So you want to go and visit the theatre? Think it might be a bit pricy to get the best seats, willing to save money by sitting further away? Or even behind a pillar?
It was relatively cheap to visit the theatre in Shakespeare’s time. The cheapest seats (which were not seats but standing room only) were 1 penny, if you wanted to sit on the benches it was an extra penny again. The most expensive seats in the so called lords room were about 6 pennies. Even relatively low paid people like apprentices could afford to see a play. So which seats were expensive?
In this picture of the Swan theatre drawn by the German De Witt and copied into another man’s journal we can clearly see the different seating areas. Down at the bottom but closest to the stage was the ‘pit’ where the so called ‘groundlings’ could pay 1 penny to watch the show. Some theatres still call the lowest level of seating the ‘ground’ however today these seats are likely to be expensive as they are close to the stage. The next most expensive seats were in the galleries to the middle of the stage area facing the stage – you could sit down here but just on hard benches. These seats today are likely to be graded – the nearer the front and centre you are the more you pay! The most expensive seats for Shakespeare’s theatre goers were at the very sides of the galleries almost directly above the stage, these small areas on either side of the stage were called the lords room. You may think the view would not be very good from here, and it probably was not but the point was not to see the show but to be seen yourself. These seats were expensive because if you sat here the audience would get a good view of you as well as the actors – it was a good place to sit and show off your wealth. Indeed those who wanted to make a real impression arrived late and interrupted the action with demands for the actors to recap the parts they had missed! . Later in Shakespeare’s career, at the indoor theatres it became fashionable to pay extra to sit on the stage itself – perhaps the best place to get a good view yourself and to be seen by everyone else.