Friday, October 31, 2008

Groundlings and Winchester Geese

In a post about my visit to the Globe Theatre in London earlier this month, I promised a later blog about the theatre’s patrons. Here we go.

In the days of the original Globe Theatre, patrons could pay one penny to stand or two pennies for general seating. The theatre-goers who stood in the yard to watch the plays were called Groundlings. Visitors to today’s version of the Globe can still purchase a Groundling ticket for five pounds. In case of rain, no umbrellas are allowed.

In William Shakespeare’s day, it was considered socially unacceptable for women to attend the theatre except in the company of a male family member. Members of polite society sat in the lower or middle galleries. Business was conducted in the upper gallery where prostitutes waved white handkerchiefs to attract customers, presumably to arrange for a meeting elsewhere. Prostitutes in the neighborhood were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester which earned them the nickname Winchester Geese. Now you’re probably wondering why they were licensed by a bishop. Answer: most of the brothels were owned by the Church of England. On our visit to the Globe, we sat in the Upper Gallery among tourists and a few locals. No business was conducted. As far as I know.

1 comment:

Shauna Roberts said...

Fascinating stuff! I never knew that about the brothels. I assume the prostitutes didn't need a male family member to accompany them?