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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large extent superseded the amateur players, and the danger of 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. 

540 



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 
vagabonds. 1 

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. 

541 



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 
said Edmund. 

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, 
etc.). 3 

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 
greater degree.* 

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. 

542 



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 
citizens : 

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." 

543 



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. 

544 



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. 

545 



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 
anger. 4 

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. 

546 



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 
owner's name. 

547 



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- 
ing entry: 

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 
—20s. 3 

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, 
p. 47. 

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) 
p. 299. 

• Records of Nottingham, Vol. IV, p. 168. 

548 



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 
£4D. 3 

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 




549 



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. 
5s. 4d.' 

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. 

550 



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 
following : 

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 
follows : 

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), 
p. 50. 

5 Owen and Blakeney, History of Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1825), Vol. I. p. 394. 
&Ibid., p. 394. 7 Kelly, op. cit, p. 225. 

551 



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 
following : 

Receipts towards the charges of the Gifts given to Noblemen's 
Players: — 

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 — 
40s. 

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. 

552 



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 
have distinguished. 

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. 
reward. 3 

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 

553 



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- 
tion. 1 

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- 
ment. 

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. 

554 



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- 
ent value. 

6 Cf . as quoted above, pp. 5, 6. 

555 



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 
daily performances. 

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 
given: 

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 

Richard Johnes 

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. 

556 



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. 

2 Ibid. 

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. 

557 



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. 

558 



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. 

Harvard University. 

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. 



559