New light on the Early History of the Theatre in Shoreditch [with texts]

Mateer, David (2006). New light on the Early History of the Theatre in Shoreditch [with texts]. English Literary Renaissance, 36(3) pp. 335–375.



Documents from the court of King's Bench, recently discovered in the National Archives at Kew, illuminate the activities of the Theatre's owners, James Burbage and John Brayne, in the years immediately following its construction in 1576/7. The impresarios first breached an agreement with Thomas Blagrave, acting Master of the Revels,and were sued for the vast sum of £201. They then allegedly broke their contract with John Hind, haberdasher of London, whose two sons had been engaged as adolescent actors. Two copies of the contract, the earliest document of its kind to survive relating to the employment and working conditions of players, are preserved on the KB plea rolls. Its 10 clauses cover rates of remuneration (both while working in London and on tour), managerial rights and responsibilities, the actors' duties, and the time and frequency of playing. It is suggested that the company whose activities were thereby regulated was the Earl of Leicester's Men, in view of Burbage's known association with that troupe. Charles, Lord Howard, who subsequently became the most important patron of Elizabethan drama, plays a significant role in events leading up to the litigation. The documents, which are transcribed and translated, complement and contextualize the pioneering research of C. W. Wallace into the Theater's early history, published almost a century ago.

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