Monday, 4 June 2018

4 June, 1594 - Henslowe is back - but it's all different

Welcome back, Henslowe fans! This blog is returning to life in a serious way tomorrow, after a number of fits and starts over the past few months. Pretty soon, we'll settle into a lengthy stretch of unbroken records of performances by the Admiral's Men at the Rose playhouse. But before then, we have a rather puzzling section to get through.

Richard Burbage, leading actor of
the Chamberlain's Men
From now until 13th June, Henslowe's records refer not to performances not at the Rose, but to those at a playhouse far to the south, known as Newington Butts. And the performances are not by the Admiral's Men alone - instead, they are sharing the playhouse with the Chamberlain's Men. You can read more about these companies and their shared playhouse by clicking the links above, but, suffice to say, the Admiral's and Chamberlain's Men had recently become the only two companies allowed to perform in London. They will soon part their ways to settle permanently at the Rose and at the Theatre, respectively. Exactly why they will spend next week working together at an obscure playhouse is a mystery.

It's also not clear exactly what it means to be sharing a theatre. Henslowe records a series of performances that seem to alternate between plays associated with the Admiral's Men and plays associated with the Chamberlain's. Does this mean their leading actors were performing together in each other's plays? Or does it simply mean the companies were taking turns to perform? The latter makes more sense, in my opinion.

London and the village of
Newington (bottom left), in
Symonson's map of Kent (1596)
However it worked, and whatever the reasons, this must have been an exciting week in the village of Newington. The greatest artists of the age - including Edward Alleyn, Richard Burbage, William Shakespeare and Will Kemp - were all performing at its local theatre!

Henslowe records extremely low takings for these performances, though. This might simply be because he was renting the playhouse from somebody else, and so his personal rewards were much lower than for the Rose, which he owned. But it's also likely that the audiences were smaller: Newington Butts was half a mile outside London, so only the most dedicated theatregoers of the city would travel there. We may, therefore, need to imagine the great theatre stars of the age performing to tiny audiences in the middle of nowhere; if so, they were probably be glad to get away by the end of the week.

See you tomorrow at Newington Butts, for a week that will include some very famous plays!

FURTHER READING


Information about this week at Newington


  • Roslyn Lander Knutson, Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare's Time (Cambridge University Press, 2001), 39-40


Henslowe links



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