Theatrical Profits and Expenses, 1511

In 1882, Jacob Larwood published a brief account of the expenses and receipts for a Medieval theatrical performance. It is one of the few pieces of evidence we have from this era which shines some light on the practicalities of technical theatre in general, and prop production specifically.

In a roll of the churchwardens of Bassingborn, in Cambridgeshire, is an account of the expenses and receipts for acting the play of St. George, in that parish, on the feast of St. Margaret, 1511. The company collected upwards of £4 in twenty-seven neighbouring parishes for getting up the play. They disbursed about £2 in the representation. These disbursements were—to four minstrels or waits of Cambridge, for three days, 5s. 6d.; to the players, in bread and ale, 3s. 2d.; to the “garnement” man for “garnements” and properties, 2os.; to John Hobard, brotherhood-priest, for the playbook, 2s. 8d.; for hire of the croft or field in which the play was exhibited, 1s.; for property-making or furniture, 1s. 4d.; for fish and bread, and setting up the stages, 4d.; for painting three phantoms and four tormentors (i.e. devils). . .  The rest was expended for a feast on the occasion, for which were provided “four chickens for the gentlemen, 4d.”

Under this system, there were 12d (12 pence) in a shilling and 20s (20 shillings) in a pound(£), making 240d in a pound.

This note proves that the theatrical term “property” is of respectable antiquity. What the “properties” were in this instance cannot be ascertained; but in a mystery, founded on the story of Tobit, exhibited at Lincoln in 1563, there occurs among the properties—hell-mouth, with a nether chap; Sarah’s chamber; a great idol with a club; the city of Jerusalem, with towers and pinnacles; the city of Rages, with towers and pinnacles; the city of Nineveh; the king’s palace of Nineveh; old Toby’s house; a firmament with a fiery cloud, etc.

From Theatrical anecdotes, by Jacob Larwood, 1882 (pp. 279-80)