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<   No. 4285   2020-06-26   >

Comic #4285

1 Ophelia: {kneeling over Robert's body} It’s too late. He’s gone.
2 Jack: O woe! How am I to tell Robert’s wife and seven young daughters?!
3 Ophelia: Say he died doing what he loved best.
3 Jack: Lying in a filthy street?
3 Ophelia: Acting in a play.
4 Jack: I’ll go with lying in a filthy street. More respectable.

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According to www.elizabethan-era.org.uk:

The reputation of the early Elizabethan Actors was not good. Many were viewed as Rogues and Vagabonds. Actors were not trusted. Travelling Elizabethan Actors were considered such a threat that that regulations were imposed and licenses were granted to the aristocracy for the maintenance of troupes of players. Actors would be asked for these credentials - they were treated with suspicion!

Backing this up, with actual references, bard.org says:

The actors of Shakespeare’s age also saw fluctuations in reputation; actors were alternately classified as “vagabonds and sturdy beggars,” as an act of Parliament in 1572 defined them, and as servants of noblemen. [...] actors lived lives of danger and instability because when they abandoned their respectable trades, they also left behind the comfort and protection of the trade guilds.

However, life soon became much more difficult for both of these classes of actors. In 1572, Parliament passed two acts which damaged thespians’ social status. In the first one, the Queen forbade “‘the unlawful retaining of multitudes of unordinary servants by liveries, badges, and other signs and tokens (contrary to the good and ancient statutes and laws of this realm)’” in order to “curb the power of local grandees” (Dennis Kay, Shakespeare: His Life, Work, and Era [New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992], 88). One result of this was that some of the actors, now considered superfluous, were turned away.

To make matters even worse, these actors faced yet another impediment: the “‘Acte for the punishment of Vacabondes’” (Kay, 88), in which actors were declared “vagabonds and masterless men and hence were subject to arrest and imprisonment” (Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Hamilton Ball, A Short View of Elizabethan Drama [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943], 46).

However, there were still nobles, such as the earl of Leicester and the earl of Sussex, who endorsed players; the protector would usually seek royal permission for these actors to perform in London or, less frequently, some other less prestigious town. Thus the actors were able to venture forth without fear of arrest.

I don't really have much to add, since this isn't a topic with which I'm very familiar.

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