Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Edward Alleyn's Diary and the "Lost Years" Recovered

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Edward Alleyn's Diary and the "Lost Years" Recovered

Article excerpt

IN an essay addressing the elusive nature of women as biographical subjects, Michael Holroyd, one of the most eminent of life writers, characterized Eve Fairfax as a "biographical tease." "Every time I pursue her," he stated, "she retreats into the mists of legend, but when I give up the chase, some letters, the account of an adventure or a strange birth certificate arrives in the post. So I've decided to ignore her in the hope that she will pursue me." (1) But in addition to the mists of obscurity, there are other places--chasms, forests, and black holes--into which a biographical subject can easily vanish; and some subjects seem to disappear during certain periods of their lives and then resurface at other moments, depending upon the distribution of the extant evidence.

Edward Alleyn is one such subject who seems most knowable in the middle of his life when he was working on the stage and living in London. Most scholars are not conversant with his early life. That his natural father died when Edward was very young, as did two subsequent stepfathers, or that his natural father had been the porter of Bedlam Hospital, is not common knowledge. Likewise, his later years fade into an odd kind of obscurity, following his move south of the city, when he built and managed his so-called "hospital," the combination orphanage and pensioners' home that he called the College of God's Gift at Dulwich, and is now known as Dulwich College.

What we tend to be familiar with are the years during which he performed the lead roles in Marlowe's plays, the time when he married the step daughter of Philip Henslowe, the owner of the Rose Playhouse, and the ways in which Alleyn eventually took over the management of the Fortune Playhouse, built in 1600, or the Hope Playhouse, constructed in 1613 to serve as a multipurpose theater and baiting arena. The archive at Dulwich College, where the Henslowe-Alleyn papers reside, preserve the documents that substantiate such large and memorable moments, especially the moments that are tied to the emergence of the playhouse industry during a period in which Shakespeare's plays were written and performed. It was a time when, after all, theatrical entrepreneurship was new and the idea of a playhouse owner was a novelty in early modern culture.

The best-known manuscript from the Henslowe-Alleyn papers is simply catalogued as MS. VII, what archivist George F. Warner, in 1881, described as the "Diary and Account-Book of Philip Henslowe, 1592-1609." (2) In this source, Alleyn exists primarily in the background of the manuscript, as an actor and, I would argue, as a silent co-manager of the Rose Playhouse. During the period covered by Henslowe's book, Alleyn was clearly onstage with the Lord Admiral's Men; he most likely helped to keep financial records relating to Henslowe's performance receipts; and he helped to disburse money to pay advances for play texts, for costumes, and for other related expenses. But anyone who has looked, even quickly, through Henslowe's diary understands that all of the activity recorded for the Rose Playhouse depends upon the financial workings of the theatre. With few exceptions, anything that was noted, on a daily basis, was the result of payments or "outlay" invested in the playing company or the fabric of the building; and what was recorded as "income" were receipts on daily performances. With small exception, it is a document that is completely given over to financial transactions.

Alleyn's own diary, Dulwich MS. IX, described by Warner as the "Diary and Account-Book of Edward Alleyn, 29 September 1617-1 October 1622," (3) would appear to be another manuscript recording financial transactions. It is a narrow folio, with the accounts section covering sixty-one leaves and one introductory leaf identifying the manuscript, in what appears to be a seventeenth-century italic hand, as "The Founder's Boke/ Accounts from/ October 1617 to/ September 1622. …

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