back  

2. Companies of players

In 1559, Elizabeth I issued a proclamation calling for all players to be licensed. The earlier informal troupes of travelling players were replaced by new touring companies with patrons from among the Queen’s leading courtiers. In 1583, the Queen became patron of her own company, the Queen’s Men, who played regularly in London as well as touring through England. In 1594, the Queen’s Men were replaced by two newly reorganised companies, the Admiral’s Men and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They shared a monopoly over theatre performances in London.

These companies could invest in their permanent playhouses in the capital. They could put on many more plays, and they could afford expensive costumes. They were thus able to attract regular audiences. Most important, they required the services of dramatists like Shakespeare to create new plays to satisfy those audiences with their insatiable desire for novelty.

Admiral’s Men

The company known as Lord Howard’s Men was formed in 1576 by Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham and 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham. After he became Lord High Admiral in 1585, his company was known as the Admiral’s Men. They are linked to the first performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The company was reorganised in 1594, with Philip Henslowe as manager, and Edward Alleyn as their principal actor. In 1603, they came under the patronage of Prince Henry and were known as the Prince’s Men. In 1613, following the Prince’s death, the Elector Palatine became their patron and they were renamed the Palatine’s Men. The company ceased to play in 1626, after the death of James I. The Admiral’s Men played at the Rose and later at the Fortune.

Lord Strange’s Men

Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange had his own company of players in the 1570s. Lord Strange’s Men played at court in 1591-1592. In 1592 they moved to the Rose and stayed there until 1593. Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage briefly belonged to Lord Strange’s Men, and Shakespeare is also likely to have played with the company. Lord Strange’s Men are linked to the first performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III and Henry VI, Part 2. In 1593, Lord Strange became 5th Earl of Derby and his players were then known as Derby’s Men. They retained this title under his successor, surviving until 1620 although they did not play in London after 1602.

Lord Chamberlain’s Men

Henry Carey, 1st Lord Hunsdon, became Lord Chamberlain in 1585, and his company of players became known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The company was reorganised in 1594, with both Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare among the players. When Henry Carey died in 1596, his son George Carey became 2nd Lord Hunsdon and their patron. The players were known as Lord Hunsdon’s Men until George Carey became Lord Chamberlain in 1597. They kept the name Lord Chamberlain’s Men until the accession of James I in 1603, when they became the King’s Men. Most of Shakespeare’s plays were created for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Between 1594 and 1603, they mostly played in London at the Theatre, and then at the Globe. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men also played at court.

King’s Men

The Lord Chamberlain’s men became the King’s Men following the accession of James I in 1603. Richard Burbage and Shakespeare were among their leading members, and Shakespeare created further plays for the company. As the King’s Men, they continued to play at the Globe. From 1609, they also played at their indoor playhouse at Blackfriars. The King’s Men ceased to exist when the outbreak of the Civil War closed the playhouses in 1642.

Pembroke’s Men

Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, became patron to a company of players in 1591 or 1592. Richard Burbage and Shakespeare may have belonged to Pembroke’s Men, who apparently played at the Theatre. Pembroke’s Men are linked to the earliest performances of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3. The company broke up in 1593, although a troupe of travelling players continued to perform under the Earl’s patronage until his death in 1601.

 
© The British Library