Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2015
THE LAWS OF PLAYING
One of the many but rarely noted features of playgoing in the years up to and including Shakespeare's arrival on the scene was the English government's determination to control it. With the onset of the Reformation Thomas Cromwell's Tudor regime under Henry VIII faced a massive challenge to secure an authority to govern that was independent of the church and the Pope. In 1578 the Privy Council gave the Master of the Revels, the Lord Chamberlain's executive officer who spent five months planning and supervising the plays staged at Court each winter, authority to control playing throughout the whole country. Centralised government under the Tudors of course lacked the resources that modern governments have to control civil and civic activities, and long after that date local mayors and magistrates continued to take it into their own hands to determine what their local populace might be allowed to enjoy. Nobles continued to run their own playing companies in spite of the Acts of Parliament that recurrently restricted who could run his own travelling company to higher and higher levels of the aristocracy. Even under the Stuarts, who made a great effort in 1615 to check and restrict the licences to play, many more companies toured the country than government wanted. The Privy Council's most severe control was understandably exercised where they lived, in London.