Thursday 30 December 2021

Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog!

This site preserves a 5-year project to present in blog format the day-by-day records of an Elizabethan theatre. From 2016 to 2021, I posted the daily entries from Philip Henslowe's lists of performances at the Rose playhouse, as recorded in his so-called 'Diary', from 1592 to 1597. The project introduced readers to dozens of plays, some of which are still performed today, some of which have been forgotten, and some of which are lost. 

The site now remains as a record of the blog, and I hope it will be useful for researchers who are studying these plays or the Diary. However, please note that the site is not peer-reviewed and may contain errors; it should be treated as a starting point for research, not as an end point. I will periodically update or correct the entries if I find new information.

Other information can be found in the links on the right.

What follows is an alphabetical list of the first entries on each play mentioned in the Diary. I encourage use of the 'Further Reading' sections of each entry for the most accurate information.

Extant plays

Lost plays



Wednesday 10 November 2021


This blog has traced the performances at the Rose playhouse from 1592 to 1597. Until recently, it would have been almost impossible to write, because most of the plays recorded in the Diary are lost and information about them is often scarce and uncertain. It was made possible by the work of some amazing scholars, to whom I would like to say thank you. 

One of the most important aids was Martin Wiggins' magisterial catalogue British Drama, 1533-1642, the relevant volume of which was published in 2013. It includes a detailed entry on every play of the period, including the lost ones. The 'Wiggilogue' is an extraordinary achievement, and my copy of volume 3 is now thoroughly battered and coffee-stained. 

Another amazing resource is the Lost Plays Database, an online resource created by Roslyn L. Knutson, David McInnis and Matthew Steggle; this ongoing project is attempting to create a detailed encyclopedic entry on every lost play of the period. It's not yet complete - but be the change you want to see

Also invaluable has been the burgeoning field of 'repertory study', which investigates the careers of individual playing companies and treats their plays as a body of work, much as a more traditional study might group plays according to their author. In the early days of the blog, I was using Lawrence Manley's and Sally-Beth Maclean's Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (2014), and in the latter stages two books about the Admiral's Men: Andrew Gurr's Shakespeare's Opposites (2009) and Tom Rutter's Shakespeare and the Admiral's Men (2017). Laurie Johnson's Shakespeare's Lost Playhouse (2018) wasn't published at a time when I could use it, but it's a brilliant study of the period in which Henslowe's Diary records performances at the Newington Butts playhouse.

And of course, there are the scholars who have worked to understand and explicate the huge and baffling document that is Henslowe's Diary. The standard editions are R.A. Foakes's (2002) and the online facsimile at the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitization Project. But they were built on the foundations of work by Edmund Malone in the 18th century, the complicated John Payne Collier in the 19th, and W.W. Greg in the early 20th. I also found extremely useful Carol Rutter's Documents of the Rose Playhouse (1984) and Neil Carson's Companion to Henslowe's Diary (1988). 

There is much more to learn about this fascinating document, as you can see, and we owe a great debt to the work of these heroes of scholarship.

Monday 8 November 2021

What won the Diary?

We have completed our journey through Philip Henslowe's diary of performances at the Rose playhouse! On the way, we have seen a great many plays rise and fall in popularity. So, which were the greatest triumphs?

Well, it depends on how you define success. But we can identify a number of winners. I'll begin by considering the entire sweep of the Diary, which began back in 1592 when Lord Strange's Men were the residents at the Rose, and ended in 1597 with the Admiral's Men. Looking at the big picture, we can see that the most-performed plays were as follows:
  • The Jew of Malta (36 performances between 1592 and 1596). This satirical tragedy by Christopher Marlowe has survived and is still performed today.
  • The Wise Man of West Chester (31 performances between 1594 and 1597). This anonymous play is probably lost, although it might be an alternative title for John a Kent and John a Cumber.
  • Hieronimo (29 performances between 1592 and 1597). This is probably an alternative title for Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, which is still performed today.
  • Belin Dun (25 performances between 1594 and 1597). This lost play was about a villainous highwayman in medieval England.
  • The Seven Days of the Week (24 performances between 1595 and 1596), although this may include some performances of its sequel. The subject of this lost play is unknown.
  • The Blind Beggar of Alexandria (22 performances between 1596 and 1597). This comedy of disguise by George Chapman still survives in print. 
  • A Knack to Know an Honest Man (21 performances between 1594 and 1596). This anonymous comic morality play still survives in print.
A Grand Master of the Knights of
Malta, by Caravaggio (1607-8)
To judge from this list, the most impressive play is The Jew of Malta, not only for the sheer number of performances but also for its staying power. And during its time, its popularity did not dwindle as much as others; while other plays by Marlowe, such as Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine, often received box offices that indicate tiny audiences, The Jew of Malta rarely did. It was a play that the company could usually count on in tough times. 

However, studying the entire run of the Diary can be unfair to some of the plays introduced later into the Rose repertory. For example, the 22 performances of The Blind Beggar of Alexandria are more impressive when one notices that they all took place in less than a year.

For this reason, it may be fairer to study the performances by just one company, the Admiral's Men, who began working at the Rose in 1594 and were still there when the Diary ended three years later. Luckily for me, Holger Syme has already crunched the numbers in his article "The Meaning of Success". And in Syme's list of the most popular Admiral's Men plays, The Jew of Malta does not even appear, because the number of performances dwindled in the last few years of the Diary.

A man, who might possibly be
wise, carved on the choir
stalls of Chester Cathedral
Instead, Syme identifies The Wise Man of West Chester as the top play of the Admiral's Men, with its 29 performances. But he also looks at other data, including the average box office per performance; measured that way, the winner is The Comedy of Humours (almost certainly another name for George Chapman's A Humorous Day's Mirth), which had only 13 performances over a single year but scored a remarkable 49 shilling average; as Syme says, "this may have been the most successful play the company ever staged, but since Henslowe's daily receipts break off in early November, 1597 ... we will never know" (510). 

However one looks at it, the most remarkable conclusion is that so many of these immensely popular plays are now either lost or forgotten. While there are some famous plays in there, it is startling to see the success of complete enigmas like The Seven Days of the Week and of hard-to-find and rarely staged plays like The Blind Beggar of Alexandria. Despite its vivid evocation of the workings of an Elizabethan playhouse, Henslowe's Diary reminds us of how little we really know about what people loved to see on the stage. 

Watch this space for some final thoughts!


  • Holger Schott Syme, "The Meaning of Success: Stories of 1594 and its Aftermath", Shakespeare Quarterly 61.4 (2010), 506-10.


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

Saturday 6 November 2021

Where are they now?

Edward Alleyn (portrait
of unknown date)
Henslowe's list of performances at the Rose may be over, but that does not mean that his story is done. He will continue to make Diary entries of different kinds, and he will support theatre for many more years.

So too will his son-in-law, the actor Edward Alleyn, who had played the lead roles in many performances recorded in the Diary. Alleyn seems to have retired from acting at around the same time Henslowe ceased to record the names of the plays performed at the Rose; it is almost as if Henslowe no longer cared once his son-in-law was no longer in them. The two men will continue their business partnership for the rest of their lives.

In 1599, a new rival will appear close to the Rose in their Bankside vicinity: the Globe theatre, built by the Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's company. But by that time, Henslowe and Alleyn will already have decided to move to a new theatre north of the river: the Fortune playhouse in the suburb of Clerkenwell, completed in 1600. The Admiral's Men will perform there, albeit under different names, until 1631; they will sometimes revive old plays that we have seen in the Diary, such as Doctor Faustus

As for the Rose, it will cease to be used in the early 1600s and will ultimately be torn down. Its foundations, however, will survive to be rediscovered in the 1980s, and can now be visited thanks to the Rose Theatre Trust

Christ's Chapel of God's Gift, one of the original
buildings of Dulwich College
Henslowe will die in 1616 at the age of about 60, having apparently suffered from a stroke. Alleyn will live longer. Immensely rich, he will become concerned about his legacy. Having bought a manorial estate in the village of Dulwich, he will use his wealth to endow a charitable establishment there for 'poor scholars'; he will name it the College of God's Gift, but it will ultimately become known as Dulwich College, and will survive to the present day as a school, an almshouse, a chapel and a picture gallery.

Alleyn will bequeath many things to the College, including a chest containing old documents. Among those documents will be Henslowe's Diary, which will sit there quietly until scholars begin to investigate it in the late 18th century, and will remain there to this day. You can now study this amazing document from the comfort of your own home, thanks to the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitization Project

Stay tuned for some further reflections on the end of the Diary!


  • R.A. Foakes (ed.), Henslowe's Diary, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press,. 2002), xv-xvi.
  • S.P. Cerasano, "Henslowe, Philip (c. 1555–1616), theatre financier." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), accessed November 2021.
  • Cerasano, S. P. "Alleyn, Edward (1566–1626), actor, theatre entrepreneur, and founder of Dulwich College." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), accessed November 2021.
  • "The Henslowe-Alleyn Papers, Past, Present and Future", The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitization Project (2021), accessed November 2021. 


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

Friday 5 November 2021

5 November, 1597 - Friar Spendleton and the end of the Diary!

Here's what the Admiral's Men and Pembroke's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 5 | tt at fryer splendelton |  00 | 14

In modern English: 5th [November, 1597] ... total at Friar Spendleton ... 14 shillings

Portrait of a Camaldulense
by Moroni (1560s)
And so, with an under-attended performance of a lost play about which we know absolutely nothing, Henslowe's Diary comes to an end! That's all, folks.

It's an anticlimax, to be sure. But it's worth stressing that this isn't the end of the Diary as such; rather, it's simply the last entry in Henslowe's lists of named performances. Henslowe will continue to record box office information; however, he will no longer give the names of the plays, so the lists become less interesting: pure accountancy without any attention to what is happening on stage. (To be strictly accurate, two performances will inexplicably be named in 1599, but I decided not to trouble with them!)

No-one knows why Henslowe stopped naming the plays. But this shift in the Diary seems to correspond with the retirement of Edward Alleyn as actor, which must have felt like the end of an era.  

That, then, is the end of Henslowe's Diary ... as a Blog! But stay tuned, because over the next few days I will tell some tales about what happened next, and I will sum up the highs and lows of six years at the Rose. 

Henslowe links


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

Thursday 4 November 2021

4 November, 1597 - A Humorous Day's Mirth

Here's what the Admiral's Men and Pembroke's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 4| tt at vmers... | 00 | 16

In modern English: 4th [November, 1597] ... total at Humours ... 16 shillings

Today, the Admiral's Men revived their 
A classic image of a
melancholic, from
Robert Burton's Anatomy
of Melancholy (1622)
Comedy of Humours
, which is almost certainly another name for George Chapman's A Humorous Day's Mirth. You can read more about this eccentric comedy in the entry for 11 May

A Humorous Day's Mirth  has been a stupendous success this year, but today's box office is less impressive, being no better than some of the other plays staged this week. Perhaps it is gradually becoming shopworn. 

This is the last recorded performance of A Humorous Day's Mirth, but that doesn't mean the company will never perform it again (the Diary will come to an end tomorrow, but the Rose performances will not).

Henslowe links


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

Wednesday 3 November 2021

3 November, 1597 - Hardicanute

Here's what the Admiral's Men and Pembroke's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...

Henslowe writes: 3 | tt at knewtus | 00 | 10

In modern English: 3rd [November, 1597] ... total at Canutus ... 10 shillings

Today, the players performed a play called
Hardicanute as depicted in the Genealogical
Roll of the Kings of England
(14th century)
, which is most likely the same play as the Hardicanute staged recently. If so, it was about the young Danish prince who becomes a despotic king of England; you can read more about this play in the entry for 20 October. 

The introduction of Hardicanute to the Rose has not been a successful one; today's box office is very small. This is its last appearance in the Diary but that doesn't mean anything; the Diary will end soon but the Rose performances will not.

Henslowe links


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