Via History News Network,
Filthy lucre, booze and high drama – and that was behind the scenes. Archaeologists digging in East London have unearthed compelling new evidence of the seamier side of life at London’s oldest playhouse.
Excavations at the site of The Theatre in Shoreditch, which hosted premieres of several Shakespeare plays and which pre-dates The Globe, is shedding new light on a theatre that was called a “school for all wickedness and vice”.
Archaeologists, led Heather Knight of the Museum of London, have discovered not only traces of the original Shakespearean playhouse, built in 1576, but the remains of the ceramic money boxes where the earnings from each performance were temporarily kept before being emptied into a “common box”.
The broken, ceramic money boxes, which had to be smashed to give up their contents, have been traced to the playhouse’s accounts office. The earnings were the subject of dozens of lawsuits involving the actor and manager, James Burbage, and The Theatre’s other co-owner, John Brayne.
Burbage, originally a carpenter, had first become an actor and then a businessman and investor. Despite, or perhaps because of, his crooked, violent and ruthless ways, he made a modest fortune and died a relatively rich man.
Brayne, probably originally a grocer, initially provided most of the finance for The Theatre but he ended up being deprived of his share in the venture by Burbage and was finally reduced to bankruptcy, eventually dying penniless. The saga had all the ingredients of a Shakespearian drama…
What I love about this story is that it reveals this dark side of the arts. We love to chastise Big Business for being uncreative, money-grabbing, and soulless. We look to the arts to entertain, enrich, and enliven and presume that the makers of art remain innocently blameless in matters of money, scandal, and fraud.
In my experience, it seems people often mistakenly associate the arts and artists with being “above the frey” when it comes to things like how they deal with money and ethics. This type of conventional wisdom was expounded by arts advocate Ian David Moss on this very blog during a conversation about the likelihood of arts organizations following government mandates for fair pay of arts interns, “I say arts organizations, being nonprofits, are likely to be more sensitive to the spirit, not just the letter, of the law than fast food giants…”
I come across his type of opinion often. But I happen to think the motivations of man – whether artist or businessman – are both similar in that they both have the capacity for great generosity and honesty as well as deceit and thievery!