Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Shakespeare and the Chamberlain's Men in 1598

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Shakespeare and the Chamberlain's Men in 1598

Article excerpt

LEEDS Barroll has shown the benefits that can flow from thinking, exactly and in detail, about the individual years of Shakespeare's career. The early chapters of Politics, Plague, and Shakespeare's Theater are a close reading of Shakespeare and the King's Men in the first year of the Jacobean regime, from the royal patent that was issued to the company in May 1603 through their performances at court in the winters of 1603-04 and 1604-05. That period consists of over eighteen months, so I use "individual year" in a broad sense, but if we could find in every year and a half of Shakespeare's career as much as Barroll has seen the months between May 1603 and January 1605, we would know just about everything involving the writer and his acting company, or would at least have a theory about everything. (1)

What opened the way to Barroll's study of 1603-05 was the extraordinary evidence in the accounts of the Revels Office, where the titles of the plays performed before the king and queen in the winter season of 1604-05 are included, giving us a picture of the repertory of the King's Men at a particular moment. The actual scheduling of plays by title--which Henslowe's Diary makes available for the Admiral's Men and the other companies that played at the Rose--is the kind of detail normally lacking for the Chamberlain's/King's Men (although the Revels accounts offer similar title-writing for 1611-13). I have no such windfall of evidence for my "year" in the affairs of Shakespeare and company, some eighteen months between 1597 and 1599 that I am calling "1598," but there is nevertheless ample space for detailed thinking about this spot of time in the affairs of the playwright and his fellow actors. I would like to zero in on the English history plays that were being written and performed in "1598," with particular attention to the question of whether these were recognized as a "series" in their own time. We permit ourselves to talk of the First Tetralology and the Second, a far cry from anything the Elizabethans would have called the histories. But a "series" of plays would have been taking shape in the playhouse by the later 1590s, and it may also have been taking shape at the sign of the Angel in St. Paul's Churchyard, where the stationer Andrew Wise had his shop.

In February of 1598 Wise entered the play we know as Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV in the Stationers' Register, as a preliminary step to the publication of the play later that year. The Stationers' Register and the published quarto both use the title The History of Henry the Fourth (modernized spelling), giving no sign that this was the first part of a two-part Henry IV. But a broader sequence of history plays was being fashioned. Andrew Wise had published two other plays about English kings, The Tragedy of Richard the Second and The Tragedy of Richard the Third, just a few months earlier, the first appearing sometime after a Stationers' Register entry of 29 August 1597, the second after an entry of 20 October 1597. When the History of Henry the Fourth came out, if the other two had not already sold out, there were three plays on the reigns of English monarchs available for purchase at the sign of the Angel in Paul's Churchyard.

Did Wise conceive of these as a group? Would he have been aware that more English history plays would be coming along from the Chamberlain's Men, to form a series of connected plays? We do not know. What we do know is that Wise published second editions of the plays about Richard II and Richard III in the same year as he brought out the new play on Henry IV, 1598, and that the second editions added something that was left off the title pages of the first editions, the name of the author. The second editions of the Richard II and Richard III plays named Shakespeare and the Chamberlain's Men, whereas the first editions named only the Chamberlain's Men. When in 1599 Wise published a second edition of The History of Henry IV he named Shakespeare again, this time rather improperly: "newly corrected by W. …

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