Wednesday, 7 February 2018

7 February, 1594 - The closing of the theatres

On this day, 424 years ago, London's theatres fell silent once more. Fears of the plague had returned, and the authorities were once again clamping down on large gatherings of people so as to prevent the spread of the disease.

London hit by plague, from John Taylor's The
Fearful Summer (1636)
But this time, the closure will be relatively short. Previously, we have seen the theatres stand empty for months on end, with the actors forced to tour the country instead. But this closure will last only until April, as the authorities will decide that their fears were mistaken.

When playgoing resumes, Sussex's Men will be back, but will have joined forces with another company, the Queen's Men, about whom we'll learn in due course.

This blog will therefore be on hiatus until 1 April. See you then!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

6 February, 1594 - Titus Andronicus

Here's what the Earl of Sussex's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: R at titus & ondronicus the 6 of febery 1593 ... xxxxs 

In modern English: Received at Titus Andronicus, 6th February, 1594 ... 40 shillings

Titus and Lavinia kill Tamora's sons: illustration
from the Pepys Collection's copy of a ballad
of Titus Andronicus (1680s)
Today, Sussex's Men once again revived Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's violent revenge tragedy about a cycle of vengeance in ancient Rome. You can read more about this play in the entry for 24 January.

Sussex's Men seem to have assumed that Titus will be a popular play, as they are now performing it weekly. The play received the same box office as its previous outing, which is above average for the Rose, and shows that it has some staying power.

What's next?

The question of whether Titus Andronicus has will be a long-running hit for Sussex's Men will ultimately prove irrelevant, as today's performance will be the last at the Rose for several weeks. In the next blog entry, I'll explain what happened, and what you can expect to see later in the spring.

Henslowe links


Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

4 February, 1594 - The Jew of Malta

Here's what the Earl of Sussex's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at the Jewe of malta the 4 of febery 1593 ... ls

In modern English: Received at The Jew of Malta, 4th February, 1594 ... 50 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
Well, here's a surprise! Today, Sussex's Men revived the satirical comic tragedy The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe; you can read more about this play in the blog entry for 26th February 1592.

The Jew of Malta had been one of the most popular plays at the Rose last year, but it belonged to the previous occupants, Lord Strange's Men; it's therefore puzzling to see it suddenly appear in the repertory of Sussex's Men.

But as we've already seen, one theory about the goings-on at the Rose this year is that members of the now-dissolved Strange's Men joined Sussex's Men. The originator of this theory, theatre historian Scott McMillin, proposed that Edward Alleyn himself (the great star of Strange's Men and son-in-law of Philip Henslowe) was one of those who joined. Today's performance of The Jew of Malta is the key evidence for Alleyn's presence: McMillin envisages him joining the company late into its season at the Rose, and this production being his triumphant return to the stage in one of his best-loved roles. 

For me, the only thing that casts doubt on this theory is the box office return - it's much better than most plays at the Rose this season, but it doesn't suggest the thrilling return of a star actor not seen for a year. And if Alleyn did return today, his timing was awful because the theatres would close in three days' time.

What's next?

For some reason, no performance is listed for 5th February, so Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! will return on the 6th for one last performance before the theatres close.


  • Scott McMillin, "Sussex's Men in 1594: The Evidence of Titus Andronicus and The Jew of Malta", in Theatre Survey 32.2 (1991): 214-23

    Henslowe links


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below! 

    Saturday, 3 February 2018

    3rd February, 1594 - An important letter

    The Privy Council in 1604. Detail
    from The Somerset House Conference
    On this day, 424 years ago, the Privy Council sent a letter to various London authorities informing them that the theatres were to be closed again.

    Once again, the reason was plague, or at least the fear of it. The Council says it has learned that "very great multitudes of all sorts of people do daily frequent and resort to common plays lately again set up in and about London" and the fear has thus arisen that the plague "may again very dangerously increase and break forth to the great loss and prejudice of Her Majesty's subjects".

    The letter even goes so far as to blame playgoers for the the high mortality rate of last year's plague outbreak: "by like occasions and resort to plays, it suddenly increased from a very little number to that greatness of mortality which ensued".

    The Council concludes by ordering "that there be  no more public plays or interludes exercised by any company whatsoever within the compass of five miles distance from London till upon better likelihood and assurance of health further direction may be given from us to the contrary".

    Despite the urgent tone of this letter, Sussex's Men will continue to perform for several more days. but their time at the Rose is coming to an end.

    Further reading

    • Carol Chillington Rutter, Documents of the Rose Playhouse (Manchester University Press, 1984), 80.


    Did I make a mistake? Do you have a question? Have you anything to add? Please post a comment below!