Mary, Countess of Pembroke: poetry, patronage and power

This is, more or less, the text of the talk I gave earlier this month at the Wilton History Festival. Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and her sons William and Philip, were the most influential patrons of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. Let’s begin with a story to illustrate that assertion. For the moment, we will... Continue Reading →

Of God and Jonson: theatre history, new things and non-events

I was fortunate to be able to attend some of the superb Before Shakespeare conference at Roehampton last week. I came away with a range of thoughts and ideas, some of which I hope to pursue in one form or another. Perhaps the thing that struck me most, however, was Bill Ingram’s opening talk. Ingram... Continue Reading →

The Massacre At Paris: Kit Marlowe, the Rose Playhouse and me

As some friends may know, I spent last week acting in the final six performances of The Dolphin’s Back production of Christopher Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris at the Rose Playhouse on London’s South Bank. The offer to do so came out of the blue, so much so that - as much out of surprise... Continue Reading →

History Today: How chances it they travel?

One of the many criticisms leveled at Michael Gove’s revision of the history curriculum was that is would reduce lessons to little more than the recitation and memorializing of facts, to what Sir Philip Sidney called ‘the bare was of history. But the simpler a statement of fact is, the more it deceives us of... Continue Reading →

Street theatre and survivals of the ritual year in Shakespeare’s Stratford

The Guild Hall was the principal venue in Stratford for visiting troupes of players, who would perform beneath the room where Shakespeare and his fellow schoolboys laboured. But at many Elizabethan schools, performing plays formed part of the curriculum. It was true of prestigious schools such as Westminster, where Ben Jonson studied, Merchant Taylors in... Continue Reading →

Shakespeare, the lost years and the London stage

It is usually said that Shakespeare re-emerges from ‘the lost years’ with Robert Greene’s flighted asides in Groatsworth of Wit, published in 1592 (and possibly the work of its editor, Henry Chettle), and which I quoted in an earlier post. Although it has sometimes been argued that Greene may not be having at Shakespeare here,... Continue Reading →

Shakespeare: the lost years

Most biographies of Shakespeare have traditionally wafted the young man directly from Stratford to London, presuming that the capital’s dominance of the English theatre which Shakespeare would help establish in the 1590s – and which lasts to this day – also held true for the 1580s. But that is not necessarily so. The truth is,... Continue Reading →

Shakespeare, Catholicism and pre-Reformation festive culture

It is hard to overstate the volume and variety of entertainers whom one might have encountered on England’s roads in the early 1500s. But then, it’s a phenomenon that we’re viewing through the filter of what occurred later, around the turn of the century and after, when theatrical and performance culture was forcibly narrowed, shaped... Continue Reading →

Travelling players, minstrelsy, Shakespeare and spies

Sometime in the early 1600s, the Warwickshire antiquarian Sir Simon Archer transcribed a document dated St Matthew’s Day – 21 September – 1444 and signed by John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury (and the hero of 1 Henry VI). In it, Talbot confirmed the rights of all Shropshire minstrels to gather in Shrewsbury each year... Continue Reading →

Richard Tarlton: the greatest star of the Elizabethan theatre

I have written elsewhere – see for instance my post on the life of Thomas Kyd – on the way in which the more or less arbitrary survival of documentary evidence distorts our ideas about the shape and richness of Elizabethan culture. And for us, looking back, the theatre of the period looks like a... Continue Reading →

The Mayor of London and Lord Strange’s Men

Hobbinol’s excellent post on the Elizabethan theatre and the plague has reminded me – somewhat tangentially, I accept – of one of my favourite anecdotes from the Tudor theatre. Perhaps anecdote is the wrong word. In some respects it is a pretty insignificant event, but I think it reveals a great deal about the tensions... Continue Reading →

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