Commerce and Culture

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2. Shakespeare's Theater

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07/25/2006Paul A. Cantor

This is a great example of commercial art and a great commercial artist – Shakespeare. Nobody does like competition, but competition, like Marlowe and Johnson, is healthy for culture. Shakespeare had to approach entrepreneurial backers in London who had surplus wealth to invest in a capital project so that people might spend money on entertainment.

The Globe Theater, holding an audience of 3,000, took a big investment to build. The theater was often attached to some aristocratic patronage. It had shareholders, like Shakespeare himself. The entrance fee was one penny which was one hour’s wage. Command performances at Court were prestigious and enhanced the fundamental commercial theater. Shakespeare is now high art and culture, but he was vulgar pop culture in the 1620s – as low as it got. By the end of the Eighteenth Century, people had elevated him above his commercial origins.

Lecture 2 of 10 from Paul Cantor's Commerce and Culture.

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Contact Paul A. Cantor

Paul A. Cantor is Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American film and TV. He is the co-editor, with Stephen Cox, of Literature and the Economics of Liberty. See his interview in the Austrian Economics Newsletter.

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