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English Renaissance theatre

File:The Swan cropped.png
A 1596 sketch of a rehearsal in progress on the thrust stage of The Swan, a typical circular Elizabethan open-roof playhouse.

English Renaissance theatre, also known as early modern English theatre, or (commonly) as Elizabethan theatre, refers to the theatre of England between 1562 and 1642.

This is the style of the plays of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson.


English Renaissance theatre encompasses the period between 1562 (performance at the Inner Temple during the Christmas season of 1561 of Gorboduc, the first English play using blank verse) and 1642 (ban on theatrical plays enacted by the English Parliament).

The phrase Elizabethan theatre is used at times improperly, especially in languages other than English[citation needed], to mean English Renaissance theatre, even though in a strict sense this only applies to 1603. Strictly speaking one distinguishes within English Renaissance theatre between Elizabethan theatre from 1562 to 1603, Jacobean theatre from 1603 to 1625 and Caroline theatre from 1625 to 1642

Along with the economics of the profession, the character of the drama changed towards the end of the period. Under Elizabeth, the drama was a unified expression as far as social class was concerned: the Court watched the same plays the commoners saw in the public playhouses. With the development of the private theatres, drama became more oriented towards the tastes and values of an upper-class audience. By the later part of the reign of Charles I, few new plays were being written for the public theatres, which sustained themselves on the accumulated works of the previous decades.[1]

Theatrical life and the establishment of permanent theatres

Theatrical life was largely centred just outside of London, as the theatre was banned inside the city itself, but plays were performed by touring companies all over England.[2]

English companies even toured and performed English plays abroad, e.g. in Germany and in Denmark.[3]

The period starts before the establishment of the first permanent theatres. Initially two types of location were used for performing plays, the courtyards of inns and the Inns of Court such as the Inner Temple. These venues continued to be used even after permanent theatres were established.

The first permanent English theatre, the 'Red Lion' opened in 1567[4] but it was a short-lived failure. The first successful theatres, such as The Theatre, opened in 1576.

The establishment of large and profitable public theatres was an essential enabling factor in the success of English Renaissance drama. Once they were in operation, drama could become a fixed and permanent rather than a transitory phenomenon. Their construction was prompted when the Mayor and Corporation of London first banned plays in 1572 as a measure against the plague, and then formally expelled all players from the city in 1575.[5] This prompted the construction of permanent playhouses outside the jurisdiction of London, in the liberties of Halliwell/Holywell in Shoreditch and later the Clink, and at Newington Butts near the established entertainment district of St. George's Fields in rural Surrey.[5] The Theatre was constructed in Shoreditch in 1576 by James Burbage with his brother-in-law John Brayne (the owner of the unsuccessful Red Lion playhouse of 1567)[6] and the Newington Butts playhouse was set up, probably by Jerome Savage, some time between 1575[7] and 1577.[8] The Theatre was rapidly followed by the nearby Curtain Theatre (1577), the Rose (1587), the Swan (1595), the Globe (1599), the Fortune (1600), and the Red Bull (1604).[9]

Archaeological excavations on the foundations of the Rose and the Globe in the late 20th century showed that all the London theatres had individual differences; yet their common function necessitated a similar general plan.[10] The public theatres were three stories high, and built around an open space at the centre. Usually polygonal in plan to give an overall rounded effect (though the Red Bull and the first Fortune were square), the three levels of inward-facing galleries overlooked the open centre, into which jutted the stage—essentially a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience, only the rear being restricted for the entrances and exits of the actors and seating for the musicians. The upper level behind the stage could be used as a balcony, as in Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra, or as a position from which an actor could harangue a crowd, as in Julius Caesar.[citation needed]

The playhouses were generally built with timber and plaster, and were three stories high. Individual theatre descriptions give additional information to their construction, such as flint stones being used to build the Swan. Theatres were also constructed to be able to hold large amounts of people.[11]

A different model was developed with the Blackfriars Theatre, which came into regular use on a long-term basis in 1599.[12] The Blackfriars was small in comparison to the earlier theatres and roofed rather than open to the sky; it resembled a modern theatre in ways that its predecessors did not. Other small enclosed theatres followed, notably the Whitefriars (1608) and the Cockpit (1617). With the building of the Salisbury Court Theatre in 1629 near the site of the defunct Whitefriars, the London audience had six theatres to choose from: three surviving large open-air "public" theatres, the Globe, the Fortune, and the Red Bull, and three smaller enclosed "private" theatres, the Blackfriars, the Cockpit, and the Salisbury Court.[13] Audiences of the 1630s benefited from a half-century of vigorous dramaturgical development; the plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare and their contemporaries were still being performed on a regular basis (mostly at the public theatres), while the newest works of the newest playwrights were abundant as well (mainly at the private theatres).[citation needed]

Around 1580, when both the Theatre and the Curtain were full on summer days, the total theatre capacity of London was about 5000 spectators. With the building of new theatre facilities and the formation of new companies, the capital's total theatre capacity exceeded 10,000 after 1610.[14]

Ticket prices in general varied during this time period. The cost of admission was based on where in the theatre a person wished to be situated, or based on what a person could afford. If people wanted a better view of the stage or to be more separate from the crowd, they would pay more for their entrance. Due to inflation that occurred during this time period, admission increased in some theatres from a penny to a sixpence or even higher.[15]


The acting companies functioned on a repertory system; unlike modern productions that can run for months or years on end, the troupes of this era rarely acted the same play two days in a row. Thomas Middleton's A Game at Chess ran for nine straight performances in August 1624 before it was closed by the authorities—but this was due to the political content of the play and was a unique, unprecedented, and unrepeatable phenomenon. Consider the 1592 season of Lord Strange's Men at the Rose Theatre as far more representative: between 19 Feb. and 23 June the company played six days a week, minus Good Friday and two other days. They performed 23 different plays, some only once, and their most popular play of the season, The First Part of Hieronimo, (based on Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy), 15 times. They never played the same play two days in a row, and rarely the same play twice in a week.[16] The workload on the actors, especially the leading performers like Edward Alleyn, must have been tremendous.

One distinctive feature of the companies was that they included only males. Female parts were played by adolescent boy players in women's costume. Performances also occurred in the afternoon since no artificial lighting existed. When the light did begin to fade, candles were lit so that the play could continue until its end.[17] Plays contained little to no scenery as the scenery was described by the actors through the course of the play. [18]


Costumes during this time period were often bright in color, visually entrancing, and expensive. Due to the fast-paced nature of the plays and their runs, there was sometimes not even enough time to create period specific costumes for the actors. As a result, the actors wore contemporary and not period specific clothing for the plays. Occasionally costumes were donated to actors by patrons, but more often than not, actors wore the clothes of their day.

Costumes were also used to recognize characters. Colors symbolized class, and costumes were made to reflect that. For example, if a character was royalty, their costume included purple. The colors as well as the different fabrics of the costumes allowed viewers to know the roles of each actor when they came on stage.[19] Even though the English Sumptuary Law of 1574, a law which clearly defined the color, style, and fabric of the clothing different castes could wear, was in effect, a clause was built in that allowed actors to dress in clothes that were above their rank so long as they belonged to a licensed acting troupe. [20][21][22]


The growing population of London, the growing wealth of its people, and their fondness for spectacle produced a dramatic literature of remarkable variety, quality, and extent. Although most of the plays written for the Elizabethan stage have been lost, over 600 remain.

The men (no women were professional dramatists in this era) who wrote these plays were primarily self-made men from modest backgrounds.[23] Some of them were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, but many were not. Although William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were actors, the majority do not seem to have been performers, and no major author who came on to the scene after 1600 is known to have supplemented his income by acting.

Not all of the playwrights fit modern images of poets or intellectuals. Christopher Marlowe was killed in an apparent tavern brawl, while Ben Jonson killed an actor in a duel. Several probably were soldiers.

Playwrights were normally paid in increments during the writing process, and if their play was accepted, they would also receive the proceeds from one day's performance. However, they had no ownership of the plays they wrote. Once a play was sold to a company, the company owned it, and the playwright had no control over casting, performance, revision or publication.

The profession of dramatist was challenging and far from lucrative.[24] Entries in Philip Henslowe's Diary show that in the years around 1600 Henslowe paid as little as £6 or £7 per play. This was probably at the low end of the range, though even the best writers could not demand too much more. A playwright, working alone, could generally produce two plays a year at most; in the 1630s Richard Brome signed a contract with the Salisbury Court Theatre to supply three plays a year, but found himself unable to meet the workload. Shakespeare produced fewer than 40 solo plays in a career that spanned more than two decades; he was financially successful because he was an actor and, most importantly, a shareholder in the company for which he acted and in the theatres they used. Ben Jonson achieved success as a purveyor of Court masques, and was talented at playing the patronage game that was an important part of the social and economic life of the era. Those who were playwrights pure and simple fared far less well; the biographies of early figures like George Peele and Robert Greene, and later ones like Brome and Philip Massinger, are marked by financial uncertainty, struggle, and poverty.

Playwrights dealt with the natural limitation on their productivity by combining into teams of two, three, four, and even five to generate play texts; the majority of plays written in this era were collaborations, and the solo artists who generally eschewed collaborative efforts, like Jonson and Shakespeare, were the exceptions to the rule. Dividing the work, of course, meant dividing the income; but the arrangement seems to have functioned well enough to have made it worthwhile. (The truism that says, diversify your investments, may have worked for the Elizabethan play market as for the modern stock market.) Of the 70-plus known works in the canon of Thomas Dekker, roughly 50 are collaborations; in a single year, 1598, Dekker worked on 16 collaborations for impresario Philip Henslowe, and earned £30, or a little under 12 shillings per week—roughly twice as much as the average artisan's income of 1s. per day.[25] At the end of his career, Thomas Heywood would famously claim to have had "an entire hand, or at least a main finger" in the authorship of some 220 plays. A solo artist usually needed months to write a play (though Jonson is said to have done Volpone in five weeks); Henslowe's Diary indicates that a team of four or five writers could produce a play in as little as two weeks. Admittedly, though, the Diary also shows that teams of Henslowe's house dramatists—Anthony Munday, Robert Wilson, Richard Hathwaye, Henry Chettle, and the others, even including a young John Webster—could start a project, and accept advances on it, yet fail to produce anything stageworthy. (Modern understanding of collaboration in this era is biased by the fact that the failures have generally disappeared with barely a trace; for one exception to this rule, see: Sir Thomas More.).[26] Most playwrights, like Shakespeare for example, wrote in verse.


English Renaissance Playwrights Timeline <timeline> ImageSize = width:900 height:450 PlotArea = left:120 bottom:80 top:10 right:10 AlignBars = justify DateFormat = yyyy Period = from:1550 till:1666 TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal format:yyyy

Colors =

 id:Early value:skyblue     legend:Early_life
 id:Plays value:brightblue  legend:Playwrighting_career
 id:PostP value:gray(0.8)   legend:Post-playwrighting_life
 id:line1 value:black       legend:Accession_of_monarch
 id:line2 value:green       legend:Opening_of_Burbage's_The_Theatre
 id:line3 value:red         legend:Closing_of_theatres
 id:bars  value:white

Legend = orientation:vertical position:bottom columns:1 BackgroundColors = bars:bars ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:4 start:1550 ScaleMinor = unit:year increment:1 start:1550

BarData = #Note that bars are ordered by career rather than birth

 bar:Peele       text:George Peele
 bar:Lily        text:John Lyly
 bar:Kyd         text:Thomas Kyd
 bar:Marlowe     text:Christopher Marlowe
 bar:Greene      text:Robert Greene
 bar:Shakespeare text:William Shakespeare
 bar:Chapman     text:George Chapman
 bar:Jonson      text:Ben Jonson
 bar:Dekker      text:Thomas Dekker
 bar:Marston     text:John Marston
 bar:Heywood     text:Thomas Heywood
 bar:Webster     text:John Webster
 bar:Middleton   text:Thomas Middleton
 bar:Fletcher    text:John Fletcher
 bar:Beaumont    text:Francis Beaumont
 bar:Rowley      text:William Rowley
 bar:Massinger   text:Philip Massinger
 bar:Ford        text:John Ford
 bar:Brome       text:Richard Brome
 bar:Shirley     text:James Shirley


 width:10 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from shift:(3,-4)
 bar:Labels at:1558 text:Elizabeth I
 bar:Labels at:1603 text:James I
 bar:Labels at:1625 text:Charles I
 bar:Labels at:1660 text:Charles II
 bar:Lily        from:1553 till:1584 color:Early
 bar:Lily        from:1584 till:1594 color:Plays
 bar:Lily        from:1594 till:1606 color:PostP
 bar:Peele       from:1556 till:1581 color:Early
 bar:Peele       from:1581 till:1595 color:Plays
 bar:Peele       from:1595 till:1596 color:PostP
 bar:Greene      from:1558 till:1588 color:Early
 bar:Greene      from:1588 till:1592 color:Plays
 bar:Greene      from:1592 till:1592 color:PostP
 bar:Kyd         from:1558 till:1586 color:Early
 bar:Kyd         from:1586 till:1594 color:Plays
 bar:Kyd         from:1594 till:1594 color:PostP
 bar:Chapman     from:1559 till:1596 color:Early
 bar:Chapman     from:1596 till:1616 color:Plays
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 bar:Marlowe     from:1587 till:1592 color:Plays
 bar:Marlowe     from:1592 till:1593 color:PostP
 bar:Shakespeare from:1564 till:1590 color:Early
 bar:Shakespeare from:1590 till:1613 color:Plays
 bar:Shakespeare from:1613 till:1616 color:PostP
 bar:Jonson      from:1572 till:1596 color:Early
 bar:Jonson      from:1596 till:1637 color:Plays
 bar:Jonson      from:1637 till:1637 color:PostP
 bar:Dekker      from:1572 till:1598 color:Early
 bar:Dekker      from:1598 till:1624 color:Plays
 bar:Dekker      from:1624 till:1632 color:PostP
 bar:Heywood     from:1573 till:1600 color:Early
 bar:Heywood     from:1600 till:1634 color:Plays
 bar:Heywood     from:1634 till:1641 color:PostP
 bar:Marston     from:1576 till:1599 color:Early
 bar:Marston     from:1599 till:1608 color:Plays
 bar:Marston     from:1608 till:1634 color:PostP
 bar:Fletcher    from:1579 till:1606 color:Early
 bar:Fletcher    from:1606 till:1624 color:Plays
 bar:Fletcher    from:1624 till:1625 color:PostP
 bar:Webster     from:1580 till:1602 color:Early
 bar:Webster     from:1602 till:1624 color:Plays
 bar:Webster     from:1624 till:1634 color:PostP
 bar:Middleton   from:1580 till:1603 color:Early
 bar:Middleton   from:1603 till:1624 color:Plays
 bar:Middleton   from:1624 till:1627 color:PostP
 bar:Massinger   from:1583 till:1613 color:Early
 bar:Massinger   from:1613 till:1636 color:Plays
 bar:Massinger   from:1636 till:1640 color:PostP
 bar:Beaumont    from:1584 till:1606 color:Early
 bar:Beaumont   from:1606 till:1616 color:Plays
 bar:Beaumont   from:1616 till:1616 color:PostP
 bar:Rowley     from:1585 till:1607 color:Early
 bar:Rowley     from:1607 till:1624 color:Plays
 bar:Rowley     from:1624 till:1626 color:PostP
 bar:Ford       from:1586 till:1621 color:Early
 bar:Ford       from:1621 till:1638 color:Plays
 bar:Ford       from:1638 till:1640 color:PostP
 bar:Brome      from:1590 till:1623 color:Early
 bar:Brome      from:1623 till:1642 color:Plays
 bar:Brome      from:1642 till:1653 color:PostP
 bar:Shirley    from:1596 till:1625 color:Early
 bar:Shirley    from:1625 till:1642 color:Plays
 bar:Shirley    from:1642 till:1666 color:PostP
 bar:Peele       at:1583 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Lily        at:1580 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Kyd         at:1585 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Marlowe     at:1591 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Greene      at:1585 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Shakespeare at:1591 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Chapman     at:1586 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Jonson      at:1599 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Dekker      at:1599 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Marston     at:1603 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Heywood     at:1600 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Webster     at:1607 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Middleton   at:1607 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Fletcher    at:1606 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Beaumont    at:1611 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Rowley      at:1612 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Massinger   at:1610 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Ford        at:1613 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Brome       at:1617 mark:(line,yellow)
 bar:Shirley     at:1623 mark:(line,yellow)
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 at:1660 color:line1 layer:back
 at:1576 color:line2 layer:back
 at:1642 color:line3 layer:back


Short yellow lines indicate 27 years — the average age these authors began their playwrighting careers.


Genres of the period included the history play, which depicted English or European history. Shakespeare's plays about the lives of kings, such as Richard III and Henry V, belong to this category, as do Christopher Marlowe's Edward II and George Peele's Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First. History plays dealt with more recent events, like A Larum for London which dramatizes the sack of Antwerp in 1576.

Tragedy was an amazingly popular genre. Marlowe's tragedies were exceptionally popular, such as Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta. The audiences particularly liked revenge dramas, such as Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. The four tragedies considered to be Shakespeare's greatest (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth) were composed during this period, as well as many others (see Shakespearean tragedy).

Comedies were common, too. A subgenre developed in this period was the city comedy, which deals satirically with life in London after the fashion of Roman New Comedy. Examples are Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday and Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.

Though marginalised, the older genres like pastoral (The Faithful Shepherdess, 1608), and even the morality play (Four Plays in One, ca. 1608-13) could exert influences. After about 1610, the new hybrid subgenre of the tragicomedy enjoyed an efflorescence, as did the masque throughout the reigns of the first two Stuart kings, James I and Charles I.

Printed texts

Only a minority of the plays of English Renaissance theatre were ever printed; of Heywood's 220 plays noted above, only about 20 were published in book form.[27] A little over 600 plays were published in the period as a whole, most commonly in individual quarto editions. (Larger collected editions, like those of Shakespeare's, Ben Jonson's, and Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, were a late and limited development.) Through much of the modern era, it was thought that play texts were popular items among Renaissance readers that provided healthy profits for the stationers who printed and sold them. By the turn of the 21st century, the climate of scholarly opinion shifted somewhat on this belief: some contemporary researchers argue that publishing plays was a risky and marginal business[28]—though this conclusion has been disputed by others.[29] Some of the most successful publishers of the English Renaissance, like William Ponsonby or Edward Blount, rarely published plays.

A small number of plays from the era survived not in printed texts but in manuscript form.[30]

End of English Renaissance theatre: ban on plays by the English Parliament

The rising Puritan movement was hostile toward theatre, as they felt that "entertainment" was sinful. Politically, playwrights and actors were clients of the monarchy and aristocracy, and most supported the Royalist cause. The Puritan faction, long powerful in London, gained control of the city early in the First English Civil War, and on 2 September 1642, the Parliament, pushed by the Parliamentarian party, under Puritan influence, banned the staging of plays in the London theatres[31] though it did not, contrary to what is commonly stated, order the closure, let alone the destruction, of the theatres themselves:

The text of the act is as follows: Whereas the distressed Estate of Ireland, steeped in her own Blood, and the distracted Estate of England, threatened with a Cloud of Blood by a Civil War, call for all possible Means to appease and avert the Wrath of God, appearing in these Judgements; among which, Fasting and Prayer, having been often tried to be very effectual, having been lately and are still enjoined; and whereas Public Sports do not well agree with Public Calamities, nor Public Stage-plays with the Seasons of Humiliation, this being an Exercise of sad and pious Solemnity, and the other being Spectacles of Pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious Mirth and Levity: It is therefore thought fit, and Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in this Parliament assembled, That, while these sad causes and set Times of Humiliation do continue, Public Stage Plays shall cease, and be forborn, instead of which are recommended to the People of this Land the profitable and seasonable considerations of Repentance, Reconciliation, and Peace with God, which probably may produce outward Peace and Prosperity, and bring again Times of Joy and Gladness to these Nations.[32]

Note that the Act purports the ban to be temporary ("...while these sad causes and set Times of Humiliation do continue, Public Stage Plays shall cease and be forborn") but does not assign a time limit to it.

After 1642, during the English Civil War and the ensuing Interregnum (English Commonwealth), even after the Puritan mandated banning of the performance of plays, theatrical activity which continued English Renaissance theatre could be seen to some extent, e.g. in the form of short comical plays called Drolls that were allowed by the authorities, while proper full-length plays were banned. The theatres were not closed. The buildings were used for purposes other than staging plays.[33]

The performance of plays remained banned for most of the next eighteen years, becoming allowed again after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The theatres started again performing many of the plays of the previous era, though often in adapted forms; new genres of Restoration comedy and spectacle soon evolved, giving English theatre of the later seventeenth century its distinctive character.

List of playwrights (some of these are actors, not playwrights)


Playing companies

Main article: Playing companies

English Renaissance Playing Company Timeline <timeline> ImageSize = width:900 height:450 PlotArea = left:205 bottom:80 top:10 right:10 AlignBars = justify DateFormat = yyyy Period = from:1572 till:1642 TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal format:yyyy

Colors =

 id:AdLon value:yellow2     legend:Adult_company,_chiefly_in_London
 id:AdPro value:green       legend:Adult_company,_chiefly_provincial
 id:Child value:redorange   legend:Children's_company
 id:line1 value:red         legend:Major_reorganization
 id:line2 value:black       legend:Accession_of_monarch
 id:bars  value:gray(0.9)

Legend = orientation:vertical position:bottom columns:1 BackgroundColors = bars:bars ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:3 start:1572 ScaleMinor = unit:year increment:1 start:1572

BarData =

 bar:PC2 text:Prince Charles's Men (II)
 bar:APP text:Admiral's/Prince Henry's/Palgrave's Men
 bar:LS  text:Lord Strange's/Earl of Derby's Men
 bar:LCK text:Lord Chamberlain's Men/King's Men
 bar:P   text:Pembroke's Men
 bar:QE  text:Queen Elizabeth's Men
 bar:EL  text:Leicester's Men
 bar:O   text:Oxford's Men
 bar:W   text:Worcester's Men
 bar:QA  text:Queen Anne's Men
 bar:DYC text:Duke of York's/Prince Charles's Men
 bar:S   text:Sussex's Men
 bar:L   text:Lennox's Men
 bar:LE  text:Lady Elizabeth's/Queen of Bohemia's Men
 bar:QH  text:Queen Henrietta's Men
 bar:CP  text:Children of Paul's
 bar:CC  text:Children of the Chapel/Blackfriars etc.
 bar:BB  text:Beeston's Boys


 width:15 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from shift:(3,-4)
 bar:LS   from:1572 till:1593 color:AdLon text:Ferdinando Stanley
  bar:LS  from:1593 till:1618 color:AdPro text:William Stanley
 bar:P    from:1575 till:1600 color:AdPro text:Henry Herbert
  bar:P   from:1597 till:1598 color:AdLon #Gurr 1992, p 42.
 bar:QE   from:1583 till:1594 color:AdLon text:Elizabeth I #Gurr 1992, pp 28,41.
 bar:EL   from:1574 till:1583 color:AdLon text:Robert Dudley #Gurr 1992, p 30.
  bar:EL  from:1583 till:1588 color:AdPro
 bar:LCK  from:1594 till:1642 color:AdLon text:HC
  bar:LCK at:1596 mark:(line,white) at:1596 text:George Carey
  bar:LCK at:1603 mark:(line,white) at:1603 text:James I
  bar:LCK at:1625 mark:(line,white) at:1625 text:Charles I
 bar:W    from:1572 till:1602 color:AdPro text:William Somerset
  bar:W   from:1602 till:1603 color:AdLon
  bar:W   at:1589 mark:(line,white) at:1589 text:Edward Somerset
 bar:QA   from:1603 till:1623 color:AdLon text:Anne of Denmark
 bar:O    from:1580 till:1587 color:AdPro text:Edward de Vere
  bar:O   from:1597 till:1602 color:AdPro
  bar:O   from:1602 till:1603 color:AdLon
 bar:DYC  from:1608 till:1625 color:AdLon text:Charles I
 bar:APP  from:1576 till:1631 color:AdLon text:Charles Howard
  bar:APP at:1604 mark:(line,white) at:1604 text:Prince Henry
  bar:APP at:1613 mark:(line,white) at:1613 text:Frederick V, Elector Palatine
 bar:S    from:1572 till:1618 color:AdPro text:Thomas Radclyffe
  bar:S   at:1583 mark:(line,white) at:1583 text:Henry Radclyffe
  bar:S   at:1593 mark:(line,white) at:1593 text:Robert Radclyffe
 bar:L    from:1604 till:1608 color:AdPro text:Ludovic Stewart
 bar:PC2  from:1631 till:1642 color:AdLon text:Charles II
 bar:LE   from:1611 till:1616 color:AdLon text:Elizabeth Stuart
  bar:LE  from:1616 till:1622 color:AdPro
  bar:LE  from:1622 till:1628 color:AdLon
  bar:LE  from:1628 till:1632 color:AdPro
 bar:QH   from:1625 till:1642 color:AdLon text:Henrietta Maria of France
 bar:CC   from:1576 till:1584 color:Child text:Richard Farrant #Gurr 1992, p 33. 
  bar:CC  from:1600 till:1608 color:Child text:Henry Evans et al #Gurr 1992, pp 50-51,54.
  bar:CC  from:1610 till:1616 color:Child #Gurr 1992, pp 54.
 bar:CP   from:1572 till:1590 color:Child text:Sebastian Westcott #Gurr 1992, p 33.
  bar:CP  from:1598 till:1606 color:Child #Gurr 1992, p 51.
  bar:CP  at:1584 mark:(line,white) at:1584 text:Thomas Giles #Gurr 1992, p 33.
 bar:BB   from:1637 till:1642 color:Child text:C Beeston
 bar:PC2  at:1594 align:right textcolor:black fontsize:XS text:Admiral's+Strange's amalgamated 1590-1594 #Gurr 1992, p 34.
 bar:O    at:1603 align:left textcolor:black fontsize:XS text:Worcester's+Oxford's amalgamated 1602-1603 #Gurr 1992, p 48.
 bar:W    at:1603 align:left textcolor:black fontsize:XS text:Worcester's+Oxford's form Queen Anne's
 bar:QE   at:1583 align:right textcolor:black fontsize:XS text:Q's skims from Leic, Ox, Sus
 bar:APP  at:1631 align:left textcolor:black fontsize:XS text:Palgrave's core forms PCII
 bar:LCK  at:1594 align:right textcolor:black fontsize:XS text:LC core likely from Admiral's+Strange's & Pembroke's
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 at:1583 color:line1 layer:back #Gurr 1992, p 28.
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SOURCES: Gurr 1992: Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642 (3rd ed). Cambridge University Press, 1992. <#


This timeline charts the existence of major English playing companies from 1572 ("Acte for the punishment of Vacabondes", which legally restricted acting to players with a patron of sufficient degree) to 1642 (the closing of the theatres by Parliament). A variety of strolling players, and even early London-based troupes existed before 1572. The situations were often fluid, and much of this history is obscure; this timeline necessarily implies more precision than exists in some cases. The labels down the left indicate the most common names for the companies. The bar segments indicate the specific patron. In the case of children's companies (a distinct legal situation) some founders are noted.

Significant others

See also


  1. ^ Gurr, Shakespearean Stage, pp. 12-18.
  2. ^ see Keenan, Siobhan.Travelling Players in Shakespeare's England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
  3. ^ see Dawson, Anthony B. (2002). "International Shakespeare". In Wells, Stanley; Stanton, Sarah. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 174–193. ISBN 978-0-521-79711-5, for example see p. 176 for a performance of Romeo and Juliet in Nördlingen in 1604.
  4. ^ Bill Bryson, Shakespeare, page 28
  5. ^ a b Fairman, Thomas (1899), Early London Theatres: In the Fields, London: Elliot Stock, p. 30 
  6. ^ Bowsher, Julian; Miller, Pat (2010). The Rose and the Globe—Playhouses of Shakespeare's Bankside, Southwark. Museum of London. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-901992-85-4. 
  7. ^ Gladstone Wickham, Glynne William; Berry, Herbert; Ingram, William (2000), English professional theatre, 1530-1660, Cambridge University Press, p. 320, ISBN 978-0-521-23012-4 
  8. ^ Ingram, William (1992), The business of playing: the beginnings of the adult professional theater in Elizabethan London, Cornell University Press, p. 170, ISBN 978-0-8014-2671-1 
  9. ^ A complete roster of what the Elizabethans called "public" theatres would include the converted Boar's Head Inn (1598), and the Hope Theatre (1613), neither of them major venues for drama in the era.
  10. ^ Gurr, pp. 123-31 and 142-6.
  11. ^ Hattaway, Michael. Elizabethan Popular Theatre Plays in Performance. London: Routledge, 2008. Print. (see page 40)
  12. ^ The Blackfriars site was used as a theatre in the 1576-84 period; but it became a regular venue for drama only later.
  13. ^ Other "private" theatres of the era included the theatre near St Paul's Cathedral used by the Children of Paul's (1575) and the occasionally used Cockpit-in-Court (1629).
  14. ^ Cook, Ann Jennalie (1981). "The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's London, 1576–1642". Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 176–177. ISBN 0691064547. 
  15. ^ MacIntyre, Jean. Costumes and Scripts in the Elizabethan Theatres. Edmonton: U of Alberta, 1992. Print. (see page 322)
  16. ^ Halliday, Shakespeare Companion, p. 374; Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, Vol. 3, p. 396, reflects earlier interpretations of the identity of the Hieronimo play.
  17. ^ This article was originally published in A Short History of the Theatre. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927. pp. 207-13. Online
  18. ^
  19. ^ Woog, Adam. A History of the Elizabethan Theater. San Diego: Lucent, 2003. Print. (see page 48)
  20. ^
  21. ^ Alchin, L.K. Elizabethan Era e.g. Retrieved March 14 2015 from
  22. ^,+1450-1789+Primary+Sources+Chapter+Eight:+Individuals+in+Society,+1600-1789&hl=en&sa=X&ei=V8oEVc25B4LxoATD3oHoDg&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
  23. ^ A few aristocratic women engaged in closet drama or dramatic translations. Chambers, Vol. 3, lists Elizabeth, Lady Cary; Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke; Jane, Lady Lumley; and Elizabeth Tudor.
  24. ^ Halliday, pp. 374-5.
  25. ^ Gurr, Shakespearean Stage, p. 72.
  26. ^ Halliday, pp. 108-9, 374-5, 456-7.
  27. ^ Halliday, p. 375.
  28. ^ Blayney, Peter W. M. (1997). "The Publication of Playbooks". In Cox, John D.; Kastan, David Scott. A New History of Early English Drama. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 383–422. ISBN 0231102429. 
  29. ^ Farmer, Alan B.; Lesser, Zachary (2005). "The Popularity of Playbooks Revisited". Shakespeare Quarterly 56 (1): 1–32. JSTOR 3844024. doi:10.1353/shq.2005.0043. 
  30. ^ For examples, see: Sir Thomas More, John of Bordeaux, Believe as You List, and Sir John van Olden Barnavelt.
  31. ^ An Ordinance concerning Stage Plays [L.J., v., 336; Husband, i., 593.] Vol. i., p. 26, see List of Ordinances and Acts of the Parliament of England, 1642–60#1642
  32. ^ see British History Online
  33. ^ See e.g. Red Bull and Robert Cox


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage 1574–1642. Third edition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • Keenan, Siobhan.Travelling Players in Shakespeare's England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  • Dawson, Anthony B. (2002). "International Shakespeare". In Wells, Stanley; Stanton, Sarah. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 174–193. ISBN 978-0-521-79711-5.
  • Keenan, Siobhan. Acting Companies and Their Plays in Shakespeare's London (London: Arden, 2014).

External links