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ENGLISH DRAMATIC COMPANIES IN THE TOWNS
OUTSIDE OP LONDON, 1550-1600.
During the first half of the sixteenth century we find two
general classes of actors in England, those who depended on their
acting for a living, and those who acted only a few times a year
and did not depend on their acting for a livelihood ; the first class
we may call the "professional players;" the second, "the amateur
players." By 1550, however, the professional players had to a
large extent superseded the amateur players, and the danger of
the comparatively incompetent acting of the amateur players (they
had both less time and less incentive to practice their art than
the professional players) arresting our drama at the miracle- and
morality-stage, had been averted.
Though the main reason for this triumph of the professional
players is probably to be found in the confirmation of the hostile
attitude of the stricter churchmen toward the miracle- and mor-
ality-plays — with which the amateur players were mainly con-
cerned — by the growing Protestant sentiment, still the custom of
traveling for the purpose of giving performances at the principal
provincial towns, instituted by the professional companies, was of
considerable importance in bringing it about. If the town
authorities desired a play given, not only was it less trouble to
hire a professional company than to train a number of citizens for
the performance, but, as a rule, it was also less expensive and the
work was more satisfactorily done. It is not surprising, then, to
find that after the middle of the sixteenth century practically all
dramatic performances given in England were in the hands of
the professional companies, and that they came to look upon their
tours through the country as a by no means unimportant or unre-
munerative part of their work.
It is the object of this paper to give some account of the cus-
toms of these companies — their methods of performance, their
relations to the town authorities, the amounts they were paid, etc.,
while touring the towns outside of London from 1550 to 1600.
5SS] 1 [Modern Philology, Apeil, 1905
2 John Tucker Muekay
Before attempting this, however, it may be well to point out
that, in spite of the growing Protestant sentiment against plays
and players and the hostile attitude of the stricter churchmen, the
popularity of the drama during these years was very great. This
is conclusively shown, not only by the number of performances of
which we have record, but also by the fact that during these years
we find notices in the town accounts of Leicester, Nottingham,
Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bristol, Doncaster, Plymouth, Beverley,
Bath, and Stratford-on-Avon of no less than fifty-six dramatic
companies. That these companies were all distinct and, as
regards individual actors, mutually exclusive, is highly improb-
able, for we know it was the custom of the players to pass
from one company to another and for the companies to change
their names with a change of patron. So under different com-
pany names we may be dealing with the same actors. But, even
allowing for this, the number of actors in England during the
half-century must have been very great, and Walsingham's state-
ment that in 1586 there were two hundred players in or near
London 1 is probably no exaggeration. The existence of so large
a body of players, who depended upon their profession for a
living, can be accounted for only by supposing a widespread
popularity of dramatic performances during these years.
The dramatic companies which visited the provincial towns
fall naturally into three classes: First, the companies which per-
formed in London as well as in the country towns. They were
always under the patronage of royalty or some great nobleman.
I have called them the "London Companies." In this division
may be classed the Children of the Chapel Royal who acted in
Leicester in 1591. 2 Secondly, the companies which performed in
the country towns, but not in London, and were under the patron-
age of some nobleman or great commoner. I have called them
the "Noblemen's Companies." Thirdly, those companies which
bore the name of some town. They never acted in London, but
traveled over the country, acting in various towns. I have called
them the "Town Companies."
1 Quoted in Lights of the Old English Stage (New York : Appleton & Co., 1878), p. 8.
2 W. Kelly, Notices of Leicester (London, 1865), p. 226.
English Dramatic Companies 3
In addition to these more or less regularly authorized com-
panies, there were undoubtedly many vagabond companies which
bore no name and whose performances it is impossible to trace.
The modern custom of sending an advance agent to the town
to be visited several days before the coming of the company, to
make the necessary arrangements for the visit, was not in vogue
during the years 1550-1600; at least, I have been unable to find
any record of such a custom. Even the great London Compa-
nies, when touring the country, seem to have given the town
authorities no notice of their coming, and to have trusted to their
good-will for permission to play and for a place to play in.
The first concern of a company upon arriving in a town was
to obtain permission to play. Before 1572 any company of vaga-
bonds could palm themselves off as a dramatic company, if they
could succeed in hoodwinking the town authorities. But in that
year a law was passed requiring that
all fencers, bearwards, common players in interludes, and minstrels, not
belonging to any Baron of this realm, or to any other honorable per-
sonage of greater degree; all jugglers, pedlars, tinkers and petty chap-
men, which said fencers, bearwards, common players in interludes,
minstrels, etc., shall wander about, and not have license of two justices
of the peace at the least, shall be deemed and dealt with as rogues and
Consequently, after 1572, when a company of players arrived in
a town where they wanted to play, they at once presented their
license to the civic authorities or satisfied them that they belonged
to some "baron" or "honorable" person of the realm. Thus in
the Leicester records for 1583 we find the following entry: 2
Tuesday the third day of March, 1583, certain players
who said they were the servants of the Queen's Majesty's
Mr. Mayor Master of the Revels, who required license to play and for
Mr. J. Tata their authority showed forth an Indenture of License from
Mr. Morton one Mr. Edmund Tylney, Esquire, Master of her Majesty's
Revels, of the one part, and George Haysell of Wisbeach in
the Isle of Ely, in the County of Cambridge, gentleman, on
the other part.
1 J. P. Colliee, The History of English Dramatic Poetry to the Time of Shakespeare:
and Annals of the Stage to the Restoration (1879), Vol. I, p. 195.
2 Quotations and extracts have been modernized in spelling throughout.
4 John Tucker Mueeay
The which Indenture is dated the 6th day of February in the 25th
year of her Majesty's reign, etc. In which Indenture there is one article,
that all Justices, Mayors, Sheriffs, Bailiffs, Constables, and all other her
officers, Ministers, and Subjects whatsoever, to be aiding and assisting
unto the said Edmund Tylney, his Deputies and Assignees, attending
and having due regard unto such persons as shall disorderly intrude
themselves into any the doings and actions before mentioned, not being
reformed, qualified and bound to the orders prescribed by the said
Edmund Tylney. 1 These shall be therefore not only to signify and give
notice unto all and every her said Justices, etc., that none, of their own
pretended authority intrude themselves and presume to show forth any
such plays, interludes, tragedies, comedies, or shows in any places within
this realm, without the orderly allowance thereof under the hand of the
Note. No play is to be played, but such as is allowed by the said
Edmund, and his hand at the latter end of the said book they do play.
The aforesaid Haysell is now the chief player, etc. 2
A few days later the Earl of Worcester's Company arrived in
Leicester, and the records give us a short summary of the license :
William, Earl of Worcester, etc., hath by his writing, dated the 14th
of January, A° 25° Eliz. R e licensed his Servants, viz., Robt. Browne,
James Tunstall, Edward Allen, Wm. Harryson, Tho. Cooke, Richard
Johnes, Edward Browne, Richard Andrews to play and go abroad, using
themselves orderly, etc. (in these words, etc.). These are therefore to
require all such Her Highness' officers to whom these presents shall
come quietly and friendly within your several precincts and corporations,
to permit and suffer them to pass with your furtherance, using and
demeaning themselves honestly and to give them (the rather for my
sake) such entertainment as other noblemen's players have (In Witness,
In 1597 a law was passed reviving the act of 1572 and requir-
ing, in addition, that
the players of the nobility, wandering abroad, should be "authorized to
play" under "the hand and seal of arms" of the Baron or personage of
1 Edmnnd Tylney was master of Her Majesty's Revels from 1578 to 1510 ; cf . " Henslowe's
Diary," ed. J. Payne Collier, Publications of the Shakspere Society (London, 1845), Intro-
duction, p. xxix.
2 William Kelly, op. cit. (1865), pp. 211, 212.
3 Kelly, op. cit, pp. 212, 213.
* Collier, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 195, note.
English Dramatic Companies 5
The exemption of these two laws in favor of noblemen's servants
was taken away by the act of 1 603-4. '
It seems to have been the custom in some towns for the
players to give a first performance before the town authorities
and those citizens who wished to attend, no admission being
charged, but the players receiving a "reward" from the mayor.
Thus Willis, in his Mount Tabor, 1639, describing the perform-
ance of the Cradle of Security seen by him when a boy, says:
In the city of Gloucester the manner is (as I think it is in other like
corporations) that when Players of Enterludes come to town, they first
attend the Mayor, to inform him what noble-man's servants they are, and
so get license for their public playing: and if the Mayor like the actors,
or would show respect to their Lord and Master, he appoints them to
play their first play before himself and the aldermen and Common
Council of the City; and that is called the Mayor's play, where everyone
that will comes in without money, the Mayor giving the players a reward
as he thinks fit, to show respect unto them. 2
In the Bristol accounts for August, 1576, we find an entry
which apparently refers to such a performance and gives ample
evidence that these "free shows" were fully appreciated by the
Item, pd: for 2 rings of iron to be set upon the houses of the one side
of the Guildhall door to rear the door from the ground and for mending
the cramp of iron which shooteth the bar, which cramp was stretched
with the press of people at the play of My Lord Chamberlain's servants
in the Guildhall before Mr. Mayor and the Aldermen — 6d. 3
That this first performance before the mayor and aldermen
was always free to the citizens, the players being satisfied with
their reward, as Mr. W. Kelly states, 4 and as Mr. E. K. Chambers
seems to imply when he says referring to the players, "In the
towns they would give their first performance before the munici-
pality in the guild-hall and take a reward," 5 is highly improbable.
' E. K. Chambers, The Mediasval Stage (Clarendon Press, 1903), Vol. I, p. 55, note.
2 Collier, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 196.
3 J. P. Nicholls and John Taylor, Bristol Past and Present (Bristol and London
1881), Vol. I, pp. 234, 235.
* Kelly, op. at., p. 87.
5 The Medieval Stage, Vol. II, p. 189. The evidence quoted above from Willis, Mount
Tabor, and used by Mr. Chambers in proof of his assertion, refers not to the old amateur
players of interludes, but to the professional "noble-man's servants."
6 John Tuckee Mueeay
In the town accounts we find frequent entries such as the follow-
ing in the Leicester Records:
1555. Item. Pd. to the Queen's Players, over and above that was
gathered — 3s. 6d.
1559. Item. To the Queen's Players, beside the money that was
gathered — 3s. 6d.
1592. Item. The 19th of December, given to the Lord Admiral's
Players, more than was gathered — 8s. 1
Now, both the amount paid and the fact that there is only one
such entry during the stay of the company in the town indicate
that these rewards were given for a single performance, and most
likely for the first performance before the mayor and council. If
this is the case, it is obvious that an entrance fee was often
charged at these first performances and the mayor's "reward"
added to the amount collected for the benefit of the players.
Very likely, as the visits of dramatic companies to the towns
became more frequent, their credentials more reliable, and their
plays and players better known, this "free" performance, which
was at first the only way the authorities had of testing the merits
of the plays and players, was done away with, and the mayor and
aldermen attended, if at all officially, the first regular performance,
the old custom of giving the players a "reward" out of the city
coffers being continued. The fact that after 1550 the vast
majority of entries in the town records of payments to companies
of players are of "rewards" which have been added to the
"money that was gathered" is almost conclusive proof of this.
Not only did the town authorities thus "show respect" unto
the players, as Willis quaintly puts it, but often, if for some
reason they refused to allow the company to play, they still gave
them their "reward." Thus in the Leicester accounts we find the
following entries :
1591. Item. Given to the Lord Dacre's Players in reward, which were
not suffered to play — 2s. Gd.
Item. Given to the Earl of Worcester's Players in reward, for
that they did not play — 10s. 2
Even after the system of licensing the companies was inaugu-
1 Kelly, op. cit., pp. 194, 227. 2 Ibid., p. 226.
English Dramatic Companies 7
rated, the town authorities were often imposed upon, and even
defied, by the bands of players. In the Leicester Records
there is an interesting account of a case of this kind. In the
quotations from the records, we saw that on March 3, 1583, a
company claiming to be the servants of the Queen's Majesty's
Master of the Revels received permission to play in Leicester
upon presenting an indenture of license from Edw. Tylney Esq.,
Master of Her Majesty's Revels, and George Haysell of Wisbeach,
in the Isle of Ely, Gentleman (the chief player of the company). 1
Another entry, on March 6, states that —
Certain players came before Mr. Mayor at the Hall, there being
present Mr. John Tata, Mr. George Tata, Mr. Morton, and Mr. Worship:
who said they were the Earl of Worcester's men: who said the aforesaid
players were not lawfully authorized, and that they 2 had taken from
them their commission; but it is untrue, for they forgot their box at the
Inn in Leicester, and so these men got it; and they said, the said Haysell
was not here himself and they sent the same to Grantom to the said
Haysell who dwelleth there. 3
The entry then gives an abstract of the license presented by
Worcester's men, and proceeds :
Mr. Mayor did give the aforesaid players an Angel towards their
dinner and willed them not to play at this present: being friday the
6 th of March, for that the time was not convenient.
The aforesaid players met Mr. Mayor in the street near Mr. Newcome's
house, after the Angel was given about a 2 hours, who then craved license
again to play at their Inn, and he told them they should not, then they
went away and said they would play, whether he would or not, and in
despite of him, with divers other evil and contemptuous words: Witness
hereof Mr. Newcome, Mr. Wycam, and William Dethicke.
More, these men, contrary to Mr. Mayor's commandment, went with
their drum and trumpets through the town, in contempt of Mr. Mayor,
neither would come at his commandment, by his officer, viz : Worship
Wm. Pateson my lord Harbard's man )
Tho. Powlton my lord of Worcester's man } these 2 were the y whlch
did so much abuse Mr. Mayor in the aforesaid words.
Nota. These said players have submitted themselves and are sorry
for these words past and craved pardon, desiring his worship not to
write to their master again, and so upon their submission they are licensed
to play this night at their inn; and also they have promised that upon
the stage, in the beginning of their play, to show to the hearers that
1 Ibid., pp. 82, 83. 2 Worcester's men? 3 Ibid., p. 212.
8 John Tuckee Muebay
they are licensed to play by Mr. Mayor and his good will, and that they
are sorry for the words past. 1
Not only were the players often in conflict with the civil
authorities, but they also, at times, formed a bone of contention
between the civil and spiritual powers. From the treasurer's
accounts for the city of Edinburgh for November, 1599, it
appears that a company of English players, of whom Laurence
Fletcher was manager, obtained a warrant from the king to act in
public. They accordingly proclaimed with drums and trumpets
that they would act at a house in Blackfriar's Wynd in Edin-
burgh. The four sessions of the church promptly announced
that anyone who attended the performance would be under the
kirk's severest displeasure. The entry then states that, by His
"Majesty's directions," Sir George Elphingstone delivered cer-
tain moneys to the players, and then continues :
Item. To the aforesaid messenger, passing with letters to the Mercat
Croce of Edinburgh, charging the elders and deacons of the whole four
sessions of Edinburgh to annul their act, made for the discharge of cer-
tain English Comedians. 10s. 8d.
The four sessions accordingly annulled their act against the play-
ers, and the ministers announced the fact from the pulpit. 2
The players had their own methods of defying the hostility of
the clergy. When in 1547 Bishop Gardiner announced that he
would hold "a solemn dirge in honour of the late king at St.
Mary Overies," the players of Bankside issued the following
proclamation: "They will act a solemn play to try who shall
have most resort, they in game or he in earnest." 3
That the players were often indiscreet in their treatment of
the authorities is shown by the letter of Nicholson to Lord Bur-
leigh on April 15, 1598, in which he says :
It is regretted that the Comedians of London should scorn the King
and the people of this land in their play; and it is wished that the
matter be speedily amended, lest the King and the country be stirred to
i Ibid., pp. 212-14.
2 J. C. Dibdin, Annals of the Edinburgh Stage (Edinburgh, 1888), p. 23.
3 William Eendle, Old Southwark and its People (Southwark, 1878), p. 215.
* Dibdin, op. cit., p. 21; quoted from the Calendar of State Papers Relating to Scotland,
II, p. 749.
English Dramatic Companies 9
The elders of the four sessions of Edinburgh made the same
charge against the English Comedians as a partial justification of
their refusing them the right to play in 1599. 1
In spite of occasional quarrels with the various powers that
be, the regularly licensed companies of players were usually
welcomed heartily by the authorities of the towns they visited.
They were even highly honored at times, for in 1601 we find the
members of a company of English players, called the "King's
Servants," in Scotland, of whom Laurence Fletcher was chief
actor and manager, receiving the freedom of the city while visit-
ing Aberdeen. 2
Having obtained permission to play, the next concern of the
company was to notify the townsfolk of the time and place of the
performance. Sometimes this was done by the town authorities,
as in the case of Southampton, where we find the authorities
issuing an order informing the townsfolk "that a famous com-
pany just arrived would play at convenient times." 3 More often,
however, the players themselves proclaimed with drum and
trumpet the time and place of their entertainment. 4
The places of performance varied from a private house or inn
to the guild-hall or a regular playhouse. If the following entries
refer to private houses, and not to inns, it seems probable that
such performances were usually given on festive occasions. Thus
in the Nottingham accounts for December 7, 1603, we read:
Richard Jackson committed for suffering players to sound their
trumpets and playing in the house without license and for suffering his
guests to be out all night. 5
The expenses of such performances were probably borne by
the owner of the house. Possibly the following entry in the
same accounts for 1572 also refers to such a performance:
Item. Paid to Master Harpbam for ale, when the Queen's Players
did play at his house — 6d. 6
1 DlBDIN, op. cit., p. 23. 2 iud., p. 24.
3 Rev. J. S. Da vies, A History of Southampton (Southampton and London, 1883), p. 217.
* Cf. above, pp. 7, 8.
5 Records of the Borough of Nottingham (London, 1889), Vol'. IV, p. 268.
*Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 143. It is to be noted in connection with the two above entries that
from 1550 on the inns were almost invariably designated by their sign, and not by their
10 John Tuckee Mueeay
If so, it would apparently indicate that sometimes the town
authorities paid for the ale or wine consumed by the players. It
may be that in such cases the owner of the house was an alder-
man or some other municipal dignitary.
Again, in the Leicester accounts for 1571 we find the follow-
Item. Pd: for wine that was given to Derby's men at Matthew
Norris' wedding — 6d.'
In some of the towns the usual place for performances was the
church — an obvious survival of the custom of the miracle- and
interlude-players. In the Doncaster and Plymouth records such
entries as the following are common:
1574, Aug. 2. To Lord of Leicester ['s men] for playing in the
church — 20s. 2
1559-60. Lord Robert Dudley's players for playing in the church
So strong a hold had this custom taken in some places that in
1602 we find the town authorities of Syston in Leicestershire
paying a company of players a "reward" on refusing them the
privilege of playing in the church. The entry reads:
Paid to Lord Morden's players because they should not play in the
Church — xii d .*
In other towns, the town- or guild-hall was the customary
place of performance. In the Oxford and Nottingham records we
find such entries as the following:
Oxford: 1562, June 8. Given to my Lord of Warwick's players when
they played in the Guildhall — 6s. 8d. 5
Nottingham: 1577, August. Earl of Sussex (Men) at Town Hall
— 13s. 4d. 6
Just as in the case of performances in the churches, when a
i Kelly, op. cit., p. 204.
2 John Tomlinson, Doncaster from the Roman Occupation to the Present Time, 1887,
3 R. M. Worth, Calendar of the Plymouth Municipal Records (Plymouth, 1893), p. 117.
* Kelly, op. cit., p. 16.
5 William H. Turner, Selections from the Records of Oxford from Henry VIII. to
Elizabeth (1509-1583). By William H. Turner, (Oxford and London : Jas. Parker & Co., 1880)
• Records of Nottingham, Vol. IV, p. 168.
English Dramatic Companies 11
company was refused the right to use the town- or guild-hall, the
town authorities considered it necessary to pay them a "reward."
Thus in Leicester, 1586, we find this entry:
Item. Given to Earl of Essex players in Reward being not suffered
to play at the Hall— 20s. 1
When the players could not obtain the church or town-hall,
they would resort to their inn or the inn-yard. Thus in the
quotation above, on p. 7, when the Worcester Company was
refused permission to play by the Leicester authorities, they said
they would play at their inn whether the mayor wished or no. It
does not seem likely, however, that the more important companies
were often driven to this after 1550, as there are very few records
of such being the case. Possibly the minor companies and
mountebanks had more often to put up with such quarters, as in
the following case at Leicester:
1590. Item. Given to certain players, playing upon ropes at the
Cross Keys, more than was gathered — 28s. 4d. 2
In the same year, Worcester's, Hartford's, and the Queen's men
played at the hall.
Sometimes when there was no suitable place available for the
players to perform in, the authorities would prepare a place for
them. Thus when the English players visited Edinburgh in
1599, we find the king ordering the "bailies" of the city to assist
the players in preparing a place at his charges. This is the entry
in the treasurer's accounts:
Item. By his Majesty's directions given to Sir George Elphingstone
to be delivered to the English Comedians, to buy timber for the prepara-
tion of a house to their pastime as the said Sir George's ticket bears
The place chosen was Blackfriar's Wynd, not the historic
playing-ground of Edinburgh, Greenside. The latter was made
over to the Burgh of Edinburgh by James II., in 1456, for "tour-
naments, sports, and proper warlike deeds to be done and accom-
plished there for the pleasure of us and our successors."* Plays
and players soon took the place of tournaments and knights, and
i Kelly, op. cit., p. 223.
2 Ibid., p. 224.
3 Dibdin, op. cit., p. 22.
*Ibid„ pp. 7,8
12 John Tuckee Mubeat
in 1554 we find Sir David Lindsay's Three Estates being per-
formed there. At this time there were several buildings on the
playfield, as the following entry shows:
Item. Paid for making of the Queen's Grace's house on the playfield,
beside the convoy house under the same, and the players' house, the
gibbets and scaffold about the same, and boards on the playfield, carry-
ing of them from the town to the field, and therefrom again, the cutting
and inlaying of great and small timber, with the nails and workmanship
of 6 wrights, two days thereto, pinners fees, cart hire and other neces-
saries, as Sir William M'Dougall, master of work's ticket bears. £16.
G-reenside was used for plays as late as 1588, for on "Novem-
ber 1, John Hill who was tenant of that land 'was discharged of
any tilling and riving of any part of the playfield.'" 2
Some such place for performance of plays existed in Shrews-
bury in 1533, when plays were given in the " quarry outside the
walls." Referring to this place in 1570, it is stated "that the
places have been accustomed to be used." Here there were traces
of a seated ampi theater as late as 1779. 3 If players visited Shrews-
bury from 1550 to 1600, they may possibly have used this place
for their performances.
A few of the towns outside of London had regular playhouses,
which were probably used for other purposes when no dramatic
company was using them. Mr. E. K. Chambers found evidence
of a playhouse in Exeter as early as 1348.' In the town records
of Great Yarmouth we find that —
after the Reformation the Corporation erected " a game house," and in
1538 when they granted a lease of these premises to Robert Copping they
stipulated that he should "permit and suffer all such players and their
audiences to have the pleasure and use of said house and game place, at
all such times as any interlude or plays should be ministered or played
at any time; without any profit thereof to his or his assigns to be taken." 5
In Worcester in 1584 a lease of the "vacant place where
llbid., p. 9; quoted from town records.
2 /bid., p. 13; quoted from town records.
ZBooks of Council Orders in Historical MSS, Report XV, Appendix, Pt. X, p. 16, and in
E. Phillips, History of Shrewsbury, p. 201; quoted by E. K. Chambebs, The Mediaeval
Stage, Vol. II, p. 394.
*E. K. Chambebs, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 190.
5 Chas. John Palmee, Perlustration of Great Yarmouth with Qorleston and Southtown
(Great Yarmouth, 1872), Vol. I, p. 351.
English Dramatic Companies 13
pagants do stand" was granted for building, and there was a
building known as the "Pageant House" as late as 1738. Whether
or not this was used for plays does not appear. 1
Sometimes the players gave their entertainment in the even-
ing, as in the case of the Worcester Company at Leicester in
March, 1583, 2 though it seems probable that their usual time of
performance was in the afternoon, as in London.
Sometimes, when traveling, the players were accompanied by
a band of musicians. We come across such records as the
Nottingham: December 19, 1578 — To Lord Ha worth's players and
musicians. 5s. 3
Doncaster: 1578 — Item. To My Lord Dacre's players and music-
ians. 13s. 4d. 4
An entry in the Shrewsbury records may indicate that some-
times a company of players was accompanied by a band of musi-
cians which regularly belonged to another company. It is as
1591. Paid to L of Darby's musicians and Earl of Worcester's play-
ers. 22s. 8d. 6
Of course, this may mean merely that these musicians and players
performed separately and the payments to them were lumped to-
gether in one entry. But the amount, while large, does not seem
an adequate reward for two separate performances of such famous
companies, for in the same year such an insignificant company as
Lord Beacham's was paid by the Shrewsbury authorities 13s. 4d. 6
for one performance, and in 1590 Worcester's men received in
Leicester, also for one performance, 20s. 7
As many of the entries in the town records already quoted will
have indicated, the players relied for remuneration for their ser-
vices on two sources — the "gifts" or "rewards" granted them by
1 Quoted by E. K. Chambees, loc. cit., p. 398. 2 Cf. above, p. 7.
z Records of the Borough of Nottingham (London, 1889), Vol. IV, p. 183.
• John Tomlinson, Doncaster from the Roman Occupation to the Present Time (1887),
5 Owen and Blakeney, History of Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1825), Vol. I. p. 394.
&Ibid., p. 394. 7 Kelly, op. cit, p. 225.
14 John Tucker Mubeay
the town authorities or, in the case of Edinburgh, by the king,
and the admission fee.
The relative amount of income derived from these two sources
about 1590 can be estimated from an interesting entry in the
Leicester records. 1 Under the date October 30, 1590, we find the
Receipts towards the charges of the Gifts given to Noblemen's
Imprimis. Received at the Hall door the 30th day of October,
The Queen's Majesty's Players then playing— 10s.
Item. Received at the Hall door, the Earl of Worcester's
players then playing — 6s. 8d.
Item. Received at the Hall door, the Earl of Hartford's
players then playing — 6s. 8d.
Item. Received of John Underwood, the Mayor's Sergeant,
which was by him received of the Mayor's Brethren for 6 plays
and one Bear Baiting — 44s.
Item. Received more of the 48s, for the same plays and
Bear Baiting — 48s.
Total 5£, 15s, 4d.
Item. The 30th of October, given to the Queen's Majesty's
Players, by the appointment of Mr. Mayor and his Brethren —
Item. Given to the Earl of Worcester's Players, by the
appointment of Mr. Mayor and his Brethren — 20s.
Item. The 22nd of November, given to the Earl of Hartford's
Players by the appointment, aforesaid — 20s.
According to this account, which probably deals only with the
first performances (if there were any others 2 ), in which alone the
city authorities seem to have been interested financially, the
"rewards" or "gifts" given by them to the players are consider-
ably greater than the receipts for admission. Thus, while the re-
ceipts at the hall door for the performance of the Queen's Company
were only 10s., their "reward" out of the city purse was 30s., and
in the case of Worcester's men 6s. 8d. at the door and 13s. 4d.
from the city. The average amount taken at the door seems to
have been about 7s., while the "gifts" from the city vary from
10s. to 40s. for the more important London Companies, the
1 Ibid. 2 Cf . below pp. 17, 18.
English Deamatio Companies 15
Queen's usually obtaining the greatest "reward." The Noble-
men's and Town Companies had often to be satisfied with such
small amounts as 2s. Qd., or 5s. for "rewards," with which
amounts Lord Dacre's players are credited in 1591 and 1592. 1
Kelly supposes that the rewards of the various companies
depended upon the rank of their patrons; the Queen's players
receiving the highest reward; the companies of great noblemen,
such as Worcester, Leicester, etc., receiving the next highest;
then in the scale came the lesser noblemen's and great common-
ers' companies, and finally the Town Companies. 2 I have been
unable to find any evidence in proof of the theory, except that
those companies patronized by royalty and one or two of the
more famous noblemen always received the greatest "rewards."
Between the other companies the civic authorities do not seem to
On special occasions, such as May Day or Christmas, the
Town Companies might receive a greater reward than usual, for
in Plymouth in the years 1565-66, and 1566-67, we find such
companies as the children of Totnes playing at Christmas, and
the players of St. Burdock's playing on May Day, receiving 10s.
In Nottingham, Doncaster, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bath, and
Beverley the "rewards" given to players are about the same as
in Plymouth and Leicester.
Prom 1550 to 1570 we find a steady rise in the "rewards"
given to players by the town authorities. After 1570 the increase
is not so marked, though there is still some noticeable.
As the visits of these itinerent companies became more fre-
quent, the giving of rewards came to be a severe drain on the
town coffers, and we are not surprised when we find the Leicester
Corporation in 1566 making "an act against wasting of the town
stock," in which it is set forth that —
Whereas before this time the town stock hath been and is much
decayed by reason of giving, carrying, and bestowing of great gifts, as
well in the country as in the town, to noble men and women, and also to
others that have sundry times resorted to the said town of Leicester,
i Kelly, op. cit., pp. 226, 227, 'ilbid., p. 94.
3H. N. Wobth, Calendar of the Plymouth Municipal Records (Plymouth, 1893), p. 120
16 John Tuokee Murray
and also at the banquets of venison, of gifts and rewards given to players,
musicians, jesters, noblemen's bearwards, and such like charges ; and is
like daily to be more and more to be decayed, except reformation thereof
be speedily had ; therefore it is enacted, .... that from and after the
said day there shall be no such great allowance paid, delivered, or allowed
out of the town stock for any such expenses that shall happen, but that
the spenders thereof, as at banquets of venison, plays, bear baitings, and
such like, every one of the Mayor's brethren, and of the forty-eight, being
required or having summons by the commandment of Mr. Mayor for the
time being, to be there, shall bear everyone of them his and their por-
It is also required that no "gift" should be given by the mayor
without the consent of four or five of the "ancients" of his
brethren, and as many of the ancients of the forty-five, except
five shillings and under; which he could bestow for the "honor
of the town" as often as he wished.
In November, 1581, the giving of rewards was further restricted
by an act which stated :
It is agreed that from henceforth there shall not be any fees or
rewards given by the chamber of this town, nor any of the twenty-four
nor forty-eight to be charged with any payments for or towards any
bearwards, bearbaitings, players, plays, interludes, or games, or any of
them, except the Queen's Majesty's or the Lords of the Privy Council ;
nor that any players be suffered to play at the town hall (except as before
excepted), and then but only before the Mayor and his brethern, upon
pain of 40s. to be lost by the Mayor that shall suffer or do the contrary. 2
These orders do not seem to have been very rigidly enforced,
however, for we find the visits of companies and the payments of
"rewards" to be about as frequent after as before their enact-
We have already seen that the city sometimes gave presents of
ale or wine to companies of players when playing at private houses
on festive occasions. 3 Occasionally they seem to have presented
the companies with gifts of ale, wine, or even a contribution
toward a meal in addition to the regular reward. Thus in Beverley,
August 8, 1572, we find an entry in the town records of 9d. "for
wine bestowed" on the Earl of Leicester's players in addition to
1 Ibid., pp. 94, 95 (quoted). 2 Ibid., p. 95 (quoted).
3 Cf. above, pp. 9, 10.
English Dramatic Companies 17
their reward of 30s. 1 When Worcester's men visited Leicester
in 1583, "Mr. Mayor did give the aforesaid players an angel
towards their dinner." 2
As we should expect, the receipts of the companies while
traveling in the provincial towns were much smaller than their
receipts while acting at the regular theaters in London. Malone
supposed that during the early seventeenth century as much as £20
was often taken at the doors of the Globe and Blackfriar's Theaters
for one performance, and we know that these theaters averaged
about £9 clear profit on the benefit nights for the five and a half
years after 1628. 3 While the receipts at the older theaters,
the Rose and Curtain, were probably smaller, still they must
have been considerably more than the receipts in the provincial
towns, for Henslowe as manager and part owner of these theaters
from 1591-97 often pocketed daily as much as £3 or £A as his
share of the profits. 4 Even supposing that he took more than his
fifteen shares of the forty which was the proportion Malone sup-
posed the proprietors to receive, the company getting twenty-two
shares, still the profits must have been more than in the towns.
In adddition to this, we must remember that their traveling
expenses must have been considerable while on the road, and
that on many days while moving from one town to another, they
could give no performances. 5
How long a company would remain in a town, or how many
performances it would give, I have been unable to determine, as
the town records deal almost exclusively with the single perfor-
mance in which the civic authorities were financially interested.
That their stay was not long we may be fairly certain. Willis, in
his reference to the customs of companies playing in Gloucester,
implies that they gave more than one performance during their
visit, 6 and from the account of the quarrel between the town
authorities and the so-called "Servants of the Queen's Majesty's
1 Geobge Podxson, History and Antiquities of Beverley (London, 1829), quoted from
records, p, 819.
2 Quoted from Kelly, op. cit., above, p. 7.
3 Colliee, op. cit., Vol. Ill, p. 233. * Ibid.
5 It should be remembered that from 1550 to 1600 money had about eight times its pres-
6 Cf . as quoted above, pp. 5, 6.
18 John Tucker Muebay
Master of the Revels" and Worcester's men in Leicester in 1583,
it appears that the former company did not stay in the town more
than three days, for they arrived on Tuesday, March 3, and on
March 6 appear to have left the city. 1
To be sure, in the Edinburgh accounts for October, November,
and December, 1599, we find records of the performances of a
company of English comedians, apparently the same company.'
But whether their stay in Edinburgh was continuous during these
months the entries do not allow us to determine. It is, however,
probable that a company would stay a few days in a town, giving
That some companies were more popular in certain towns than
in others is evident from the frequency of their visits in those
localities. Thus in Bath, 3 the Lord Chamberlain's, afterward the
Queen's Company, is by far the most frequent visitor, while in
Beverley* and Oxford 5 the Earl of Leicester's men seem to have
been the favorites.
Sometimes certain companies seem to have had a practical
monopoly of the patronage of a town, at least for a certain length
of time. Thus at Leicester in 1581 it was enacted that from
that date only the players of the Queen and Lords of the Privy
Council could act in that town. 6
That the companies while traveling materially reduced the
number of their actors does not seem probable, for in the Leicester
records for 1583 we have the following list of Worcester's men
Robert Broune Edward Broune
James Tunstall (Dunstan?) Richard Andrews
Edward Allen Thomas Powlton
William Harryson William Pateson, Lord Har-
Thomas Cooke bard's man. 7
1 Cf. as quoted above, pp. 7, 8. 2 Cf. Dibdin, op. cit., pp. 22-24.
8 Austin J. King and B. H. Watts, Municipal Records of Bath, 1189-1604 (London,
1885), p. 56.
* Geokge Poclson, op. cit., pp. 294-319.
5 Selections from. Records of Oxford from Henry VIII-Elizabeth (1509-1582) By William
H. Tdbnee, (Oxford and London: Jas. Parker & Co., 1880), pp. 267 et seq.
e Kelly, op. cit., cf. above, p. 16. J Ibid., p. 212.
English Dbamatic Companies 19
Including Pateson, this gives a company of ten players, which
was about the usual number carried by a company while acting
in London, if we rule out persons taking unimportant parts in
certain plays requiring a large cast. Undoubtedly a company
while traveling would present only such plays as could be acted
by an average number of players, and so do away with the expense
of taking with them actors for unimportant parts.
In closing this paper, I wish to emphasize again the popularity
of professional dramatic performances in England during the
latter half of the sixteen century. There can be no doubt that
that there were frequent quarrels between the town authorities
and the traveling dramatic companies, and that among the more
religious element of the citizens there was a feeling of opposition
to dramatic performances as savoring of the devil; still such a
statement as Mr. Oourthope's in his History of English Poetry
that " from the middle of the sixteenth century onwards the rep-
resentation of stage plays, always encouraged by the nobility,
had been vehemently opposed by the magistrate in almost every
considerable city in England," : can be nothing but misleading.
The evidence he adduces to prove his statement is that "in 1572
the corporation of Leicester refused leave to the Earl of Wor-
cester's players to act in the town." 2 Possibly this is true,
though I have been unable to find the entry. Even so, the magis-
trates often had other reasons than religious ones 3 for refusing
to allow the players to perform. At any rate, we know that in
1572 Worcester's men did act in Leicester, for in the town records
we find the following entry under that date:
Item. Given to the Lord of Worcester's Players, more than was
gathered — 8s.*
Also from 1571 to 1576 we find records of the Queen's Players,
the Players of Coventry, Lord Leicester's players, Lord Sussex'
men, Lord Derby's Bearward and Essex' men, the players that
came out of Wales, and Earl of Warwick's men, playing in that
1 W. J. Cocbthope, History of English Poetry (London, 1903), Vol. IV, p. 391.
3 The context of the above quotation from Mr. Courthope implies that the magistrates
of Leicester thus refused Worcester's men permission to play on religious grounds ; cf . p. 391 .
* Kelly, op. cit, p. 205.
20 John Tookee Murray
town. 1 A reference to the town records of Nottingham, Oxford,
Shrewsbury, Bristol, Doncaster, Beverley, Plymouth, Bath and
Stratford -on- Avon shows frequent visits of dramatic companies.
If the magistrates were so "vehemently opposed" to the "stage
plays," it is remarkable that they so often should have not only
allowed them to play, bat attended the first performances, given
the players "rewards" out of the city coffers, permitted them to
act in the guild-hall or church, and even in some cases built play-
houses for their performances; that in 1572 "John Hankey,
Mayor of Chester would needs have the plays go forward against
the wills of the Bishops of Canterbury, York, and Chester," 2 and
the plays were miracle plays at that. In fact, the state of the
case seems to have been that the great body of English citizens,
both magistrates and private citizens, were not only willing but
glad to welcome the properly authorized dramatic companies to
their towns and to attend their performances. Even the more
Puritanical element did not so much object to the plays of the
regular professional companies as to the miracle- and mystery-
plays, and the popular amusements, such as the May games and
Morrice dances, The former they connected with the ritual of
the Roman Catholic church, which they hated, and the latter
with paganism. To assert, then, that, because a small and com-
paratively uninfluential body of extremely strict Protestants and
Roman Catholics loathed dramatic performances, the people of
England were "vehemently opposed" to the stage, is both mis-
leading and unjust.
Thus we have seen that during the latter half of the sixteenth
century the professional actors superseded the old amateur players
in the favor of the British public ; that the professional com-
panies, when traveling among the provincial towns, carried their
usual number of players and, though not making such large
profits as in London, managed to clear enough out of the admis-
sion fees they exacted, and the "gifts" or "rewards" of the cor-
porations, to make their tours not unprofitable ; that when in these
towns they gave their plays at private houses, inns, inn-yards,
churches, town- or guild-halls, and play- or game-houses where
i Ibid., pp. 2M-6. 2 E. K. Chambers, The Mediasval Stage, Vol. II, p. 353.
English Dramatic Companies 21
such existed, and that in those towns where the companies were
accustomed to play in the church or town- or guild-hall they
might even demand a "reward" if the town council refused to
allow them to use these buildings for their performances ; that in
some towns one or two companies had a practical monopoly of the
patronage of that town; and that, in spite of their occasional
quarrels with the civil and spiritual authorities, these professional
companies were popular with all but the extremely strict element
of Protestant and Roman Catholic citizens of England.
John Tucker Murray.
Note.— As the examination of the material connected with this sub-
ject is still going on with a view to the publication of a history of the
dramatic companies, I wish it to be understood that the opinions
expressed in this article are more or less tentative.