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Currently, the plays of William Shakespeare are viewed as great English literature, and viewed as "high culture". However I heard someone say that Shakespeare was writing "bawdy, violence filled plays written to entertain a mostly drunken and illiterate rabble". Indeed, I've heard that Shakespeare's plays are full of vulgarity and references to sex, which would back up this idea.

So what was it during Shakespeare's time? High Culture (like the opera would be today?) or the 15th century equivalent of the film "The Hangover"? Or somewhere in between? What sort of people went to Shakespeare's plays when he was alive? Kings and Bishops? Or middle class and working classes folks? What did the snooty people at the time say about Shakespeare? "Down with this sort of thing?" or "Marvelous!"?

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His work actually didn't garner much attention during his life. This question gives you some insight: literature.stackexchange.com/questions/142/… – DForck42 Oct 18 '11 at 17:39
@DForck42, very true. We would probably focus far more on Christopher Marlowe's works if he'd lived long enough to write more. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Marlowe – Artemis Oct 20 '11 at 13:07
If you get chance go to a performance at the rebuilt Globe in London - especially one in costume/period. Being up close and the jokes and asides to the audience make even a Shakespeare comedy funny. If you've only had to suffer through reading them in Lit class - you suddenly see the point – none Dec 13 '11 at 15:47
Indeed, I've heard that Shakespeare's plays are full of vulgarity and references to sex, which would back up this idea. Heard? Have you actually read/performed in/attended any of them? That stuff's right out there for everyone to see, and some of it's even in language that we can still understand today, such as the infamous interlude in Macbeth about alcohol and its effects on male sexuality. – Mason Wheeler Mar 19 '15 at 14:08
up vote 19 down vote accepted

As I recall from my readings, the floor of the theatre was where the masses sat, when they attended. Most would probably be drunk, considering the state of water sanitation at the time beer was the favored drink over raw water, and most would probably be ill-mannered. The well-to-do when they attended sat in the box seats above the "rabble", so that should give you an idea of the crowds and attendance. Plays pandered to both audiences, in some ways like the children's movies of today that can garner attention from kids and adults with similar material.

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I agree. Shakespeare's plays were designed to appeal to the masses as well as the higher class educated folk. Adults and children alike, often. The Simpsons is a great modern example, I feel, as it targets adults and children alike, and can be both high-brow and base, often at the same time! – Noldorin Oct 18 '11 at 20:53
South Park falls in the same class. It's crude, by almost any standard, but many of its episodes raise profound critiques on the nature of society and Mormons. – Dante Oct 21 '11 at 7:50
Yeah, South Park somewhat less so I think. It tends to be slightly more crass compared to the early Simpsons episodes, and although the issues may be genuine and contemporary, the humour was less high-brow. But yeah, general point is fair. – Noldorin Jun 14 '12 at 22:16

There wasn't such a huge distinction between high culture and low culture at the time, especially in the early english drama. Some of the earliest english drama, including the mirable and mystery plays, were put on by guilds, and had a rather amateurish quality.

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