One can imagine how busy the river must have looked with all the boats drawn up at the stairs, while a flag with a cross of St. George floated above the theatre, denoting that the play or exhibition was in progress.
The watermen themselves often had fights with the butchers, and settled their differences at the "Bear". It was an age of marked contrasts; and when one thinks of the wit and learning of many of the spectators, one would rather turn from these ruffianly exhibitions and dwell on the other side of the picture.
"What things have we seen
Done at the 'Mermaid' heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame
As if that every man from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest Of his dull life."
During the reign of James the First and Charles the First Drama was well patronised; then came the Puritan reaction, and England was painted drab colour for a time, all plays and interludes interdicted, and play-actors treated as common vagrants.
The Puritans were not likely to forgive or to forget Ben Jonson's play of "Bartholomew Fair" and "Zeal of the Land Busy."
The Thames for a time saw no more of playhouses or theatres on its banks.
This strict suppression under the rule of the "saints" only prepared the way for the licence of the Restoration, when the floodgates of vice and immorality were opened, and "drama" became almost a byword among decent men and women.