11
A SERVANT OF THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN

I am as vigilant as a cat to steal cream.

( Falstaff, 1 Henry IV)


Sharing with the Burbages

In the bleak, cold spring of 1594, plague abated in southern England and players returned under grey skies to London. Few people could remember such an odd, dismal spring. The past two years had punished the acting troupes; none had thrived on the road and plague had brought total chaos to the entertainment world. Pembroke's men had broken up and had sold their playbooks, which thus came into print like debris from a sinking ship. Keen to advertise themselves, it seems, and stay afloat, other troupes released plays for publication. Hertford's small troupe faltered, and after losing their own patron, Sussex's men disbanded. Then, on 16 April, Ferdinando Lord Strange (lately fifth Earl of Derby) died in such bizarre circumstances that it was rumoured he had been poisoned, as likely he was, and his death, a few months after that of the Earl of Sussex, meant the theatre had lost two of its keenest patrons. Ferdinando's troupe performed in the name of his widow, the Dowager Countess Alice -- who will concern us -- but his death was like a bad omen. Cold skies, moreover, foretold a poor grain harvest (the first of four utterly disastrous annual failures) with rising prices and new hardships.

So far, Shakespeare had kept his options open: in the letter accompanying Lucrece he looks ahead to writing poems, not more dramas, while implying he will accept patronage. In May the government interfered -- as if a giant were regrouping the children in a vast urban

-196-

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Shakespeare: A Life
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vii
  • Introduction ix
  • A Note on Conventions Used in the Text xvi
  • I - A Stratford Youth 1
  • 1 - Birth 3
  • 2 - Mother, of the Child 11
  • 3 - John Shakespeares Fortunes 25
  • 4 - To Grammar School 43
  • 5 - Opportunity and Need 60
  • 6 - Love and Early Marriage 72
  • II - Actor and Poet of the London Stage 93
  • 7 - To London-- and the Amphitheatre Players 95
  • 8 - Attitudes 120
  • 9 - The City in September 145
  • 10 - A Patron, Poems, and Company Work 169
  • 11 - A Servant of the Lord Chamberlain 196
  • 12 - New Place and the Country 225
  • III - The Maturity of Genius 249
  • 13 - South of Julius Caesar's Tower 251
  • 14 - Hamlet's Questions 274
  • 15 - The King's Servants 295
  • 16 - The Tragic Sublime 318
  • IV - The Last Phase 351
  • 17 - Tales and Tempests 353
  • 18 - A Gentleman's Choices 382
  • The Arden and Shakespeare Families 412
  • A Note on the Shakespeare Biographical Tradition and Sources for His Life 415
  • Notes 425
  • Index 451
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