||The Elizabethan common players had a humble beginning. The 1572 Act for the punishment of vagabonds classed masterless and unlicensed “fencers, bear-wards, common players in interludes and minstrels” etc. as rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars. Nevertheless, by the 1590s when Shakespeare started writing his major plays for the Chamberlain’s Men, acting, at least what was done by the two officially licensed adult companies in London, was a bona fide occupation. Although the word “profession” has been freely used to describe the job of Elizabethan common players, the appropriateness of this usage is not certain since the word can only be applied in its broadest sense. We therefore need to begin by examining the meanings of “profession” in the context of the early modern period. This examination is then followed by a look at the history of the emergence of commercial theatre in the early sixteenth century to see how the common players’ professionalism evolved. Finally, concepts of profession will be used to discuss Shakespeare’s treatments of players and play-acting in his dramatic works. Shakespeare’s representation of players’ dependence on aristocratic patronage lags behind the reality of the commercial success of licensed companies. Yet, in suggesting players’ unique license to change identities and create theatrical illusions, pointing out the skills required to create such illusions, and not to mention composing psychologically complex characters for lead actors of his company, Shakespeare affirms that acting was on its way to become a profession. Professionalization involves division of labour and specialism in a society. The rise of the common players should be seen as part of the dynamics of occupational specialization in early modern England as a result of economic, social, and cultural changes of the times.
在十五到十六世紀之間，英國社會還無法承認演戲是一種可以和其他行業平起平坐的全職工作。然而，演員這一行背後有至少兩百年的娛樂表演歷史。英國戲劇在十六、十七世紀之交顯著地蓬勃發展；演員的社會地位也於此時開始提升。儘管因演戲而致富的仍是少數，但已證明演戲確實是一種可以謀生的工作，足以吸引新血加入。 演員社會地位提升的意義不僅僅在於生活條件的改善，更重要的在於演戲成為一項被認可的職業。而擺脫了與乞丐、流浪漢同類的命運之後，演員就和其他行業一樣，在現代化的過程中，要朝向專業化 (professionalization) 發展。各行各業專業化的過程和速度並不一致。演員專業化的進度也受到經濟、社會、文化等因素影響。本文所要探討的是，從中世紀到文藝復興時期，演員這一職業的社會意義如何因為諸多因素，如工作與休閒的新定義與市場經濟的發展，而產生重大改變。 莎士比亞劇本人物中的演員角色，多以依賴權貴贊助、巡迴流浪的形象出現，與莎士比亞劇團的實際運作情形很不相同。然而，莎士比亞經常在劇中傳達演戲乃是需要技術的行為，而演員則是有社會的默許，可以變換身分，扮演與自身完全不同的人物。莎劇一方面促使演員施展演技，也間接地為演員這個職業定義了其專業範圍，這是演戲走向專業化的重要發展。