Thursday, 2 February 2017

2 February, 1593 - The closure of the Rose and another tour

On this day in 1593, performances ceased at the Rose playhouse. This was due to the Privy Council, who had ordered London's theatres to be closed in an effort to prevent plague. So, once again, Lord Strange's Men were forced to take their plays on the road and tour the country (you can read more about touring in this post about last year's tour).

This extended absence from London will prove fatal to Lord Strange's Men. The company will spend almost a year touring the towns of England, and during this time it will ultimately break up. By the time the theatres re-open in December, the company's two best-known actors, Edward Alleyn and Will Kemp, will belong to a troupe known as the Earl of Sussex's Men, and it is under this name that they will return to the Rose.

The plague

London hit by plague, from John Taylor's The
Fearful Summer (1636)
According to the Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence (yes, there is such a thing!), the first signs of the plague's return to London had been observed as early as September 1592. Things had calmed down during the winter months (because the fleas that, unbeknownst to people of the time, carried the disease, were in hibernation). But at the end of January, the Privy Council learned that "it appeareath the infection doth increase". It was a mild winter, and the plague began to bite more seriously in April 1593, much earlier than normal. The death rate rose during the summer, peaking in August and September before declining again as the winter set in. In total about 17,000 people died in London and its suburbs.

The tour

Strange's Men appear to have begun their tour in May, and fragments of documentary evidence enable us to glimpse some parts of it. In early May, they were in Chelmsford, Essex. Later in the summer they visited Sudbury and Faversham. In July, they were in Southampton. In July and August, they headed west to Bath and Bristol. They then turned north and visited Shrewsbury, from where they may have gone on to Chester and York. In December, they were in Leicester and Coventry before they returned to London.

What's next?

This blog will be on partial hiatus until 27 December when the theatres re-open. However, it will return intermittently during the summer. That's because the Henslowe-Alleyn papers contain some remarkable letters between Edward Alleyn, his wife, and Philip Henslowe, exchanged during the tour. These letters give wonderfully vivid glimpses of the personalities of the people this blog is studying, and so I'll post excerpts on the relevant days in May, July, August and September.

When we fully return, we will see Sussex's Men installed at the Rose, where they will perform an array of new plays, along with a few of the old favourites from Strange's Men!

Further reading

  • George Childs Kohn, ed. Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence from Ancient Times to the Present, 3rd edtn. (Facts on File, 2008), 230-1.
  • Sally-Beth MacLean and Lawrence Manley, Lord Strange's Men and their Plays (Yale University Press, 2014), 258-71.


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

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

1 February, 1593 - The Jew of Malta

Here's what Lord Strange's Men performed at the Rose playhouse on this day, 424 years ago...
Henslowe writes: R at the Jewe of malta the j of Febreary 1593 ... xxxvs

In modern English: Received at The Jew of Malta, 1st February, 1593 ... 35 shillings

Caravaggio's portrait of the Grand
Master of the Knights of Malta,
Today, Lord Strange's Men revived again their 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.

After several days of disappointing box office following the smash premiere of Christopher Marlowe's Massacre at Paris, the company has revived Marlowe's reliable favourite, which they had last performed just over a fortnight ago. Even The Jew of Malta is not pulling in the crowds though, producing only a half-full theatre. 

What's next?

Whether or not they knew it, Lord Strange's Men's time at the Rose was about to come to a sudden end. Tune in tomorrow to find out why!

    Henslowe links


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