Who were Lord Strange's Men?

The first batches of Philip Henslowe's box office accounts refer to the performances of Lord Strange's Men, a popular playing company who were famed in particular for their leading actor, the legendary Edward Alleyn, and for their clown Will Kemp.

Lord Strange's Men

The company's patron: Ferdinando Stanley,
Lord Strange.
Lord Strange's Men were a 'playing company' (that is, a company of actors) who occupied Henslowe's Rose playhouse around 1591-2. Their name may seem a bit... strange... but it isn't really. Playing companies always had a powerful aristocrat as their patron and called themselves his/her "Men" (that is, his/her servants). This company's patron was Ferdinando Stanley, who had acquired the title Lord Strange (which derives from the surname L'Estrange).

Lord Strange's Men existed between 1589 and 1593. They were settled in Henslowe's Rose playhouse by February 1592, which is when Henslowe's records of performances begin. And they may have been thought the best company in London by this point, as they had acquired the charismatic Edward Alleyn as a player in early 1591 and they performed at court more often than any other company in Christmas of that year. Henslowe seems to have expanded the size of the Rose especially for them.

Edward Alleyn

Edward Alleyn (unknown date)
The star of Lord Strange's Men was Edward Alleyn. A tall man with an ear-splitting voice, he specialized in larger-than-life heroes and villains. His most famous roles included the unstoppable conqueror Tamburlaine and the necromancer Dr Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's plays of those names. He also most likely played the vengeful father Hieronino in The Spanish Tragedy, the mad warrior Orlando in Orlando Furioso, the evil Muly Mahamat in The Battle of Alcazar, and the gleeful revenger Barabas in The Jew of Malta.

Alleyn formed a close relationship with Philip Henslowe by marrying his stepdaughter and collaborating with him on business ventures such as the management of the Rose. In his later life, he founded a college in Dulwich. The school still exists, and it is in this school's archives that Henslowe's Diary (more accurately referred to as the 'Henslowe-Alleyn papers') has been preserved to this day.

Will Kemp 

Will Kemp dancing a jig, from the
cover of Kemp's Nine Days Wonder
Another star of Lord Strange's Men was Will Kemp, a comic actor specializing in 'clown roles', that is, roles written to integrate his comic persona of a plebian fool into the drama. Kemp was already famous as a comedian when he joined the company. He would later go on to join Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, where he would create well-known roles such as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. Kemp's roles are not always easy to identify in the plays of Strange's Men, but his and Alleyn's stardom is indicated by the title page to the play A Knack to Know a Knave (printed in 1594), which advertises it as performed by "Ed. Alleyn and his company, with Kemp's applauded merriments".

Further reading

  • Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Clarendon Press, 1996), 258-65. 
  • S.P. Ceresano, “Alleyn, Edward (1566–1626),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, 2008. [accessed February 15, 2016] 
  • Martin Butler, “Kemp, William" (fl. 1585–1602),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, 2008 [accessed February 15, 2016].
  • Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean's Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014).

No comments:

Post a Comment