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2 - “The Madnes of Tenys” and the Commercialization of Pastimes in Early Tudor London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2021

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Summary

Abstract

Efforts to control professional theatre in London in the 1570s contained echoes of the authorities’ previous reactions to the commercialization of tennis and bowling. As early as the 1470s, the London authorities had cracked down on tennis playing in the city, and records of the sale of tennis balls by the Ironmongers’ Company show that this attempt was successful in the short term. Over the next 50 years, those records provide a surprisingly detailed account of the surging popularity of tennis in the city, punctuated by occasional attempts by the authorities to ban it. Records from crackdowns on tennis and bowling in 1516 and 1528 provide information about the people who were trying to make money off these sports.

Keywords: tennis; bowling; Ironmongers; balls

The 1570s were a crucial decade in the development of the Elizabethan professional theatre, and attempts to control and regulate the growth of the theatre played an important role in that development. A 1572 Act of Parliament restricted patronage of playing companies to noblemen, and in 1574 the Earl of Leicester's Men became the first such company to receive a royal patent. Such patents gave companies more security than they had enjoyed before, but they were also a key element in the crown's efforts to exert more control over the burgeoning professional stage, after decades of intermittently trying to quash it altogether. In late 1574, the London Common Council passed an act regulating playhouses and plays within the City, and within a few years the first commercial playhouses began to sprout up in and around London. It is sometimes stated that the 1574 act banned playing in the city and thus drove the players to build their playhouses in the suburbs, but this is not really accurate. William Ingram has argued (rather persuasively) that the law was simply trying to regulate and make money from city playing, and that the building of playhouses in the suburbs was an unintended consequence.

These actions by the royal and city authorities were not ad hoc responses to the growth of professional plays; rather, they were similar in many ways to the responses of earlier authorities to other leisure activities that grew rapidly in popularity, in particular tennis and bowling.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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