Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Hissing Definition:

A common law right given to the audiences of public performances to openly express their opinion of the performance.

Sidney Isaacs in his 1927 book, The Law Relating to Theatres, wrote that:

"Almost from time immemorial, it has been the recognised right of an audience to be able to express openly their opinion of the lay (or any other kind of performance which is being given before them) and of the performances of the actors. The modes of expressing feelings of approval or disapproval may vary according to the circumstances but at English law, this right of the audience is ... described as the right to applaud or hiss.

"English law recognises this right of the audience so long as it is legitimately exercised but not if the right is abused, or if it is employed for some unworthy or malicious purpose, or with some ulterior motive, or in pursuance of a conspiracy."

In Clifford, Justice Mansfield wrote:

"The audience have certainly a right to express by applause or hisses the sensations which naturally present themselves at the moment; and nobody has ever hindered or would ever question the exercise of that right.

"But if any body of men were to go to the theatre with the settled intention of hissing an actor, or even of damning a piece, there can be no doubt that such a deliberate and pre-concerted scheme ... might be brought to punishment."

A member of the audience is also expected to behave themselves and any exaggerated hissing would lead to expulsion from the galleries.1

The right to hiss may be contractually curtailed by the terms of a license granted in the form of a ticket to view an event, be it a sporting event or a dramatic or musical event.


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