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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

X. The Elizabethan Theatre

§ 7. The Queen’s and Admiral’s Companies

The Queen’s company, as we have seen, was formed in 1583 at the suggestion of Sir Francis Walsingham. Its members were selected by the master of the revels, then Edmund Tilney, from the best companies of the day, including Leicester’s and the earl of Warwick’s, and it was licensed by the privy council. It played frequently at court between 1584 and 1591, and its public house was, probably, the Theater; but in, or about the end of, 1592, it had left London, and it is not heard of after Easter, 1594. The original members included James Burbage, John Laneham, Robert Wilson and Richard Tarlton from Leicester’s company, and Laurence and John Dutton from Warwick’s. James Burbage, originally a joiner by trade, had been the chief of Leicester’s company. Of Laneham, as an actor, nothing is known, and Wilson is more famous as a playwright. Tarlton is a famous figure in the theatrical history of the time. A clown, who took to the stage, as it appears, comparatively late in life, he achieved a popularity that long outlasted his death. His extemporal riming and his “jiggs” were the delight of the groundlings, and he left some volumes of verse and jests, besides the play of The Seven Deadly Sins, the “platt” or scheme of which survives in manuscript at Dulwich. Among the authors whose plays this company acted were the university wits, Greene, Lodge and Peele; and, possibly, Marlowe’s Jew of Malta was in their répertoire.

A company under the patronage of Charles second lord Howard of Effingham is found acting at court between 1576 and 1578, and probably continued to exist until 1585. Soon after Howard’s appointment as lord high admiral, a company appears as the Admiral’s, playing at court and evidently, also, at some innyard. The partial dispersal of this company and its loose combination with that of lord Strange have already been mentioned. In October, 1592, Edward Alleyn, who is first heard of in January, 1583, as a member of the earl of Worcester’s company, and joined, in or about 1589, that of the Admiral, married Joan Woodward, step-daughter of Philip Henslowe, who, in the previous spring, had put in order his playhouse, the Rose in Southwark. By 1594, the Admiral’s men had severed their connection with Strange’s (then the Chamberlain’s) company, and started independently at the Rose with Alleyn as their leading actor. Barabas, in Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus were among the parts he created and it is probable, also, that Orlando Furioso in Greene’s play of that name was in his répertoire. By 1592, Nashe is found comparing him with Roscius and Aesop to their disadvantage; Ben Jonson has left a tribute to him as one “who gave so many Poets life.” In 1597, he “left playing”: whether for good or only temporarily is not certain. There is no direct evidence that he ever acted again, and his only recorded public appearance in a similar capacity is his delivery of an address to James I at his reception by the city on 15 March, 1604. In 1597, Howard was created earl of Nottingham, and his company is sometimes called by that name. Though deprived of its leading actor, it continued, with the usual interruptions, to perform at the Rose, until the building of the Fortune by Henslowe and Alleyn in 1600. This remained the company’s house, except for a few years in its latest period. Early in the new reign, the company was transferred to the patronage of prince Henry, James’s eldest son; after prince Henry’s death in 1612, it was taken up, for a time at any rate, by Frederick V, elector palatine, who married James’s daughter Elizabeth in February, 1613, and was known as the Palsgrave’s company; and, in 1632, prince Charles, afterwards Charles II, became its youthful patron. It was for this company that Marlowe wrote The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus; and Lodge, Greene, Ben Jonson, Dekker, Chapman, Drayton and Middleton, were, at one time or another, in its employ as authors.

Besides the three of whose history a slight sketch is here given, there were, of course, many other companies of players. In spite of the privy council’s restraining supervision and the enmity of the city, there were seldom less than four or five companies, besides usually two companies of boys, acting in and about London at the same time. The amount of competition, therefore, though not excessive as in the present day, was sufficient to maintain a healthy rivalry, which may be contrasted in its results with the evils that followed upon the establishment of two, and only two, “patent” houses after the Restoration.