The Privy Council’s settlement of two approved playing companies in two approved playhouses in 1594 was the first permanent foothold for the companies in London. The years from 1594 to 1603 laid down new patterns, which only altered very slowly in the decades that followed. A number of different aspects of their working, such as the times and conditions of performance, licensing, the effects of the plague bills, and the sharer system and company finances are considered in this chapter. Given the variety of playing through time and space, the number of different playhouses and playing companies, the seventy-five-year span of performances, changing tastes among playgoers and playwrights, and the inevitability of change, development, and even evolution in theatre traditions, we do it wrong to use it so homogeneously, as if it was a single, invariable practice. Given such variety, too, many of the questions that stand up about the London theatres of William Shakespeare’s time get answers for which the evidence is all too imprecise.
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