In Shakespeare’s theatre actors were called players. There were no actresses, so women’s parts were played by boys. Some boys began their careers as Children of the Chapel Royal, while others were taken on by companies to play female roles. The leading players trained apprentices, although very little is known about how acting was taught. There is very little evidence about acting styles in this period. Some players were well known as fools or clowns, while others specialised in tragic roles. The leading players were sharers in their company, receiving part of the profits from performances but also bearing financial responsibility for its assets. Most players were hired men, paid an agreed rate for their performances.
In 1592, Edward Alleyn was the leading player of Lord Strange’s Men at the Rose. In the same year he married the step-daughter of Philip Henslowe, the Rose’s proprietor. By 1594, Alleyn was leading the Admiral’s Men and he later appeared with them at the Fortune. He created the principal roles in many of Christopher Marlowe’s plays. Alleyn retired sometime before 1606. He founded Dulwich College (a school in south London) in 1619.
The comedian Robert Armin succeeded William Kemp as clown in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1599. His roles included Touchstone in As You Like It, Feste in Twelfth Night, Lavatch in All’s Well That Ends Well, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, and the Fool in King Lear. Armin was also a writer. His collection of tales Foole upon Foole was first published in 1600, and his play Two Maids of More-Clacke appeared in 1609.
James Burbage began as a joiner. By 1572 he was a player, as one of Leicester’s Men, but he seems to have given up acting once he became a theatre manager. In 1576 he built the Theatre, which he ran until his death. James Burbage was the father of Richard Burbage.
Shakespeare’s leading player, Richard Burbage was the son of James Burbage the builder of the Theatre. He began his acting career in the mid-1580s. By the mid-1590s he was a leading sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Richard Burbage played the title-roles in Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello. He may have taken leading roles in all of Shakespeare’s plays after the opening of the Globe in 1599.
The player Henry Condell was a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men) from 1598 until his death in 1627. With John Heminge, he was responsible for the printing of the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623.
Nathan Field began his acting career in about 1600, as a member of the company of boy players at Blackfriars. In about 1616 he joined the King’s Men. He may have been intended for one of the principal roles in The Two Noble Kinsmen when the play was to be revived in 1619-1620.
Robert Goughe began as a boy player, and appeared with the company known from 1585 as the Admiral’s Men. In 1619, he was a sharer in the King’s Men. It has been suggested that the boy player Robert Goffe created the role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, but there is no evidence to connect him with Robert Goughe.
The player John Heminge was a leading sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men) from 1596 until his death in 1630. He may have played Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. With Henry Condell, he was responsible for the printing of the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623.
The playhouse proprietor Philip Henslowe built the Rose in 1587, and the Fortune in 1600. He was particularly associated with the Admiral’s Men. His book of accounts and memoranda (referred to as his ‘Diary’) provides important information about Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. It is preserved among other papers deposited at Dulwich College by his son-in-law Edward Alleyn.
The comedian William Kemp (or Kempe) is first recorded in 1585. From 1594 to 1599, he was the clown in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Kemp played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing and Peter in Romeo and Juliet. It has been suggested that he also played Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, and Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Kemps Nine Daies Wonder records his performance of a morris dance from London to Norwich in 1600.
The player John Lowin became a member of the King’s Men in 1603. He may have played Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1 and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and taken one of the principal roles in The Two Noble Kinsmen. Shakespeare is said to have instructed him in the title-role of Henry VIII (All is True). Lowin was a sharer in the company by 1610. After the death of John Heminge, he became joint manager with Joseph Taylor of the King’s Men.
Augustine Phillips was a player with Lord Strange’s Men in 1593. In 1594 he was a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and he remained with the company after it became the King’s Men until his death in 1605. Phillips’s roles in Shakespeare’s plays may have included Bolingbroke in Richard II, and King Henry in Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2.
Thomas Pope is first mentioned among players visiting Elsinore in 1586. By 1597 he was a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with whom he stayed until 1603. Pope may have played Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2.
John Sincklo (or Sinclo, or Sincler) was a player with Pembroke’s Men in 1592. By 1598 he was acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Sincklo was apparently very thin, and his roles seem to have included Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor. His acting career seems to have lasted from 1592 until 1604.
The player William Sly had become a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men by 1597, and he remained with the company after it became the King’s Men until his death in 1608. He may have played the role of Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1.
Joseph Taylor is recorded as a player in 1610. From 1616 to 1619, he played with the Prince’s Men (previously the Admiral’s Men). In 1619, Taylor joined the King’s Men, succeeding Richard Burbage as the company’s principal actor. He played the title-role in Hamlet, Iago in Othello, and perhaps took one of the principal roles in The Two Noble Kinsmen. By 1624 Taylor was a sharer in the King’s Men, and became a manager of the company with John Lowin in 1630.
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