When Quince first meets his actors in A Midsummer Night's Dream, he tells them who they will be playing and a little about their fictional characters. He also distributes to the actors their ‘parts’, the pieces of paper on which their words are written. Walking away from the meeting, the actors take their paper parts with them for memorising at home: by the time they next gather together, each player must be word-perfect. So the players are going to learn from a text that is only ‘part’ of the play — an idea so strange to scholars that it is still regularly called into question. Passages in plays of the time referring to what is rehearsed often suggest that the verbal content of a play is not the emphasis of collective rehearsal; that a general rehearsal is largely intended to determine action that affects the group. Parts had their effect on the way a performance was watched. With parts informing so fundamentally the way actors performed and audiences watched, they must also have affected the way playwrights wrote.
Despite the fact that the London theatre companies were suspended from playing by order of Parliament in September 1642, an inhibition that lasted (with minor infractions) down to 1660, the seventeen years of theatrical activity during the Caroline period was a time of comparative prosperity and stability. The stability of Caroline playing was in some respects more apparent than real, since before the onset of the political crisis there were various factors that troubled theatrical activity (plague, competition between companies, conflicts between companies and managers, complaints from local residents). Nonetheless, around 1630 the total theatrical economy had achieved what we might think of as a steady state. When in that year the Salisbury Court playhouse in Whitefriars was opened as a new venture, the number of theatres and playing companies operating was at its peak and would remain stable for the next decade. During this period, five companies were active, performing at six venues. The dominant company was the King's Men, who alternated between two playhouses.
Two pivotal events bookend the decade 1583–1593 in Elizabethan theatre history. In March 1582 to 1583, the careers of several leading acting companies were disrupted by the formation of a large new company with a formidable list of principal players. No actor would have resisted the casting call by Edmond Tilney, Master of the Revels, acting under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham, Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I. And none of the patrons of these acting companies would have questioned the departure of their players to join the new Queen's Men, a company that was to dominate the court's annual festive revels as well as the provincial performance calendar across the country for most of the following decade. Available evidence suggests that 1583–1593 was a period of transition in business practices of adult playing companies in England. There was some resilience in patronage of acting companies after the initial shock to the system in 1583. There are several primary sources to consider in piecing together information about company repertories, including the Revels accounts of performances by acting companies at court.
Roslyn L. Knutson
By any measure, 1593 was a very bad year for the playhouse business in England. The late summer outbreak of plague in 1592 continued in the suburbs of London. Adult playing companies took to the road, visiting towns as widespread as Newcastle upon Tyne, Lyme Regis in Dorset, and Norwich. Strange's Men mounted a tour in the summer of 1593 along a route apparently plague-safe and financially rewarding. The company of Pembroke's Men was not so lucky. Also, companies were geographically estranged from their playwrights, who for the most part stayed in London. One in particular, William Shakespeare, apparently considered a change of focus for his skills from drama to poetry. No one therefore could have predicted that the business of playing would enjoy unprecedented commercial success and expansion in the next decade. Theatre historians construct differing narratives about this decade in the theatrical marketplace, but they generally agree that the salient issues are the companies' business models; patrons and political critics; playing venues; the repertory; the book trade; and audiences.
The year 1603 ushered in a new chapter in the history of early modern theatre companies in England. First, it marks the end of one reign and the beginning of another: Elizabeth died on March 24, and James was crowned on July 25. More specifically, as far as the adult playing companies were concerned, it brought a wholesale change in theatrical patronage. These changes of patronage had significant repercussions for the playing companies over the decade that followed. This article examines patronage in relation to other factors that affected the companies' business structures and commercial fortunes between 1603 and 1613, notably the security that two of the companies enjoyed at their playhouses from the turn of the century, the revival of the children's companies around the same time, and the prevalence of plague throughout much of the decade. It also looks at the companies' core product, the plays in their repertories, identifying two further and conflicting influences on dramatic production: the need for playing companies to be competitive, and the evolution of distinctive company styles.
James J. Marino
On June 29, 1613, at the first performance of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's All Is True, the Globe playhouse burned to the ground. The destruction of this iconic theatre might be imagined as a conveniently catastrophic mark for the end of an era. But the conflagration led to nothing more than a piece of colorful London news and a substantial expense for the actors who owned the Globe; none of the audience was hurt, and nothing fundamental about the Jacobean theater changed. The Globe was promptly rebuilt, and improved, while the King's Men continued performing in their Blackfriars venue. The King's Men's consolidation of its dominance limited the prospects for the other adult playing companies, and oddly diminished the general level of competition between the London playhouses. This article traces the history of adult playing companies in England for the period 1613–1625. It looks at playhouse repertories, the causal relationship between the decline and the loss of patronage, boy companies, clowning on the Jacobean stage, and the decline of Palatine's Men and Queen Anne's Men.
W. R. Streitberger
In March 1583, Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, asked Edmond Tilney, then Master of the Revels, to choose a new company of players to serve under the Queen's patronage. Tilney drafted players from several sophisticated companies to create the largest and most talented playing company of the era, one that dominated in the Queen's Revels throughout the 1580s and continued to play in the provinces until the end of her reign. Professional theatre in England dates from as early as the fourteenth century, when groups of players who earned their livelihood from their performances travelled the countryside in search of audiences. Some early playing companies were independent, known by the names of their leading players, but by the late fifteenth century others were under community sponsorship. Between 1572 and 1583, there were at least thirty-five companies with known patrons, but the adult playing companies that offered all fifty-six plays in the revels during this period were patronised by only ten of them, all members of the Queen's family or close personal friends.
‘Archives and Anecdotes’ pursues a historical syntax that can parse both words, since the two have traditionally been understood to exercise independently if not to outright antagonize one another. This chapter argues, however, that theatre anecdotes have at least as much to say about performance as they do about theatre history and myths; therefore it moves away from an assessment of the role anecdotes play in traditional historiography and towards an exploration of how they function in performance studies. Working through several examples, ‘Archives and Anecdotes’ ultimately argues that theatre anecdotes prove prophetic and thus are beholden less to the history of Shakespeare in performance than to its future.
Aristotle’s Poetics has been thought to be inaccessible or misunderstood in sixteenth-century England, but this inherited assumption has drifted far from the primary evidence and lagged behind advances in contiguous fields. As a member of the corpus Aristotelicum, the shared foundation of Western education until the late seventeenth century, the Poetics enjoyed wide circulation, ownership, and interest in Latin and Italian as well as the original Greek. Placing the Poetics in its intellectual context suggests a very different narrative for its reception in English criticism, one that accounts for a multiplicity of readings and uses on both sides of the academic divide. Some of those readings—in Cheke, Ascham, Rainolds, Sidney, and others—are considered in this article, and directions are proposed for future research in what remains a rich and mostly unworked vein of literary history.
Tragedy is central to the Baroque because it explores the powers and limitations of sovereign will; because the changeable fortune and wretched suffering of its illustrious persons can quiet our will to live; and because it takes the measure of humankind in relation to God and an indifferent Nature. Because the Baroque was not an early modern aesthetic category, we can encounter it only through the mediation of later critical theories and aesthetic judgments. This article therefore charts three constellations that come into focus when seen through the right lens. Baroque tragedy in the grand style is best viewed through Wölfflin’s account of the Baroque as a Will-to-Form. Tasso’s Il re Torrismondo and Milton’s Samson Agonistes illustrate it. The Trauerspiel was described by Benjamin in 1928. It owes more to the Mysteries and to Seneca than it does to Attic tragedy. It inhabits the ruins of history but displays a melancholy desire to transform those ruins into emblems. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Simons’s Zeno, and Calderón’s Il principe constante figure in this constellation. The third constellation relies on plot and on a pellucid rhetoric that is liable to crack under stress in order to chart the changing passions of its persons against a Cartesian grid, thus producing what Rapin identifies as the sole pleasure of tragedy: “the Soul is Shaken …; its Trouble pleases, and the Emotion it finds, is a kind of Charm to it.” Racine’s Iphigénie (1674) exemplifies the regular Baroque.
Jonathan Gil Harris
This chapter examines how travellers to the New World and to India made sense of their encounters by framing them specifically in reference to the performance techniques and even the architecture of the theatre, in ways both positive and negative. It first considers John Smith’s description of what he calls a ‘Virginia Maske’ in his Generall History of Virginia (1624), a reminder of how the specific textures of early modern theatricality rather than a generalized, abstract notion of performance shaped travellers’ understandings of ‘all the world’s a stage’. It then looks at the case of Thomas Coryate, England’s first travel writer, to show how theatrical performance became a means of self-transformation in both mind and body, an act of imaginative self-incorporation that blurred subject with object and dissolved the boundaries of cultural identities. It also discusses the theatricality of the court of the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, as described in 1616 by Coryate and Sir Thomas Roe.
The years 1599–1613 were the heyday of boy theatre companies: the decade in which they occasionally triumphed over adult companies and frequently performed some of the best plays available in London. Even if the boy repertories were not designed in opposition to those of adult companies, they did offer a particular type of pleasure. Their plays would have been recognisable not only owing to the age of their actors, but owing to similar preoccupations, delights, and jokes. Five key characteristics recur in many boys' plays of this period. They exhibit a wild, often humorous, fascination with erotic matters, body parts, and cuckoldry; they emphasise the beauty of the boy actor, toying with homoerotic desire; they engage in dangerous satire of the court and government; they often challenge the audience's suspension of disbelief; and they make abundant use of song and learned languages, reflecting the boys' skills as students and musicians. This article traces the history of England's boy companies operating in 1599–1613 and looks at their playhouses, erotic and homoerotic material, music and literacy, satire, and meta-theatricality.
Dana F. Sutton
The launch of the London professional theater saw English academic drama quickly gravitate into the orbit of the popular stage and it catered to much the same audience tastes and expectations. Henceforth, although most university plays were written in Latin, they present many of the same features—including the notorious excesses—of vernacular drama. A number of Cambridge plays reflect the influence of contemporary popular literature, and, above all, that of the plays of William Shakespeare. Accordingly, the dramatic literature of the universities deserves to be regarded as an organic part of the English cultural heritage and should not be marginalized by the label “Neo-Latin.” No serious student of the theater in the late Tudor and early Stuart periods can afford to ignore the university drama of this time. This essay contains a survey of the more important plays produced at Cambridge, where rumbustious comedies written in imitation of those of Plautus and Terence were the standard fare.
Completed in 1966, Liz White’s Othello is the first and only Shakespeare film directed by a black woman, as well as the first cinematic adaptation of a Shakespeare play to feature an all-black cast and crew. When production began in 1962, White was intent on using her landmark adaptation to assert a place for women within the male-dominated black nationalist movements of the 1960s. By focusing on the (mis)treatment of women in Othello, White links their struggle—or lack thereof—to the double displacement of black women within the burgeoning civil rights movement. Particularly in this context, it seems counter-intuitive that White would draw upon conventions from one of the most conservative cinematic genres—the American film musical—to generate an alternative set of signifying practices for articulating civil rights claims and for chronicling the historical process whereby women become the vanishing mediators of social ‘progress’…
This chapter considers productions of Shakespeare’s plays put on in captivity, especially during the First and Second World Wars. It studies the phenomenon of productions of the plays performed at prisons by visiting companies or by the prisoners ‘behind bars’ themselves. It analyses and contextualizes productions of Shakespeare’s plays staged ‘behind barbed wire’ in POW camps and civilian camps, prison camps and transit camps, labour camps and refugee camps during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In so doing, it seeks to use such Shakespearean investment as key to reconstructing the individual experiences of the prisoners. Just as the worldwide practice of Shakespeare staged behind bars has begun to assume a unique position in movies and docudramas, the performance of Shakespeare behind barbed wire has also developed to become a fertile motif in post-war Shakespeare productions and in new post-conflict plays written by dramatists in the ‘free’ world.
This article focuses on a character from theatre history — Christopher Beeston — an actor who once belonged to William Shakespeare's company but who later both joined and, most importantly, formed and managed other playing companies. Beeston also leased, converted, and ran a particular theatre that these companies performed in — the Cockpit off Drury Lane — from around 1616 to his death in 1638. This article also comments on a famous court case which has given evidence about actors and their company troubles in the previous decade. The company in question was the Servants of Queen Anna of Denmark, a parallel company to Shakespeare's Servants of King James, and the theatre the Queen's servants performed in was the Red Bull playhouse in Clerkenwell. Beeston took a central role in both this company and its playhouse. He was also a central concern in a court case known as the Worth v. Baskervile case of 1623, filed by the actor Ellis Worth against Susan Greene, a widow of the actor, clown, and manager of the Queen's servants' company who was called Thomas Greene.
Ian W. Archer
The subject of the city of London's regulation of the theatre has been well served by historians and critics. Most of the relevant documents are in print, the editors of successive volumes of the Malone Society Collections having transcribed the key exchanges of correspondence between the Privy Council and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, and the relevant minutes from the courts of Aldermen and Common Council. The dominant narrative established by E. K. Chambers has been that the city government consistently opposed the theatres, but that its efforts were stymied by the ambivalent stance taken by the Privy Council. It has been suggested that the Privy Council's objective may have been the containment of playing by limiting the numbers of playing companies licensed to perform. The city elite may have been less united over its attitude towards the drama.
John H. Astington
Since the reign of Queen Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, Whitehall, next to the older medieval palace of Westminster, had become the chief royal seat. William Shakespeare and his fellow actors were licensed to perform as servants of Queen Elizabeth's lord chamberlains, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon (until 1596), and George Carey, his son (from 1597). The patronage of the court in and around the London area had a good deal to do with the growth of the professional theatre in the metropolis during the sixteenth century. Actors in the 1590s might have considered performing in their playhouses in the afternoon of the same day, at the time they habitually did for the paying public, perhaps giving a further runthrough of the piece they were to present before the court at night. Actors and playwrights contributed their work to the splendour of the court, and the entertainment they offered, paid for out of the royal purse, formed part of the magnificent hospitality the kings and queens of England provided for their entourage and guests.
This article explores the players' relationship with the Master of the Revels and the court and suggests that the call to perform at court was always of more professional significance than traditional accounts of early modern theatre in England have allowed. That being the case, the court was always a distinctive arbiter of theatrical taste and practice, long before it became an unavoidable fact of life in the Caroline period. It helped to set the theatrical agenda and did not merely consume what happened to be available. And the key negotiating figures in all of this were the Masters of the Revels — specifically Edmund Tilney, who served from 1578 to 1610; Sir George Buc, 1610 to 1622; and Sir Henry Herbert, 1623 to the closing of the theatres and into the Restoration.
Though it has been much criticized by theatre artists and scholars, the legacy of theatrical realism and naturalism continues to shape contemporary Shakespearean performance. If realist and naturalist approaches to acting fail to encompass the full power of the Shakespearean play-text—or to remedy its more problematic aspects—is this failure necessarily unproductive? Considering this question in relation to the play-text of Antony and Cleopatra and a few of its recent theatrical incarnations, this chapter argues that the lacks, omissions, and failures of realist and naturalist modes of performance can provoke spectators to engage anew with Shakespeare’s lovers and their potential significance for contemporary Western audiences. Acknowledgement of the persistence and value of such traditional modes can add to the complexity of audience reception studies of Shakespeare..