Some facts about writing plays in Shakespeare’s time – explore Playground to discover more fact pages
Although plays were written in 1600, only about 30% of men and 10% of women in England could read.
Most people wrote with a quill: a feather from the wing of a large bird – usually a goose. They sharpened it to a point and dipped it into a pot of ink.
Ink could be coloured with soot, hard growths on trees, wine and gum. If it got too thick it was thinned with vinegar.
Official documents were written on vellum, made from sheep skins scraped with an animal’s tooth and treated with a gum prepared by boiling horses’ hooves.
Letters (and plays) were written on paper made from chopped up rags.
Even paper was expensive. The paper for an average play (30 sheets for one copy) would have cost 3 pence. This was the same price as three big loaves of bread or three trips to the theatre.
Playwrights were not always expected to write a new story. They sometimes used stories from well-known tales (in English and foreign languages), history books and other plays.
Playwrights even ‘borrowed’ lines from other plays, some times changing them a little. Romeo’s lines in Romeo & Juliet: ‘But soft, what light in yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet the sun!’ was reworked from another play.
Playwrights were paid about £6 a play in Shakespeare’s time.
Some playwrights were sometimes in prison for debt. Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose theatre, sometimes lent playwrights money to get out of prison in exchange for a play.