The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

D. ANGUS


42. Who was Laurence Fletcher?

It is, as they say, a good question. Until the other day all that was known of Laurence – and it was known only to students of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre—might have fitted comfortably on to Churchill’s famous half-sheet of paper.

Laurence Fletcher: actor-manager. His company of ‘English comedians’ played before the Scottish Court at Holyrood (in the old Tennis Court theatre, round the corner from the Abbey Strand); and toured those Scottish burghs which would permit their performances, in the 1590s and up until 1603.

From Autumn 1599 the company of ‘comedians’ (i.e. actors) performed publicly in Edinburgh at a house fitted up as a theatre in Blackfriars’ Wynd. (It is good to know there is still provision for drama at the new Italian Institute in the same thoroughfare.) These public performances were done with King James’s strong financial backing, and his overbearing support against the Kirk, who hated the performances, and tried to ban their congregations from seeing them. James won that battle with the Kirk.

In 1601, when the company played Aberdeen at Woolmanhill, Fletcher, described as ‘comedian-serviture to His Majesty’ was made a burgess of that city. In 1603 Fletcher went south with James, and in May his name appeared at the head of the list of the King’s Men, the new theatrical company formed mainly from the old Lord Chamberlain’s Men by the new King of Britain, and including Shakespeare and Richard Burbage. He became a shareholder of the Globe Theatre with Shakespeare, Burbage and others and the King’s Men walked in. the 1604 Coronation Procession in fine new clothes specially provided for the occasion.

The rest, curiously, is almost silence. From 1605 to 1607 Fletcher lived in actors’ digs at Hunt’s Rents in Maid Lane, Southwark, near the Globe, but no record exists of his having acted there. In 1605 a fellow-actor, Augustine Phillips, died and left him and other King’s Men, including Shakespeare, money in his will. But in September 1608 it seems Fletcher himself died, for the records state that on the 12th of that month he was buried at St. Saviour’s Church (now Southwark Cathedral) ‘with an afternoon knell of the great bell.’ The final couplet indeed.

All of which leaves Laurence a shadowy figure. Think of all we do not know. Where and when was he born? Was he Scots or English? Our only anecdote about Fletcher suggests he was a Scot. In the early 1590s we find King James discussing him with two English diplomats at the Scottish Court, one of them Sir Roger Aston. I should have said that the ‘company of English comedians’ operating in

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