Penny Stinkards


Globe Theater

I had always heard of them as groundlings. Those people who in Shakespeare‘s times, stood in the open center of his theater. On our tour of the above pictured reproduction of the Globe, I learned that their real name was penny stinkards. Parsed, this name derives from their one penny admission fee and the fact that they stunk. The cleanest person in all England then was Queen Elizabeth, who only bathed four times a year. Add to this the fact that they all chewed garlic to ward off plague and you can only imagine what a thousand of these stinkers, all crowded together, could have smelled like to the actors on stage. The interval or as we say here in America, an intermission, is a modern invention. So, those five act plays were performed without relief. Speaking of which, to relieve yourself, you couldn’t leave the theater, because readmission would cost you another penny. There was no loo in the house, so your only alternative was to do it there.

We were sitting in one of the stalls that ring the theater, when this photo was taken. Interestingly, modern theaters in London still refer to what we in America call orchestra seating as the stalls. Back then stall seating cost two pennies. Our stall seats that we purchased to see the Carol King musical, Beautiful, were a bit more. The walled-in second level sections flanking the stage are the boxes and were used by the upper class. While, the nobility sat in the boxes behind the stage. It was more important to be seen than to see. That is except for the center second level box, under the gold heart, which was for the orchestra. The door above the stage is where the sound effects were performed. The first Globe burned down when a cannon was fired from this area and set the theater afire. All 1,500 theater goers managed to escaped alive.  

Ours was the last tour of the day, even though it was only noon. That is because this afternoon was devoted to the performance of The Taming of the Shrew. The Globe was built to let in the afternoon light, when Shakespeare normally had his plays performed. Candles were too expensive. This day the performance was being put on for school groups. The stage is dressed in white to represent a wedding cake. Such set decorations are not historically accurate, but were done here for the younger audience. You can see the cast walking onto the stage for a last minute rehearsal. The director is standing on the stairs, with his back to us. This production was in the last week of its eight week run and the director was rather upset with the cast for giving only a half-hearted effort during the subsequent rehearsal. Shortly, it began to rain quite heavily, which put an end to the show, but in Shakespeare’s time the show went on rain or shine. Those poor penny stinkards would have gotten a bath.

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