certainly the Lords Room is represented as having declined in social status as a consequence of the increasing popularity of sitting on the stage. The ironic force of the passage, however, is in the rapidity with which onstage sitting becomes essential for the gallants because they cannot bear to be eclipsed: as soon as a few sit there they all must sit there.

Taken literally, Dekker's description of the change in aspect of the Lords Room at both the public and private playhouses raises an immediate problem. [Projector on. Point to De Witt] If the Lords Room is located in the stage balcony, an elevated position, no amount of crowding of the stage by sitters will obscure it. One way around this problem is to argue, as Herbert Berry has done, that the Lords Room was in the stage balcony at the public playhouses only [Forward to Hosley's Blackfriars], and that at the private playhouses the term refers to boxes at the side and the back of the stage which were insufficiently elevated to clear the heads of onstage sitters6. This argument requires that Dekker is referring primarily to the private playhouses when he talks of the darkening of the Lords Room, and that the only reason he says 'the publique or priuate Play-house' in that extract I read is that the practice of onstage sitting was, by 1609, common to both. I hope to show that such reasoning is disconsonant both with the passage in question and with the rest of the evidence concerning playhouses in The Guls Horne-booke. It is also an unnecessary argument since a more reasonable solution is available [Projector off]. Before considering the two main categories of evidence, it is worth considering the origins of the practice of sitting on the stage.

The Origins of Sitting on the Stage

E. K. Chambers believed that sitting on the stage first began before 1596, on the evidence of two epigrams by Sir John Davies7. In one of these, 'In Sillam', Davies mentions 'He that dares take Tabaco on the stage' and in another, 'In Rufum', he describes the actions of a gallant. This is extract 2:

Rvfus the Courtier at the theatre,
Leauing the best and most conspicuous place,
Doth either to the stage himself transfer,
Or through a grate doth shew his doubtfull face.8

Chambers, following C. R. Baskervill, believed these epigrams to have been written no later than 15969. The subsequent discovery of a manuscript belonging to Davies's acquaintance Leweston Fitzjames has now fixed the date of composition firmly within 1595-610. No private theatres were open at this time, Paul's having closed in 1590 or 159111, so Davies must be referring to public playhouse practice. John Orrell suggests that the innovation of having a stage cover, which first appeared in the mid- 1590s, encouraged well-dressed spectators to begin sitting on the stage12. Before there was a stage cover they had, of course, been too afraid of getting wet. Davies's 'In Rufum' is of interest to us not only because it suggests that sitting on the stage occurred at the public playhouses of the mid-1590s. There is also this mention of a 'grate' through which Rufus 'doth shew his doubtfull face'. Presumably this refers to the stage balcony with its vertical divisions separating the rooms [Projector on. Point to stage balcony]. Wherever Rufus starts from, he may move either onto the stage or into the stage balcony. This must mean that his original location (the 'best and most conspicuous place') must have been neither of these. So there must be somewhere other than the stage balcony which Davies calls the 'best and most conspicuous place'. If the Lords Room WAS in the stage balcony there must have been an even better and more conspicuous place to sit. Or, and this seems more likely to me, if the Lords Room was the best and most conspicuous place in the theatre, it was not in the stage balcony. [Projector off]

'Over the Stage'

Having looked at the possibility that Rufus may sit in the stage balcony, let us consider the other evidence that spectators sat there. There are three references to a spectating position described as 'over the stage' which are usually taken to indicate the Lords Room. The earliest is in Edward Guilpin's Skialetheia, in an epigram called 'Of Cornelius'. This is extract 3 on your sheets:

See you him yonder, who sits o're the stage,
With the Tobacco-pipe now at his mouth?
It is Cornelius the braue gallant youth,
Who is new printed to this fangled age:13

Andrew Gurr cites this as evidence of the location of the Lords Room, but nothing in the epigram substantiates this claim14. That the stage balcony, if that is what 'over the stage' indicates, was a spectating position does not make it the Lords Room.

The two other references to 'over the stage' shed no light on the matter, yet both have been adduced to the argument that the Lords Room was in the stage balcony15. The first occurs in Dekker's and Wilkins's Jests to Make You Merie, and is extract 4 on your sheets:

The 45. Iest.
A wench hauing a good face, a good body, and good clothes on, but of bad conditions, sitting one day in the two-penny roome of a playhouse, & a number of yong Gentlemen about her, against all whom she maintains talke. One that sat ouer the stage sayd to his friend: doe you not thinke that yonder flesh will stincke anon, hauing so many flyes blowing upon it. Oh (quoth his friend) I think it stinckes already, for I neuer saw so many crowes together, but there was some carion not far off.16

This indicates that wherever 'over the stage' was, it had a view of the two-penny room or rooms. But that is all it tells us. The final example of this expression "over the stage" is in The Dr. Farmer Chetham MS. Commonplace-Book, in 'A Description of Spongus the Gallant', which is extract 5 on your sheets:

He playes at Primero over the stage,
fighte for the wall, and keepes a lac'te Cloke page;
Ryde through the streetes in glisteringe braverie
and swallowes not the least indignitie.17

The date of this epigram is uncertain, but Grosart, the editor, believed that the entire manuscript was completed before 1625. It too tells us nothing other than that spectators could sit somewhere 'over the stage'. The De Witt drawing of the Swan in 1596 lends support to the idea that spectators sat in the stage balcony, although why the rest of the auditorium is depicted as empty is not clear. Similarly those in the stage balcony in the Roxana and The Wits pictures are probably spectators.

Evidence for the Location of the Lords Room

So, the evidence that spectators sat 'over the stage' does not help us determine where the Lords Room was. Let us turn now to the evidence which refers to the Lords Room by name. The earliest is an entry in Henslowe's account book recording payment for work done at the Rose playhouse in 1592. This is extract 6 on your handouts:

pd for sellynge the Rome ouer the tyerhowsse. . . 10 s
pd for wages to the plasterer. . . . . . . . . 4 s
pd for sellinges my lords Rome. . . . . . . . 14 s
pd for makenge the penthowsse shed at the tyeringe
howsse doore as foloweth pd for owld tymber. . . .} 10 s18

I'm pronouncing the word in the first and third items that looks like 'selling' as 'ceiling', as in 'to hit the ceiling', because, as I will show, that is what Henslowe meant. Chambers suggested that Henslowe's phrase 'my lords Rome', in the third item, may be in the genitive singular case, meaning "the room of my lord", which Chambers thought might mean 'a room primarily reserved for the particular "lord", under whose patronage the actors played'19, hence Henslowe called him 'my lord'. Richard Hosley defended the usual interpretation of the phrase as being in the genitive plural case, "the room of my lords", by pointing out that 'Henslowe is equally possessive about the Rose itself, which he more once refers to as "my playhowsse"'20. So, it's "my, lords room", not "my lord's, room". Chambers's comment might possibly indicate the origin of the term 'Lords Room', but it is clear that the place denoted became available for others to occupy.

Look again at the first item, which records an expenditure on 'the Rome ouer the tyerhowsse'. What is the "room over the tyrehouse"? Whatever it is, it cannot be the Lords Room whose ceilings are separately itemized as a greater expense in item 3. [Projector on. De Witt slide]. Lawrence suggested that the "room over the tyrehouse" was the heavens hut, and Hosley agreed21. By "heavens hut" Lawrence meant 'the garret in the Swan sketch out of which the trumpeter is emerging' which Lawrence considered to be directly above the tiring house [Point to slide]. Hosley has since argued that the De Witt drawing wrongly gives the impression that the hut is directly over the tiring house, which would be a highly impractical configuration, and he now thinks that the back wall of the hut was actually in line with the frons and its front wall in line with the stage posts22. If indeed the Rose had such a heavens hut, and no matter where it was situated, the greatest difficulty in identifying it with Henslowe's 'Rome ouer the tyerhowsse' is that it would be absurd to provide such a room with a ceiling. This is a purely functional room and putting a ceiling in would rob it of some space. [Projector off]

I said that I pronounce the words "sellynge" and "sellinges" in items 1 and 3 as "ceiling", c-e-i-l, because that is what Henslowe meant. In fact I don't mean the familiar noun "ceiling", c-e-i-l-i-n-g, but rather the less familiar verb 'to ceil', again c-e-i-l. Henslowe paid to have some 'ceiling' done at the Rose. The problem is that 'ceil', c-e-i-l, can mean two things. It can mean 'To line the roof of, provide or construct an inner roof' (OED v. 3) or it can mean the less specific 'To cover with a lining of woodwork, sometimes of plaster, etc. (the interior roof or walls of a house or apartment)' (OED v. 2a). Both of these meanings were available at the time. Which did Henslowe mean in this list of expenses? We do know that Henslowe used the word again in the contract for the building of the Fortune theatre in 1600. This is extract 7 on your handout:

the said Peeter Street shall not be chardged wth anie manner of pay<ntin>ge in or aboute the saide fframe howse or Stadge or anie p<ar>te thereof nor Rendringe the walls wthin Nor seelinge anie more or other roomes then the gentlemens roomes Twoe pennie roomes and Stadge before remembred23

Since the contract distinguishes between the verb 'to render' and the verb 'to ceil', Henslowe must be using 'ceil', which we now spell c-e-i-l, not in the general sense applicable to walls or ceilings but in the specific sense applicable only to ceilings. It is reasonable to suppose that Henslowe made the same distinction eight years earlier. So that first item in extract 6 indicates that Henslowe paid to have a ceiling installed in 'the Rome ouer the tyerhowsse' at the Rose. [Projector on]. The "room over the tyerhouse" cannot be the heavens hut [point to slide] because this needs no ceiling, and indeed it would be made less useful by the loss of headroom. We must look elsewhere for the "room over the tyrehouse". The most likely place to be the room over the tiring house is the spectating space in the stage balcony [point]. Putting a ceiling in here is the expense recorded in item 1. And since the fitting of ceilings to the Lords Room is entered as a separate item of expense, item 3, the Lords Room must be somewhere other than the stage balcony. [Projector off]

The next explicit reference to the Lords Room occurs in Jonson's Every Man Out of His Humour, and this is extract 8 on your sheets:

Carl[o] There's ne're a one of these but might lie a weeke on the racke, ere they could bring foorth his name; and yet hee powres them out as familiarly as if hee had seene 'hem stand by the fire i' the Presence, or ta'ne Tabacco with them ouer the stage i' the Lords roome.24

This is the only piece of evidence which links the expression 'over the stage' with the Lords Room. Evidence drawn from the dialogue of plays is not the same as evidence from building contracts or account books, and must be considered within its dramatic context. The play Every Man Out of His Humour is full of metatheatrical dialogue in which the worlds of the play and of the playhouse are conflated. Possibly the actor playing Carlo gestures to the Lords Room as he speaks the line, to create yet another artifice-collapsing effect. If Carlo is merely referring to an abstract playhouse in the world of the play, the clause 'OUER THE STAGE i' the Lords roome' is a bit redundant, since the audience may be expected to know where the Lords Room is. But if Carlo is making a gesture it is possible that 'ouer the stage' means "across the stage", in other words "over there"25. Thus the Lords Room could be at the same height as the stage. In this case "over the stage" doesn't have to mean "above the stage".

There is one more direct reference to the Lords Room to consider. In Dekker's Satiromastix Horace, representing Jonson, is forced to accept modifications to his habitual behaviour at playhouses. This is extract 9 on your sheets. Here is what Horace is told:

Sir Va[ughan] Moreouer, you shall not sit in a Gallery, when your Comedies and Enterludes haue entred their Actions, and there make vile and bad faces at euerie lyne, to make Sentlemen haue an eye to you, and to make Players afraide to take your part.

Tuc[ca] Thou shalt be my Ningle for this.

Sir Vau[ghan] Besides, you must forswear to venter on the stage, when your Play is ended, and to exchange curtezies, and complements with Gallants in the Lordes roomes, to make all the house rise vp in Armes, and to cry that's Horace, that's he, that's he, that's he, that pennes and purges Humours and diseases.26

Horace, representing Jonson, is being told what he may not do at the playhouses, and we can used this as evidence for playhouses of the time. But which playhouses? It has been argued by Herbert Berry that the Blackfriars theatre only is being referred to here, because Jonson was its resident dramatist in 1602, when Dekker wrote this dialogue27. However, Horace is being made to swear not to do the things he habitually does and this diminishes the sense of a specific place being referred to; it is Jonson's general way of behaving that is being censured. If the intention is to mock habits that Jonson has displayed only at the Blackfriars then the allusion is to recent behaviour, because the Children of the Chapel, the resident company Jonson wrote for, had only been using the Blackfriars since the last quarter of 160028. The force of the attack is diminished by this specificity, so I think Jonson's habits at playhouses in general are being mocked. It might be argued that the two injunctions (not to distract the players and audience, and not to venture onto the stage) refer to two occasions at two different playhouses, but since the first prescribes what Horace may do during, and the second after, a performance, it seems that a single occasion is intended.

At whichever playhouses Horace has been behaving like this, the Lords Room and the stage are sufficiently close to one another for Horace to stand on the stage and to 'exchange curtezies, and complements with Gallants' in the Lords Room. Let us assume first that Horace's behaviour at the public playhouses is being mocked. [Projector on. De Witt slide]. During the play Horace cannot be sitting in the Lords Rooms itself since it is absurd to forbid him to leave his seat in order to address those in the place he has just left. Horace's spectating position must be somewhere other than the Lords Room, from where he could pull faces to distract the players and the gentlemen, and afterwards 'venture on the stage'. So, there are two possibilities [point]: Horace sits in a gallery near the stage and the Lords Room is in the stage balcony, or Horace sits in the stage balcony and the Lords Room is in a gallery near the stage. In the first hypothesis, with Horace sitting in a gallery near the stage, he is not well placed to distract anyone by pulling faces, and unless there is direct access between the tiring house and the ends of the galleries closest to the stage, it would be extremely difficult for him to get onto the stage after the play29. He would have to scramble past many other spectators, emerging either in the yard or outside the playhouse (depending on how access to the galleries is controlled) and then make his way onto the stage, somehow. But in the second hypothesis, if Horace sits in the stage balcony and the Lords Room is at the side of the stage, Horace is well placed to distract the players and the general eye, and also to venture directly onto the stage via the tiring house. Remembering that where Horace sits cannot be the Lords Room, we see that if this play informs us of the Lords Rooms at the public playhouses, they are probably not in the stage balcony.

Now let us suppose Herbert Berry is right in thinking that Jonson's behaviour at Blackfriars alone is being mocked [Projecter forward to Blackfrairs slide]. The same arguments apply with equal force: Horace's seat and the Lords Room must be different places and Horace must sit in something called a 'gallery' and have ready access to the stage. If Horace is at the side of the stage--which might still be 'in a gallery' if the galleries continued over the stage, as shown here--then certainly at Blackfriars it is easy for him to venture onto the stage from there, but that still leaves us looking for somewhere else to call the Lords Room. Berry posits boxes in the wall behind, and on the same level as, the stage and argues that these are the Lords Rooms30. The stage balcony is not a suitable location for the Lords Room because of the restricted height of the room itself and, more importantly, because 'the difficult angle of vision created by the height and the proximity of the seats to the stage' would limit the number of box seats with a good view31. Berry's argument is that at his open-air playhouse called the Theatre, Burbage placed the Lords Room in the stage balcony, but he could not do so at the Blackfriars because of the restricted height of the stage balcony. The solution was to move the Lords Room down the back wall: from an elevated position in the stage balcony at the public playhouses to a stage-level position at the Blackfriars. This configuration is not at all implausible, but again the evidence points to the Lords Room not being in the stage balcony. Nobody has argued that the Lords Room was in the stage balcony at the Blackfriars, because we know the dimensions of the building do not allow it, and at the public playhouses the evidence of Dekker's play Satiromastix points towards the Lords Room not being in the stage balcony there either. [Projector off]

The Guls Horne-booke

So we come back now to the book we started with, Dekker's The Guls Horne- book. The date of printing, 1609, makes this evidence potentially relevant to either the public or the private playhouses or both. In the proemium of the book, Dekker refers to 'the twelue penny roome next the stage' and Berry thinks it is 'better than a fair guess' that this refers to the Blackfriars32. In fact the passage that Berry cites contains certain proof that, for this passage at least, Dekker is thinking of the public playhouses. This is extract 10 on your handouts:

I coniure you (as you come of the right Goose-caps) staine not your house; but when at a new play you take up the twelue-penny roome next the stage, (because the Lords & you may seeme to be haile fellow wel met) there draw forth this booke, read alowd, laugh alowd, and play the Antickes, that all the garlike mouthd stinkards may cry out, Away with the foole33

The use of the expression 'garlike mouthd stinkards' makes it clear that Dekker is referring to the public playhouses. In The Ravens Almanacke of the same year Dekker refers to the actor 'glad to play three houres for two pence to the basest stinkard in London, whose breath is stronger then Garlicke, and able to poyson all the 12. penny roomes'34. This is a formulaic attack on the dirty and smelly groundlings, and cannot possibly suggest the private playhouses. In this passage from the proemium of The Guls Horne-booke, the point of taking the twelve-penny room is to attract the attention of the Lords and give the appearance of exchanging acknowledgements with them: 'the Lords & you may seeme to be haile fellow wel met'. If the lords are in a Lords Room in the stage balcony, the twelve-penny rooms at the side of the stage are not well placed to attract their attention. But if the Lords are also in a gallery at the side of the stage, either on the same side or perhaps more plausibly on the opposite side of the stage, then the gallant is very well placed to exchange acknowledgements with them.

Concerning the location of the Lords Room, Andrew Gurr, cites the famous sixth chapter of The Guls Horne-booke, the chapter called 'How a Gallant should behave himself in a Playhouse'. Gurr says that Dekker's 'remarks are meant to apply to any playhouse, but fit best at the leading hall playhouse'35, that is, the Blackfriars. In fact there is clear evidence throughout chapter 6 that, although the private playhouse is mentioned, the public amphitheatres are uppermost in Dekker's mind. Look at extract 11:

Sithence then the place is so free in entertainement, allowing a stoole as well to the Farmers sonne as to your Templer: that your Stinkard has the selfe same libertie to be there in his Tobacco-Fumes, which your sweet Courtier hath: and that your Car-man and Tinker claime as strong a voice in their suffrage, and sit to giue iudgement on the plaies life and death, as well as the prowdest Momus among the tribe of Critick: It is fit yt hee, whom the most tailors bils do make roome for, when he comes should not be basely (like a vyoll) casd up in a corner.36

The reference to tinkers and stinkards shows that Dekker is thinking of the public amphitheatres here. The paragraph following this one contains the advice to sit on the stage rather than in the Lords Room, and the idea is introduced in this paragraph by the expression 'casd up in a corner'. [Projector on, back to De Witt] A Lords Room in the stage balcony could scarcely be said to be in a corner, but a box at the extreme end of a gallery, abutting the tiring-house side and facing the stage at an oblique angle, certainly is 'casd up in a corner'. [Projector off]

Dekker's next paragraph begins with the famous remarks concerning the darkening of the Lords Room, with which I began. That paragraph continues, and this is extract 12:

But on the very Rushes where the Commedy is to daunce, yea and vnder the State of Cambises himselfe must our fetherd Estridge, like a peece of Ordnance be planted valiantly (because impudently) beating downe the mewes & hisses of the opposed rascality.37

As I have suggested, it is the practice of sitting on the stage that has darkened the Lords Room, and this indicates that the Lords Room is not in the stage balcony because such a position could not be obscured. Presumably the mews and hisses come from those waiting- women and gentlemen-ushers in the Lords Room whose view is obscured by the gallants on the stage. These waiting-women and gentlemen-ushers in the Lords Room are the 'opposed rascality'. That they are 'opposed' indicates more than their objection: it shows that they are on approximately the same level as the stage. [Projector on] Those in the yard are not 'opposed' but underneath. The Lords Room is clearly in the lowest gallery. [Projector off]

These gentlemen-ushers and waiting-women are not lords and yet Dekker uses the term Lords Room. This suggests a stability of terminology unaffected by the social status of the occupants of this position. If the Lords Room was the name given to wherever the nobility were currently finding it desirable to sit, Dekker's witticisms would not be intelligible to his readers. In the absence of any evidence for a change in the place denoted by the term Lords Room, I propose a continuity throughout the period from the first public amphitheatre to the closing of the theatres in 1642.

In the next few paragraphs of The Guls Horne-booke Dekker lists the advantages to be gained by sitting on the stage. Look at extract 13, which says the advantages of sitting on the stage are so great that:


neither are you to be hunted from thence though the Scar-Crowes in the yard, hoot at you, hisse at you, spit at you, yea throw durt euen in your teeth: tis most Gentleman like 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 mad-man to tarry by it: for the Gentleman and the foole should neuer sit on the Stage together.38

Again, the reference to the yard shows that Dekker is thinking of the public playhouses. That he deals here with the yardlings' reaction to the onstage sitters is what makes it likely that the earlier reference to hissing and mewing was concerned with the objectors in the Lords Room and not those in the yard. At the end of the chapter the problem of getting home across the Thames is discussed, and this too indicates that the public amphitheatres of Southwark are Dekker's primary subject. If we recognise that Dekker is not referring primarily to the Blackfriars theatre, we are left with further evidence that at the public playhouses the Lords Room was in the lowest auditorium gallery close to the stage. Of the private playhouses we know only that Dekker chose to make the same remarks applicable to either 'the publique or priuate Play-house'. The evidence of The Guls Horne-booke does not indicate that the Blackfriars deviated from the public theatre configuration, as Berry claimed, rather that its Lords Room was in approximately the same place.


In his work on the location of the Lords Room W. J. Lawrence was concerned to dismiss the 'alternation theory' of Cecil Brodmeier which rested in part upon the existence of a large upper stage upon which scenes could be played while the closed-off alcove below was made ready for a subsequent scene. To demolish this theory Lawrence showed that spectators sat in the stage balcony, so there was no large upper stage. Lawrence, and his followers, threw all the evidence together to show that spectators sat there, and in doing so they equated the stage balcony with Lords Room. This indiscriminate lumping together of all the evidence against the upper stage is still prevalent and still leads to misreading of the The Guls Horne-booke. Even as late as 1987 Herbert Berry, in a revised version of an article first published in 1966, considered it worth commenting that his work on the boxes at Blackfriars could 'lend a little force to th[e] attack' on the myth of an alcove and an upper- stage39. And, of course, Andrew Gurr, the chair of the academic committee of the project to build a replica of the Globe on Bankside, often refers to the Lords Rooms as being in the stage balcony of that replica.

In the third edition of his The Shakespearean Stage Andrew Gurr implicitly rejects the custom of sitting on the stage in the public playhouses of the 1590s40. Concerning the earliest theatres, including the Red Lion in Stepney, Gurr writes that patrons of highest social status 'sat in a special section of the galleries closest to the stage called the "lords" rooms'41. At the Theatre, Rose and Globe there were, says Gurr, 'lords rooms costing 6d., partitioned off from the galleries closest to the stage'42. Gurr's inclusion of the Globe amongst those with the same configuration as the Red Lion is a tacit statement of continuity of location of the Lords Room from 1567 (the building of the Red Lion) to 1599 (the building of the Globe). Such continuity is necessary to my argument and is borne out by Dekker's description of the change of clientele (and hence continuity of location) of the Lords Room by 1609. Later in his book Gurr writes of the first Globe that 'above the stage-level in the frons were the lords' rooms'43. This contradicts his earlier statements unless he means to imply, without evidence, that the Lords Rooms were moved. Despite Dekker's use of the term Lords Room in The Guls Horne-booke, which Gurr believes to be most applicable to the Blackfriars, Gurr avoids using the term in relation to the private theatres. He writes only that 'boxes flanking the stage' had a better view than 'the equivalent lords' rooms in the amphitheatres', and that Inigo Jones's design for a hall playhouse based on the Blackfriars had 'space for seating on the balcony where the lords' rooms were positioned at the Globe'44 I'm suggesting that Gurr's statements about the Lords Room in his book The Shakespearean Stage are confused and contradi ctory.

To argue, as I have done, that the Lords Room was in the lowest gallery at the side of the stage is to risk conflating it with the 'gentlemen's rooms' which the contract for the building of the Fortune theatre suggests were also there. This is extract 14, from the contract to build the Fortune playhouse:

wth ffower convenient divisions for gentlemens roomes and other sufficient and convenient divisions for Twoe pennie roomes wth necessarie Seates to be placed and sett Aswell in those roomes as throughoute all the rest of the galleries of the saide howse45

Richard Hosley is typical of the scholarly consensus in arguing that the only logical location for such divided-off seating is at the far ends of the lowest gallery nearest the stage46. [Projector on. De Witt slide] The reasoning is this: you would not put divided-off seating in the middle of the galleries here [point] because you would have to make a separate entrance to the section beyond. You would put the divided-off boxes at the end of the gallery so access could be controlled by a single door. That these 'gentlemen's rooms' were in the lowest gallery is indicated by the contract to build the Hope theatre. This is extract 15, where the builder Gilbert Katherens is told to make 'Two Boxes in the lowermost storie fitt and decent for gentlemen to sitt in / And shall make the p<ar>tic├Áns betwne the Rommes as they are at the saide Plaie house called the Swan'47.

Perhaps the Lords Room might also be referred to as a "gentlemen's room", since a lord is certainly a gentleman even though a gentleman is not necessarily a lord. If the two terms referred to different places, it is possible that they formed matched pairs flanking the stage, one of each on each side, or even that the Lords Room occupied one side of the stage while the gentlemen's rooms occupied the other. The currently available evidence does not allow certainty on this matter. [Projector off]

If the Lords Room is taken to mean a spectating position at the side of the stage at both the public and the private playhouses throughout the period then many of the problems I have described disappear and we can make sense of Dekker using the same term in 1609 as Henslowe used in 1592. Locating the Lords Room at the side of the stage also eliminates the awkward, but not decisive, problem that the lords cannot see discoveries if they are sitting in the stage balcony. The only evidence to the contrary, which raises the possibility that the Lords Room was in the stage balcony, is that phrase from Jonson's Every Man Out of His Humour, the phrase 'ouer the stage in the Lords roome'. On its own, and subject to varied interpretations, this single piece of evidence is insufficient to counteract the overwhelming evidence that the Lords Room could not have been in the stage balcony.


1W. J. Lawrence, The Elizabethan Playhouse and Other Studies (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1912).

2Richard Hosley, 'The Gallery over the Stage in the Public Playhouse of Shakespeare's Time', Shakespeare Quarterly, 8 (1957), 15-31.

3All three are reproduced in R. A. Foakes, Illustrations of the English Stage 1580-1642 (London, 1985).

4Thomas Dekker, The Guls Horne-booke (London, 1609), sig. E2v.

5Lawrence, The Elizabethan Playhouse, p. 31.

6Herbert Berry, Shakespeare's Playhouses (New York, 1987), pp. 50-66.

7E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), vol. 2, p. 535.

8Sir John Davies, and Christopher Marlowe, Epigrammes and Elegies (Middleborough, 1595-6), sig. A4. The line from 'In Sillam' appears on sig. C2.

9C. R. Baskervill, 'The Custom of Sitting on the Elizabethan Stage', Modern Philology, 8 (1911), 581-89; pp. 582-3.

10Robert Krueger, 'Sir John Davies: Orchestra Complete, Epigrams, Unpublished Poems', The Review of English Studies, ns, 13 (1962), 113-24.

11Reavley Gair, The Children of Paul's: The Story of a Theatre Company, 1553-1608 (Cambridge, 1982), p. 112.

12John Orrell, The Human Stage: English Theatre Design, 1567-1640 (Cambridge, 1988), p. 90.

13Edward Guilpin, Skialetheia, or A Shadow of Truth in Certaine Epigrams and Satyres (London, 1598), sig. B.

14Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574 - 1642, 3rd edn (Cambridge, 1992), p. 147.

15By Richard Hosley in his 'The Gallery Over the Stage in the Public Playhouses of Shakespeare's Time', p. 24, and Andrew Gurr in Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 21, 221. Gurr does not discuss the connection between Dekker's Jest no. 45 and the Lords Room, but his index entry for 'Playhouses; lords' room' (p. 281) points the reader to his reproduction of it in Appendix 2 (p. 221).

16Thomas Dekker, and George Wilkins, Jests to Make You Merie (London, 1607), sig. C3v-C4.

17Rev. Alexander B. Grosart, ed., The Dr. Farmer Chetham MS. Commonplace-Book, 2 vols. (Manchester, 1873), vol. 1, p. 104. Grosart discusses the date of composition on p. iv.

18R. A. Foakes, and R. T. Rickert, eds, Henslowe's Diary, Edited With Supplementary Material, Introduction and Notes (Cambridge, 1961), p. 13.

19Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, vol. 2, p. 535.

20Hosley, 'The Gallery Over the Stage in the Public Playhouses of Shakespeare's Time', p. 25n19.

21Lawrence, The Elizabethan Playhouse, pp. 33-34; Hosley, 'The Gallery over the Stage in the Public Playhouse of Shakespeare's Time' p. 25n19.

22Richard Hosley, 'The Stage Superstructures of the First Globe and the Swan', in 'The Shape of the Globe' and 'The Interior of the Globe': Reports on Seminars held on 29 March 1983 and 12 April 1986, ed. by Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, The Renaissance Drama Newsletter Supplements, 8 (Coventry, 1987), pp. 42-78. See also John Orrell's detailed rebuttal of Hosley's argument, in the same volume pp. 103-7.

23Foakes and Rickert, Henslowe's Diary, p. 308.

24Ben Jonson, Every Man Out of His Humour, Quarto 1 (London, 1600), sig. F3.

25OED 'over' prep. 15a. This sense was available at the time.

26Thomas Dekker, Satiromastix, or The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet (London, 1602), sig. M.

27Herbert Berry, Shakespeare's Playhouses, p. 51.

28For the evidence that the Children of the Chapel did not begin using Blackfriars before the last quarter of 1600, see Irwin Smith Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse: Its History and Its Design (New York, 1964), pp. 177-8.

29Such access was suggested by Richard Southern in 'On Reconstructing a Practicable Elizabethan Public Playhouse', Shakespeare Survey 12 (1959), 22-34; p. 30. This idea has not been taken up by subsequent reconstructors of playhouses.

30Berry, Shakespeare's Playhouses, pp. 54-5.

31Berry, Shakespeare's Playhouses, pp. 56-7.

32Berry, Shakespeare's Playhouses, pp. 51.

33Dekker, The Guls Horne-booke, sig. Bv.

34Thomas Dekker, The Ravens Almanacke (London, 1609), sig. Cv.

35Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, p. 227.

36Dekker, The Guls Horne-booke, sig. E2v.

37Dekker, The Guls Horne-booke, sig. E2v.

38Dekker, The Guls Horne-booke, sig. E3.

39Berry, Shakespeare's Playhouses, p. 65.

40Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, pp. 12, 164, 255n69.

41Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, p. 116.

42Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, p. 122.

43Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, p. 147.

44Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, p. 159.

45Foakes and Rickert, Henslowe's Diary, p. 307.

46Richard Hosley, 'A Reconstruction of the Fortune Playhouse: Part 2', in The Elizabethan Theatre VII: Papers given at the Seventh International Conference on Elizabethan Theatre held at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in July 1977, ed. by G. R. Hibbard (London, 1981), pp. 1-20; p. 6.

47Walter W. Greg, ed., Henslowe Papers: Being Documents Supplementary to Henslowe's Diary (London, 1907), p. 20.