What is Henslowe's Diary?

Philip Henslowe (c.1555-1616) was a businessman who worked in the theatre industry of Renaissance London. In 1587, he built the Rose playhouse, which became the home to a series of different playing companies. He was only one among many such men in Elizabethan London, but we have a unique window into his life and work thanks to the survival of a batch of documents which have become known, rather misleadingly, as his 'Diary'.

Henslowe's Diary is a collection of papers more accurately referred to as the 'Henslowe-Alleyn papers'. It consists of a great variety of documents relating to Henslowe and Edward Alleyn's business dealings, including many letters and accounts.  For the purposes of this blog, the most important of these documents are a series of lists of box office takings from the Rose playhouse (and one from another playhouse at Newington Butts) from 1592 to 1597. These day-by-day lists show which plays were performed and how much money Henslowe made. The lists offer valuable insights into the theatrical world of Shakespeare's time, as nothing else like them survives for any other theatre in Renaissance London.

Henslowe's Diary has been preserved since 1619 at Dulwich College, a school founded by his colleague Edward Alleyn. For 250 years, it lay ignored in a chest, until the scholar Edmund Malone recognized its importance. The Diary has had some adventures since then: Malone borrowed it in 1790 and it wasn't returned until his death in 1812; later scholars lost or dispersed some of the pages, and John Payne Collier even inserted forged entries that misled later researchers until his falsehood was exposed. More recent scholars have made the Diary fully accessible; W.W. Greg created a transcript in 1904 (now in the public domain and online), R.A. Foakes created a facsimile and another transcript in 1961, and in the 2010s the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project placed the entire Diary online in high-definition scans.

Further reading

  • W.W. Greg, Henslowe's Diary (A.H. Bullen, 1904).
  • Carol Chillington Rutter, Documents of the Rose Playhouse (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  • R.A. Foakes, ed. Henslowe's Diary, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  • S.P. Ceresano, “Henslowe, Philip (c.1555–1616),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford University Press, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, January 2008 [accessed February 15, 2016].
  • Grace Ioppolo, "The Henslowe-Alleyn Papers, Past, Present and Future," The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project (n.d.) [accessed February 15, 2016]

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