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By Donna Dailey, John Tomedi, Harold Bloom

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Extra resources for London (Bloom's Literary Places)

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Charles sent Pepys back with a message to pull down houses to create a fire break and contain the flames. But the mayor “cried like a fainting woman” and delayed, worried about the cost of rebuilding. Pepys recorded his experiences almost hour by hour, and his account of the fire is the most famous section of the diary. He described its progress, measures taken to fight it, and the general scene as Londoners tried to move their families and goods to safety. On that first day, he walked through the city and then took to the river with his wife and friends.

At the foot of the stage is the open yard, where the “groundlings,” as Shakespeare called them, could stand and see the play for a penny. Surrounding the yard are the tiered balcony seats where the gentility sat, for two or three pennies. The best seats, at six pennies, were in the Lords’ Gallery above the stage itself. It was considered better to be seen than to have a good view. However, in those days plays were written for the ear, not the eye. Thus Hamlet says “We’ll hear a play” (Shakespeare, Hamlet II:2).

They would not allow playhouses to be built within the city walls. Despite Puritan disapproval, theater flourished. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, eleven theaters opened outside the walls in the suburbs and “liberties,” which were beyond the regulation of the city fathers. Acting companies were formed under court patronage, giving stability to traveling players. The core of a company was made up of eight to ten players. Shakespeare’s plays have major speaking roles for that number. There were no women actors and the female romantic leads were often played by boys.

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