In the 17th century, a groundling was an audience member in the theater's least expensive section. For the price of a penny, groundlings stood just below the stage to view plays.
Groundlings, unable to afford an actual seat, were packed tightly together and stood throughout the entire show. Three British venues admitted groundlings, one of them being the famous Globe Theatre, for which Shakespeare wrote his plays. The Shakespearean character Hamlet even refers to groundlings in the first known written reference to the word. Today groundlings is used for unsophisticated audience members, rather than people paying a penny to stand in the theater's pit.