Courty (2003):

Historians typically argue that commercial entertainment started in sixteenth-century England with the introduction of for-profit theatres.

Is the above claim correct? If not, when and where did commercial entertainment begin?

Courty also adds in a footnote:

the Greeks and Romans also offered large-scale entertainment events, but these events were typically not for profit, and admission followed a political logic (Futrell, 1997).

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    Hi and welcome to History SE. Do you have any reason to doubt the source? It would help if you explain what you are looking for exactly. Thank you. Jun 26, 2020 at 4:29
  • @LarsBosteen: He doesn't cite any sources. I would also have guessed that even before 16th-century England, there had already been commercial entertainment (e.g. street performances).
    – user38526
    Jun 26, 2020 at 5:21
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    I think this has to depend on the choice of definition of "commercial entertainment". I'd say it started when the first person earned their meal with a story or a song.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 26, 2020 at 5:55
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    I think the problem here is defining what is meant by commercial entertainment. There were performers who were paid in ancient times, but by sponsors and patrons rather than the whole audience. If you are looking for primary source evidence of earliest known paying audience, please indicate that in ur question. Jun 26, 2020 at 5:57

1 Answer 1


Courty is actually

Courty, Pascal. 2003. "Some Economics of Ticket Resale ." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 17 (2): 85-97. DOI: 10.1257/089533003765888449

This is not the appropriate journal for a historical “review article” of the state of historiography on the monetary bourgeoisification of culture, including as commodity. Nor is it the appropriate journal for metatheoretical or political economic arguments about what constitutes a commodity. The high field specificity of historical research publication: ie the difficulty in finding it, means an outsider is probably not apt for summing up debates. This reads like the trite little story that is told about myths, and has the writing function of the same to allow Courty to get down to the grit: ticket resale pricing.

Historians esteem one major theoretical perspective on “the commodity” and thus what constitutes “commerce” as a system rather than pre-commercial trade. And that’s Marxism in either its avowedly liberal form of a progress story originating in the c16; or in its formal liberal form of bourgeois understandings of Marx’s categories as if they exist outside of relations of struggle; or rarely in its proletarian form of accounts of conflict over piss breaks, broken arms, and a few farthings more. The idea that self reinforcing production mediated money exchange to produce more money with labour dependent workers and profit dependent capitalists underwrites historiographic work in this area because prior to 1500 patronage from tax mattered. Or patronage from gods to allow patron systems. Or patronage to recruit armed bodies of men to massacre independent villages and demand tithe for a central city state. Something different starts around the c16: “Capital.”

So the answer is yes, commercial entertainment necessarily began in the c16 because that’s when capital commodity money labour entertainment emerged from hawking, busking, religion, patronage.

This is a distinctly unsatisfying answer because it is tautological and doesn’t drive the reading of the documentary record of the past. People are interested in why marriage less but highly sexed drunk lawyers were shakespeares audience leading to Shakespeare being more likely to write romance and marriage focused plays where coitus was obvious but marriage impossible for a male dominant demand. The tautological aspect of Courty is because he wants to prove a point. Historians rarely do this: they unravel documentary meanings.