A 3.5 Broker theory

Tom Reedy

Week 1 · 5 hours ago

According to Ros, George Buck didn't know whether Shakespeare (his spelling) was an actor or a playwright, but apparently thought of him as a "play broker", a profession that did not exist at the time. But by 1599, the earliest Buck could have asked Shakespeare about the authorship of George a Green though the date of the inscription is probably post-1610, Shakespeare had been named as a playwright by Francis Meres and his name had appeared on several plays and two best-selling poems.

Even if Ed Juby were the person who bought plays for his company, that wouldn't make him a broker. He also is recorded as having purchased apparel for his company. That didn't make him a broker of clothes. But for Ros' argument to work, Juby has to be a "play broker" in order to set the expectation that there was such a thing so that William Shakespeare can be one.

A broker is someone who sells on commission, not someone who works for a company buying supplies. Nor would a broker be a person who buys and then sells at a profit. A broker is never an actual owner. A wool broker would be a person who travels through the hinterland and buys wool contracts on behalf of the wool mills or someone who travels to the wool mills and arranges contracts on behalf of the wool growers. A dealer (or speculator) would be someone who buys the wool for himself and then tries to sell at a profit, like Shakespeare's father did. None of these positions existed in the theatre business of the time; the market was too small and the number of theatrical troupes who could play in London was limited.

The term "play broker" is an invention of anti-Stratfordians in an attempt to explain the copious records that associate William Shakespeare with the London stage. There is no evidence whatsoever that the profession existed. At £6 or so a play, and with the limited market, there was no economic need for literary agents. A guy who knows a friend of a friend who can get your play considered by a playing company? Sure (George Wilkins comes to mind, who collaborated with Shakespeare on Pericles). And did playing companies buy properties and plays from each other? We have documentary evidence that they did, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there was such thing as a "play broker". The term was invented for the anti-Stratfordian arguments.

How Plays Were Bought

Nat Whilk

Week 1 · 19 days ago · Edited

How did an aspiring playwright in early modern London sell his work? Those of you who are interested in theatre history might like to read Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern’s Shakespeare In Parts (Oxford University Press, 2007), which gives a clear account of the process, from page to stage: “a system common to all playwrights in the community” (40).

Stern and Palfrey draw chiefly on primary sources, on contemporary letters, anecdotes, complaints, and satires, by and about poets and players.

Aside from Shakespeare, who was uniquely fortunate in being a house poet, “writing solely for and working with the same actors for many years” (40), playwrights had to audition for the company they hoped would buy their work. Plays were written with certain companies in mind, parts were made for certain players— “most plays were cast by playwrights during the writing process” (60)—and the author could only hope that his work pleased the players it was made for.

Now Poet small to Globe doth run
And vows to Heaven four acts are done,
Finis to bring he doth protest:
Tells each aside, his part is best. (40)

That was lobbying. "The author is hardly transcendent here, scurrying from actor to actor as though from one creditor to the next; the unwritten fifth act, one can imagine, might be determined by the kinds of promises he makes as he seeks to mollify impatient players" (40).

There were also private readings to gentlemen who fancied themselves as critics, and might be enticed into patronage, or at least a conspicuous attendance, with a gang of their friends.

The crucial moment came in the audition to the actor-sharers “who were hearing the ‘reading’ in their capacity as financial backers. Would this play be good or not? Would it ‘take’? Most importantly, should the company commission the play and pay for it? ‘Mr Henshlowe’, writes the actor/sharer Robert Shaa to the financier,’ we have heard their booke and lyke yt their price is eight poundes, wch I pray pay now’; similarly, Rowley, the sharer, actor, and playwright has ‘harde [heard] five sheets of a play of the Conqueste of the Indes & I dow not doute but It wyll be a verye good playes there I praye ye delyver them fortye shyllunges In earneste of It’. The text might at this stage be a largely unwritten scenario ... or a semi-written play. ... That the play would be accepted at this reading was, inevitably, of tremendous concern to the author; thus the habitually impecunious Daborne regularly begs for readings—in the hope that he will get a financial advance on the strength of them (‘if yu please to appoint any howr to read to mr Allin I will not fayle’). Naturally, he always fears their outcome: ‘Sr if yu doe not like this play when it is read yu shall have the other which shall be finished with all the expedition for before before god this is a good one & will giv yu content.’”

none of the stuff about grain dealing, play brokering and making money has any objective relevance to the authorship question. Will of Stratford was a good business man - he also was an excellent playwright.


Joan GreenleafCourse participant

The fact that I don't think Shakespeare is the only hand in the Works doesn't mean that I see his contribution to them as in any way inferior to or more dubious than those of other contributors.


Toni PrinceCourse participant

But if you can't provide any examples of people engaged in this activity from the period in question (and you can't), then you can't defend yourself from the charge of having invented the activity to suit your argument.



So the actor-sharers were the gatekeepers, whose approval would lead to a commission, with money disbursed to the poet. Their rejection would leave the playwright with a half-made fragment that he might or might not be able to re-tailor for another company.

Note that this audition process would be particularly difficult for dead or secret playwrights to finesse.

Clearly, there is no room for a play-broker in all this. It would be really difficult for a middleman to speculate in buyer-designated goods: like trying to sell the sketches for a family portrait to another family. If he couldn’t paint himself, he'd be stuck with them.

What is Poet Ape? Not a middleman, at all: he doesn’t buy new plays in order to resell them. What he sells is “frippery,” old clothes; and like Autolycus, his wares are "unconsidered trifles": stolen goods. “Brokage” here means trade in second-hand apparel, pawnbroking. One of Jonson’s favorite words is “broker,” which for him means pawnbroker, pimp, or shady dealer. In Bartholomew Fayre, it means all three: “I ha' seene as fine outsides, as either o'yours, bring lowsie linings to the Brokers.” Poet Ape is a botcher of cast-offs, who stitches Frankenplays together, and passes them off as his own. The crucial things to realize are that (to anyone with “half eyes”) these are patchwork plays—crudely photoshopped—and that everyone on the scene knows who is he and what he’s doing. They’ve called him on it, and he shrugs.

On the hand, we have the scenario in which the illiterate player Shakespeare of Stratford fronts for the ineffable genius [fill in the blank], putting his name to transcendent work in deadly and impenetrable secrecy.

On the other, we have the literate if larcenous Poet Ape, botching up bad plays from shreds of other men’s, an object of resentment and contempt on the theatre scene.

He can’t be both. (Actually, he can’t be either, but that’s a subject for another essay.) But the denialists so hate the man from Stratford, that they stitch him up with every slander or satire of the early modern age.

And by the way, it’s delightful to imagine a paradoxical Shakespeare auditioning to himself, hopping from side to side of the table. “What part have I written for myself?” “Oh, you’ll like this, self. Burbage kills you in the fourth act, and we get a terrific soliloquy.”

frippery & brokage

Nat Whilk, Week 2 · 11 days ago

A frippery is "a place where cast-off clothes are sold" (OED) or the rags and remnants that it sells.

So when the drunken Stephano and Trinculo are enticed by hanging finery, Caliban pleads, "Let it alone thou foole, it is but trash." And Trinculo replies, "Oh, ho, Monster: wee know what belongs to a frippery."

  • Brokage is “the trade of dealing in old things” (OED), as well as any sort of low trafficking and pimping. That horrid old man who would have bought Scrooge’s sheets and even his nightgown, picked and gleaned from his corpse (had Scrooge not reformed) was a broker. John Marston is likewise macabre: “Teare not the lead from off thy Fathers graue, To stop base brokage, sell not thy fathers sheete.”
  • In early modern English, “fripper” and “broker” were synonyms, almost a pair, like “rack and ruin.” I looked in EEBO for pairings, and found 31 in 20 books, in both literal and figurative uses.
  • John Florio uses this doublet many times in his Worlde of Wordes (1598):
  • “Recateria, a fripperie or brokers shop.”
  • “Fripparo, a fripper, as our brokers be, that sell old clothes.”
  • “Panni vendoli, such as sell olde clothes, frippers, brokers.”
  • “Rigattiére, a wrangler, a shifter, a player at musse, a huckster, a fripper, a broker, such as sell old clothes and such trash.”
  • “Barattiere, a barterer, a trucker, a marter, an exchanger, a briber, a cheater, a false gamster, a cousener, a broker, a fripper, a chaffrer, a cogger, a foyster, a deceiuer, a coni-catcher, a bareter, a prowler.”
  • That last brings out the dishonesty of selling old stuff for new.
  • Francis Bacon (1605): “Collections are much like a Frippers or Brokers shoppe; that hath ends of euerie thing, but nothing of worth.”
  • George Chapman, Monsieur D’Oliue (1606): “Farewell Fripper, Farewell Pettie Broker” And “a crew of thredbare, vnbutton'd fellowes, to be my followers: Taylers, Frippers, Brokers, casheerd Clarks, Petrifoggers, and I know not who.”
  • Fynes Moryson, Itinerary (1617): “and because I lately had been robbed aswell of my cloake as of my Crownes, here I bought for some two French Crownes an old cloake, among the Brokers in the Market place, called the Fripperie.”
  • Thomas Heywood, Machiavels ghost (1641): “The Ragge-Proiectors, VVere extracted from Dung-hills, the out-casts of a Brokers Fripperie.”
  • Thomas D’Urfey, The marriage-hater (1692): L. Subtle.: A Widow, Sir, why what's a Widow?
  • Sir Phil.: Why, a meer Fripperer, or Broker's Shop, that's fain to sell her Wares at second hand, yet toils to pass 'em off to Fools for new
  • A collection of some modern epistles of Monsieur de Balzac (1639): “Our Mounsieur here, is but a Mountebanke, and a Plagiary, that strutts in borrowed plumes, and makes a great shew with the frippery & brokage of other Authors.”

Oh, lovely: “frippery & brokage” here is frippery and brokage, borrowed plumes from Ben Jonson.

As we have said, singly and in chorus: the Poet Ape does not buy and sell new plays, but shreds and patches of old ones, restitched. He is a “dresser of plays,” a decker-out—and that should give you his name.

Other on point comments about “play-broking”

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