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and to place a prevalent national amusement under State supervision. Soon after Elizabeth's accession it was decreed that no players should perform without a licence from the Mayors of towns, or from the Lord-Lieutenants of counties, or from two Justices of the Peace resident in the neighbourhood. Companies professing to be Servants of noblemen, who could not prove their title, were to be treated as rogues
and vagrants under the rigorous Acts in force against such persons. Plays on matters touching religion and government were strictly forbidden. The department of the Revels at Court was put at once upon a more economical footing. But the theatrical establishments of the aristocracy seem, at the same period, to have been multiplied in numbers and considerably strengthened in efficiency.
It was a fortunate circumstance for the development of our theatre that both Elizabeth herself and her favourite Leicester were enthusiastically partial to play-acting. Had it not been for their encouragement and patronage, the stage could hardly have established itself upon a permanent footing in London ; and the conditions which rendered a national Drama possible in England might have been missed. The justice of this observation will be perceived when we come to consider the next and most eventful chapter in the history of the English stage. In the first years
of Elizabeth's reign, Leicester, then Sir Robert Dudley, had the best company of players in his service.
He took a personal interest in their welfare, as appears
from a letter addressed by him in June 1559 to the Earl of Shrewsbury. The object of this letter was to obtain for them the licence to play in Yorkshire. He begins by saying that his servants, 'bringers hereof unto you, be such as are players of interludes ; ' expressly states that they hold 'the licence of divers of my Lords here, under their seals and hands, to play in divers shires within the realm under their authori. ties, as may amply appear unto your Lordship by the same licence;' and recommends them to Lord Shrewsbury as 'honest men, and such as shall play none other matters, I trust, but tolerable and convenient. Thus it seems that, in conformity with Elizabeth's edicts, the servants of Sir Robert Dudley had armed themselves with a licence signed by several Lord-Lieutenants of counties, upon the production of which they counted on the liberty to play within the jurisdictions of the signataries.
The same players, relying on their Master's powerful support, advanced so far in their pretensions that in 1574 they obtained from Elizabeth herself a Royal Patent.' This document, the first licence granted by the Crown to a dramatic company, was given at Greenwich under the Privy Seal upon May 7, to James Burbage and four partners. Addressed to all Justices, Mayors, Sheriffs, Bailiffs, head Constables, under Constables, and all other our officers and m nisters,' it empowered Lord Leicester's servants to 'use, exercise, and occupy the art and faculty of playing Comedies, Tragedies, Interludes, Stage-plays, and such other like . . . as well for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall
think good to see them.' Elizabeth, in this paragraph, specially contemplates the double function of Lord Leicester's servants ; first as caterers for the public and then as players at Court. Up to this time the royal establishment had no formed body of dramatic artists, and no players with the title of Queen's Servants. The Master of the Revels for the time being engaged the best companies to play at Court ; and among these the Servants of Lord Leicester had been conspicuous for frequent performance. After the date of the patent, Leicester's men, for a time at any rate, called themselves, upon the strength of the document, · The Queen's Majesty's Poor Players.'
The patent next rehearses the places to which the privilege extends : ‘As well within our City of London and Liberties of the same, as also within the liberties and freedoms of any our Cities, Towns, Boroughs, &c. whatsoever, as without the same, throughout our Realm of England.' Then follow the limitations under which the privilege is granted. All plays performed by Leicester's men must have received the sanction of the Master of the Revels. No public representations might take place in the time of Common Prayer, or in the time of great and common Plague in our said City of London.
The privileges granted in this Royal Licence testified to Elizabeth's personal approval of Burbage and his comrades, no less than to Leicester's warm-hearted patronage. They were ample, and seemed explicit enough to have conferred a monopoly of acting on this company throughout the length and breadth of England. Yet the players met with a determined opposi
tion when they strove to exercise their rights, and only entered, after a sharp struggle, into a partial enjoyment of the Queen's concession.
Eleven years earlier, Archbishop Grindall had already raised his voice against the growing frequency of plays in London.
He termed the actors 'an idle sort of people, which had been infamous in all. good commonwealths,' and called upon the Secretary of State to get them altogether banished to at least three miles beyond the City bounds. A disastrous epidemic was then raging, which furnished the Archbishop with an excellent argument. Undoubtedly the concourse of all kinds of people to hear plays helped to spread infection. Upon the double grounds which Grindall had adopted in 1563, namely, the lewdness and profanity of plays, and the peril of contagion in times of sickness, the Corporation of London now determined to resist the establishment of Leicester's company within their jurisdiction.
On December 6, 1575, the Common Council drew up a memorial upon the subject of play-acting, which so curiously illustrates the feeling of the times, that it must furnish copious extracts. The preamble opens thus : 'Whereas heretofore sundry great disorders and inconveniences have been found to ensue to this City by the inordinate haunting of great multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes, and shows; namely, occasion of frays and quarrels; evil practices of incontinence in great inns, having chambers and secret places adjoining to their open stages and galleries ; inveigling and alluring of maids, specially orphans, and good citizens' children under age, to privy and unmeet contracts; the publishing of unchaste, uncomely, and unshamefast speeches and doings; withdrawing of the Queen's Majesty's servants from Divine service on Sundays and holy days, at which times such plays were chiefly used; unthrifty waste of the money of the poor and fond persons ; sundry robberies by picking and cutting of purses ; uttering of popular, busy, and seditious matters, and many other corruptions of youth, and other enormities ; besides that also sundry slaughters and maimings of the Queen's subjects have happened by ruins of scaffolds, frames, and stages, and by engines, weapons, and powder used in plays.' So far the Recorder has recited the first of Grindall's arguments.
He next takes up the second : * And whereas in time of God's visitation by the Plaguc, such assemblies of the people in throng and press have been very dangerous for spreading of infection, &c.' He then proceeds to remedies and regulations, which are in substance these : 1. That all plays shall be subjected to censors appointed by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen. 2. That none but players licensed by the Council shall exhibit.
3. That the same shall be taxed for maintenance of
and sick persons. 4. That no performance shall take place during Divine service, or in times of general sickness. 5. That though the private houses of the nobility be exempt from these restrictions, the Council shall determine what constitutes a privileged residence, and shall exercise control and censure over the plays there represented.
Among the Orders appointed to be executed in the City of London' during the year 1576, one pro