An oldie but goodie, part 1

This paper was written almost ten years ago. In places the ponderous style makes me shudder now, but I don’t have the time to revise it and I think the argument and some bits of new information contained in it make it worth putting it out there.

So, here goes…



A First Performance and an Imaginary Performance: Lady Elizabeth’s Men, Queen Henrietta’s Men and The Renegado

 William Lloyd, SAA Theatre History Seminar, Philadelphia 2006

  1. An Imaginary Performance

It would be hard to overestimate just how influential G. E. Bentley’s The Jacobean and Caroline Stage has been on the study of English renaissance drama. Although the earliest volumes were published sixty-five years ago and the final ones almost forty, Bentley’s synthesis of the evidence, especially for the final decades of this period, still informs both scholarly and critical work. Some of that work builds on Bentley’s, some reacts to it, and much takes it for granted.[1] However, like any reading of fragmentary and sometimes contradictory evidence, Bentley’s narratives are necessarily provisional. Nonetheless, some of his hypothetical reconstructions have come to be regarded as fact, although in some cases the same evidence can be read in other ways, and even small additions to the available information can lead to a reassessment. This paper will offer a reinterpretation of one such narrative, the story of changing companies of players at the Phoenix playhouse just before and after the death of James I, and will examine the relevance to that transition of the cast printed with Philip Massinger’s tragicomedy The Renegado. I will also attempt to shed light on Bentley’s approach to constructing acting company histories, and make some suggestions regarding Christopher Beeston, his methods, and the companies he managed

The Renegado was licensed on 17 April 1624 by Sir Henry Herbert “for the Cockpit company”.[2] At that time the company at the Cockpit (as the Phoenix was usually called) was a version of the Lady Elizabeth’s Men. In 1630 The Renegado was entered in the Stationer’s Register and published. According to the title page the play had been “often acted by the Queenes Maiesties seruants, at the private Play-house in Drury-lane”. These servants were Queen Henrietta Maria’s Men, who acted at the Cockpit in Drury Lane from sometime in 1625 until 1636.[3]

Q1630 prints a cast in double columns. The left column is headed “Dramatis Personae” and lists major and minor parts in the play, while the right column, headed “The Actors Names”, lists the actors who played nine of those parts.[4] Regarding this cast Massinger’s latest editors say:

…presumably the original performance [of The Renegado] was by members of the Lady Elizabeth’s Company which played at the Cockpit… until the group dissolved after the closure of the theatres in March, 1625, in mourning for James I. Beeston… apparently retained possession of many of the company’s plays, which became part of the repertoire of Queen Henrietta’s Men, the new company at the Phoenix. Bentley (i. 220-2) points out that the cast list printed in the 1630 quarto derives from a performance given by the company as it existed at the end of 1625 or early in 1626.[5]

 Since Bentley is said to “point out” a performance by the Queen’s during this fairly narrow window of time, one would assume there exists either a contemporary reference to this revival, or perhaps a company list of about that date naming the same players. But in fact no record or evidence exists for any such performance. The assignment of a 1625-6 date to the performance represented by this printed cast turns out to belong to a rather circular hypothesis which was in part formulated to explain some peculiarities of The Renegado cast. This hypothesis has hardened into fact in the collected edition of Massinger’s plays, and elsewhere.[6]

What Bentley actually said is not quite so absolutely expressed:

 This cast appears to be that for a performance by Queen Henrietta’s men late in 1625 or early in 1626, and not a cast for the first performance by Lady Elizabeth’s men, nor a cast of Queen Henrietta’s men about the time of the publication of the quarto.[7]

Although cast lists for revivals are known, most printed casts of the period belong apparently to first performances.[8] Why did Bentley dismiss the possibility that The Renegado list represented the 1624 premier and find it necessary to reassign it to a later date? Nowhere did he explicitly say so, but one reason must be the lack of correspondence between The Renegado cast list and the only other known list of Lady Elizabeth’s company at the Cockpit 1622-25. This list was recorded in Sir Henry Herbert’s office-book (probably by his predecessor Sir John Astley) sometime in 1622.[9] Not a single name appears on both lists. This certainly would seem to be very strong evidence that The Renegado list belonged to a different company; and since six of the nine players named in it later appear in casts of Queen Henrietta’s company the assumption that it belongs to the Queen’s seems natural.[10]

But Bentley was also intent on contradicting such easy pronouncements as this by F. G. Fleay: “The Lady Elizabeth’s players passed to Queen Henrietta c. 24th June 1625. The lists which this company often prefixed to their plays enable us to identify their chief members before and after this change.” Fleay then offered a table of cast lists, as of one continuous company, beginning with The Renegado in April 1624 (a performance he attributed to the Lady Elizabeth’s) and continuing with Queen Henrietta’s performances of The Wedding in May 1626 and other later plays. [11] Bentley objected:

 It is generally said that the new Queen Henrietta’s company was formed from the old Lady Elizabeth’s men, and though this statement is not wholly false, it is somewhat misleading… the evidence indicates that however much Beeston may have pillaged the old company for the new one, Queen Henrietta’s company was by no means the Lady Elizabeth’s players with a new patent. Only three men are known to have belonged to both companies, Beeston, Turner and Sherlock… Not only do the majority of Lady Elizabeth’s men fail to appear in Queen Henrietta’s company, but as many members of the new organization came from the old Queen Anne-Revels company as from Lady Elizabeth’s. From the casts of three plays (The Renegado, The Wedding, and the two parts of The Fair Maid of the West) performed by Queen Henrietta’s men in the first five or six years of the history of the company, we have the names of twenty actors—sixteen men: Richard Perkins, Michael Bowyer, John Sumner, William Sherlock, Anthony Turner, William Allen, William Robbins or Robinson, William Wilbraham, John Young, John Dobson, Timothy Reade, Robert Axen or Axell, Christopher Goade, John Blaney, William Reignolds, Edward Shakerley; and four boys: John Page, Hugh Clark, Edward Rogers, and Theophilus Bird. Only five of these men have known company affiliations before they appear in Queen Henrietta’s casts…None of the fifteen other men and boys appears with any earlier company.[12]

 Thus did Bentley begin to construct his narrative of the birth of Queen Henrietta’s company. He concluded that The Renegado cast belonged to Queen Henrietta’s and then worked backward to explain discrepancies. But these actor tallies are somewhat misleading—five previously known (Sherlock and Turner from Lady Elizabeth’s and Perkins, Robbins and Blaney from the Red Bull Revels) and fifteen “unknowns”, recruited from the wilds of the London theatre world—but of those fifteen, Bentley admitted that four were boys, and as he himself pointed out elsewhere, boys are under-represented in the records, which greatly reduces the significance of their not being named in any given company list.[13] He soon thought better of this number, for two pages later he omitted the boys, referring to the “eleven unknowns” of Queen Henrietta’s company. Even those eleven do not bear close examination. Bentley counted Timothy Reade as one of the eleven men, but in The Wedding, Reade’s only appearance in a Cockpit cast list, he plays a woman: presumably he too was still a youth in 1626.[14] Likewise, if our William Wilbraham is the person of that name christened in Cheshire on 4 December 1608, it would make him 15 in April 1624 or 17 in May 1626.[15] Christopher Goade and Robert Axen are two more of the eleven men, but they do not appear in either The Renegado or The Wedding. There is no firm evidence they belonged to the company before c1629 and as such they can scarcely be used to argue the 1624/26 transition. As we shall see, Edward Shakerley certainly and William Allen probably were at the Cockpit before 1625, and so do not belong to the eleven at all. The eleven have now become five—Bowyer, Sumner, Reignolds, Dobson, and Young. Five is still a fair number of supposedly new Queen’s men in 1625/26, but it is not fifteen. Bentley continued:

 There are certain rather puzzling implications… in the cast of… Massinger’s Renegado. This cast, I believe, is the earliest list of the [Queen’s] company… The odd thing… is that four of the most important actors of the company, men who appear in all the other casts, are not found here at all—Richard Perkins, William Sherlock, Hugh Clark, and Anthony Turner. Perkins was the actor of greatest repute in the company; Sherlock and Clark were named leaders in 1634; Turner is very well known. The obvious conclusion is that these men had not yet joined the company; neither an oversight, nor the performance of small unassigned roles, nor the omission of suitable parts can account for the failure of so many prominent actors of the company to appear here. The absence of these four important players is enough to suggest an early date, before 1626, for the cast of The Renegado. But there is other evidence in the cast which leads to the same conclusion. Three of the actors in The Renegado, John Blaney, Edward Shakerley, and William Reignolds, never appear with the company again. This disappearance suggests that they were replaced by Perkins, Sherlock, and Turner, all of whom have prominent parts in The Wedding, the company’s next play, in May 1626. The cast of seven men and two boys printed in the 1630 edition of The Renegado must, then, represent Queen Henrietta’s company as it existed at the end of 1625 or in the first months of 1626 [16]

 This interpretation of the unfortunately incomplete evidence is not an impossible one, but it is clearly hypothetical. He was however padding his argument again, because Hugh Clarke, though certainly a company leader in 1634, was (as has been noted) still a boy player in 1624/26 and so is subject to the caveat concerning the scarcity of boy players in the records.

Bentley very properly hedged his conclusions, saying of his own hypothesis: “None of these suggestions can be pressed very far because the majority of the actors of [the Queen’s] company are unknown before 1625. Discovery of the earlier associations of even three or four of the eleven unknowns might completely reverse any conclusions possible now”.[17] As it happens, some new evidence has turned up which was not available to Bentley in 1941. Further, I think that a close look at the 1622 Cockpit list will show that it is unlikely to accurately represent who actually would have been acting on the Cockpit stage in 1624. This will allow me to test the simpler hypothesis that The Renegado cast belongs to the first performance of April 1624.

[1] Gerald Eades Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vol. (1941-68). This covers the years 1616 to 1642, picking up where E. K. Chambers’s The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vol. (1923) left off. In some quarters Andrew Gurr’s The Shakespearian Playing Companies is considered to have superseded Chambers and Bentley, and is increasingly being cited as a primary reference for the period 1558-1642. Gurr’s book, however, while offering new insights and some new information, contains a sufficient number of errors of fact that Bentley’s books remain the preferred reference in some areas. In addition, Gurr takes for granted the truth of Bentley’s hypothesis regarding The Renegado and the creation of Queen Henrietta’s players (see note 6).

[2] N. W. Bawcutt, The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: The Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels 1623-1673), 151.

[3] For copies of these and other relevant records, see Appendix I.

[4] See Appendix I. The cast and discussions of it can be found in Philip Massinger, The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, 5 vol., ed. Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson, ii. 12; Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Player in Shakespeare’s Time, 271; and T. J. King, Casting Shakespeare’s Plays, 63-66, which includes a facsimile on page 65.

Biographical entries on most of the actors and theatre people discussed in this paper will be found in volume ii of Bentley, JCS or in Edwin Nungezer, A Dictionary of Actors. To save space I have in some cases not footnoted information available in these accounts unless a specific point is being made.

[5]Massinger, Plays, ii. 7-8.

[6] For instance Gurr, SPC, 433, calls The Renegado “one of the new [Queen’s] company’s first plays”, and lists Blaney, Shakerley and Reignolds in his roster of Queen Henrietta’s players. David Bradley, From Text to Performance in the Elizabethan Theatre treats it as the second of six Queen Henrietta’s casts and does not mention Lady Elizabeth’s men; In the Revels edition of John Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice, editor A. T. Moore says: “In assembling the [Queen’s] company Beeston took only Anthony Turner, William Sherlock and possibly William Allen from Lady Elizabeth’s Men… Casts are extant for five plays performed by Queen Henrietta’s company: Massinger’s The Renegado (printed 1630, first acted by Queen Henrietta’s 1625-6)…” (17-18). And Bentley, Profession, 269-70, said, “…Massinger’s Renegado [was] printed in 1630 with a cast that dates from 1625 or 1626, though the play must have been written a year or two before for the predecessors of the Queen’s men at the Phoenix, the Lady Elizabeth’s men…”. Here we see the 1625-6 performance stated as fact, while the 1624 first performance, the date of which is about as certain as such things get, is couched in terms of estimation. Examples no doubt could be multiplied.

[7] Bentley, JCS iv. 814

[8] The cast printed with The Wild-goose Chase (written and performed by 1621) is for a revival c1632, and that printed with The Coxcomb (written c1608-10, performed by 1612) is for a revival c1613. The Duchess of Malfi gives a dual cast with major parts assigned for both the first performance c1614 and a revival c1619<>23. Other printed casts—those from the Jonson and Beaumont & Fletcher folios, and others described in Bentley, Profession, 247-95—all appear to be for first performances.

[9] See Appendix I.

[10] For later Queen Henrietta’s casts, see Appendix III.

[11] F. G. Fleay, Chronicle History of the London Stage 1559-1642 (1890), 321.

[12] Bentley, JCS i. 219-220

[13] Bentley, Profession, 117. In addition, in his account of the composition of the cast list of II Prince Charles company’s Holland’s Leaguer, he said, “In seeking the previous affiliations of these players, we can eliminate six names, for the… cast indicates that these six were boys…” JCS i. 308.

[14] David Kathman, “How Old Were Shakespeare’s Boy Actors?” Shakespeare Survey 58, Cambridge UP (2005), 220-46, suggests Timothy Reade was the son of John Reade christened 2 Nov 1606 at St. Mary Whitechapel. Timothy’s father may well have been the player John Reade; see Nungezer, Dictionary.

[15] This is the only William Wilbraham listed in the on-line International Genealogical Index (IGI). He would have been almost 17 and a half when he played the ‘adult’ role of Sir John’s manservant Isaac in The Wedding. A player this young acting an adult part was rare, but not without parallel: John Honeyman played such minor adult parts in several plays when he was about 17 or 18 (Bentley, JCS ii. 476-7). Christenings and other records from the IGI database are cited several times in this paper, with this caveat: that while IGI contains much valuable information, it really includes only a fraction of contemporary christenings, marriages and burials. Some seemingly relevant records may be merely ringers.

[16] Bentley, JCS i. 220-1. According to Bentley (JCS ii. 656-7), playing resumed by 6 December 1625 or possibly a week or two earlier, and The Wedding is internally dated to 31 May 1626, so this hypothetical early form of the company could have played for up to six months. The date of the patent for Queen Henrietta’s company is not known, but it may have been as early as June 1625 when the patent for the King’s company was issued.

[17] Bentley, JCS i. 222.

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