Category Archives: Playwrights

Playwrights Shakespeare Theatre

Images of Shakespeare’s First Folio

These images are taken from the First Folio – the first edition of the collected plays of William Shakespeare – published in 1623.  Prior to this date, some of his plays had been published individually, but the editors of the First Folio took his entire dramatic output and arranged it, not always logically, into three distinct genres.  For anyone with an interest in the physicality of Shakespeare’s texts, the following images give us the best possible sense of how his printed word would have been read in the years immediately following his death.  Originals of the First Folio are now housed in libraries around the world.



Detail from A Midsummer Night’s Dream



Act 1.1.1 Macbeth


 The balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet


Shylock’s speech from The Merchant of Venice




Much Ado About Nothing

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Playwrights Stage Theatre

Daily at two in the afternoon

Thomas Platter, a native of Basel, visited England in 1599. The following excerpt is from his diary, translated from the German.

On September 21st after lunch, about two o’clock, I and my party crossed the water, and there in the house with the thatched roof [the newly opened Globe] witnessed an excellent performance of the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius Caesar with a cast of some fifteen people; when the play was over, they danced very marvellously and gracefully together as is their wont, two dressed as men and two as women. On another occasion not far from our inn, in the suburb at Bishopsgate, if I remember, also after lunch, I beheld a play in which they presented diverse nations and an Englishman struggling together for a maiden; he overcame them all except the German who won the girl in a tussle, and then sat down by her side, when he and his servant drank themselves tipsy, so that they were both fuddled and the servant proceeded to hurl his shoe at his master’s head, whereupon they both fell asleep; meanwhile the Englishman stole into the tent and absconded with the German’s prize, thus in his turn outwitting the German; in conclusion they danced very charmingly in the English and Irish fashion. Thus daily at two in the afternoon, London has two, sometimes three plays running in different places, competing with each other, and those which play best obtain most spectators. The playhouses are so constructed that they play on a raised platform, so that everyone has a good view. There are different galleries and places, however, where the seating is better and more comfortable and therefore more expensive. For whoever cares to stand below only pays one English penny, but if he wishes to sit he enters by another door and pays another penny, while if he desires to sit in the most comfortable seats, which are cushioned, where he not only sees everything well, but can also be seen, then he pays yet another English penny at another door. And during the performance food and drink are carried round the audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment. The actors are most expensively and elaborately costumed; for it is the English usage for eminent lords or knights at their decease to bequeath and leave almost the best of their clothes to their serving men, which it is unseemly for the latter to wear, so that they offer them then for sale for a small sum to the actors.

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Crime Playwrights Underworld

The Canting Crew

Cant, or the language of thieves and scoundrels, was a popular lexicon in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. By speaking in slang, the criminal underclass was able to distance itself from detection by the authorities. There were several Canting dictionaries published in this period; the first by Thomas Harman, both in his Caveat for Common Cursitors (1567) and in his The groundworke of conny-catching, the manner of their pedlers-French, and the meanes to vnderstand the same with the cunning slights of the counterfeit cranke : therein are h[a]nd[l]ed the practises of the visiter, the fetches of the shifter and rufflar, the deceits of their doxes, the deuises of priggers, the names of the base loytering losels, and the meanes of euery blacke-art-mans shifts, with the reproofe of all the diuellish practises / done by a iustice of peace of great authoritie, who hath had the examining of diuers of them (1597).

Thomas Dekker, playwright and pamphleteer republished Harman’s dictionary in 1608, at the end of English Villainies; a harrowing text in which he describes the conditions inside London prisons. Dekker himself had personal experience of incarceration, having been a prisoner in the King’s Bench for bad debt. What follows are some of the more colourful Canting terms described by Dekker:

To Scoure the Crampring – to wear boltes (leg irons)
Stuing Ken – a House to receive stolne goods
Ruff-Pecke – Bacon
Ruffian – the Devill
Roger, or Tib of the buttry – a Goose
Niggling – Companying with a Woman
To cut bene whiddes – To speake goode words
Margery Prater – a Hen
Pratt – a Buttocke
Bing a Wast – get you Hence
Wyn – a Penny
Boung – a Purse
Gentry Coses Ken – a noblemans house
Bowse – drinke
Dub the Giger – open the dore
Bowsing Ken – an Ale House
Chates – Gallowes
Heave a Bough – Rob a Booth
Maunding – asking
Mill – to Steale
Yraum – milke
To cly the Jerke – to be Whipped
Harman-Beck – a Constable
Harmans – stockes
Light-mans – the Day

He also includes several Canting songs, one of which goes as follows:

A Canting Song

The ruffian cly the nab of the Harman-Beck
if we Maund Pannam, lap or Ruffe peck
Or poplars of yraum: he cuts bing to the Ruff-mans,
Or else he sweares by the light-man’s
To put our stampes in the Harmans.
The ruffian cly the Ghoste of the Harman-beck,
If we heave a Booth we cly the Jerke,
If we niggle or mill a Bowsing Ken,
Or nip a boung that hath but a wyn,
Or dub the giger of a Gentrey Coses Ken,
To the quier Cuffing we bing,
And then to the quier Ken to Scowre the cramp-ring,
And then to be trin’de on the Chates in the light-mans,
The babe and the ruffian cly the Harman-Beck and Harmans.

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