Thursday, 28 September 2017

28 September, 1593 - a letter from Henslowe to Alleyn

Welcome back! Once again this blog is briefly returning to life. That's because on this day, 424 years ago, Philip Henslowe wrote another letter to his son-in-law, the actor Edward Alleyn, who was still touring England with his company while London was gripped by plague.

London hit by plague, from John Taylor's The
Fearful Summer (1636)
In this letter, Henslowe passes on commendations from Alleyn's wife, mother and sister. But he chastises Alleyn for not writing enough. He also tells him that things are very bad in London: "all my neighbors dead of the plague, and not my house free, for my two wenches have had the plague, and yet thanks be to God liveth and are well".

Turning from mass death to the mundane, Henslowe now follows up on matters discussed in recent letters, He recounts that "we have had a very bad market at Smithfield"; he has still been unable to sell Alleyn's horse but he has managed to sell "all your cloak-cloth". Furthermore - just in case any regular readers have been worrying about it - you'll be glad to learn that Alleyn's stockings are dyed and his spinach-bed sown.

As for Alleyn himself, it is hard to know how well things are going on the tour. Alleyn has apparently been enquiring about one of his fellow playing companies, Lord Pembroke's Men, because Henslowe informs him that they have come home to London, apparently having found touring to be financially unsustainable. Perhaps Alleyn and Lord Strange's Men were struggling too after months on the road?

At the end of the letter, Henslowe turns optimistic, saying the plague is beginning to ease, although it still sounds terrifying: "this last two weeks of the sickness, 435 hath died; in all, betwixt eleven and twelve-hundred this last week, which I hope in the lord it will continue in ceasing every week, that we may rejoice again at our meeting." He closes with a P.S. from Joan, inquiring about rent prices as she can still "get no rent" from their tenants.

What's next?

This is the last of the series of letters between Henslowe and Alleyn that are preserved in the papers at Dulwich College.  We'll next hear from Alleyn on December 5, when he and his company will perform at a stately home near Coventry. See you then!

Further reading


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