This essay deals with Dutch theater history of the second half of the 19th century (1860—1916). It statistically tests, whether the dominant opinion in Dutch theater writing, that after 1870 the stage recovered from a half century of decline, due to a renewed interest in it by the city elite, occupying the first ranks with a taste for civilized modern drama, and that, hence, a sharp cleft became visible between lower-rank tastes and upper-rank tastes. We test the tenability of this position on the basis of the Rotterdam Grand Theater archives, which contain ticket sales per rank per performance from 1776 till 1916, and the play bills of the performances. We analyze aggregated behavior of an anonymous theater consumers subdivided into price classes, hypothesizing that differences in attendance to high and low quality plays (as the critics judged them) over the different ranks, might reveal class-based divisions of taste. A long-memory time series analysis confirms that there is a significant gradual change of quality in the theater during the period 1860—1881, but this change is hardly rank- (and by implication likely class-) based. A second time series analysis, analyzing the impact of the repertoire and companies controlled for season and dynamics of the time series over the years 1860—1887 and 1887—1916, hardly sustains the narrative of recovery for most products as related to ranks. Only in a few telling instances, there was a clear opposition between low-rank tastes and upper-rank tastes. Hence, the recovery thesis must on the whole be rejected. This research will be followed-up by a prosopographical analysis of season-ticket and coupon holders in the Rotterdam theaters from 1773—1916, in which more detailed information on the social backgrounds and particularly on social class division of not anonymous theater audiences in `the long 19th century' is central.

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Journal of Social History
Erasmus School of Economics

Franses, P. H., Gras, H., & Ooms, M. (2003). Did men of taste and civilization save the stage? Theatre-going in Rotterdam, 1860-1916. A statistical analysis of ticket sales. Journal of Social History, 615–655. Retrieved from