Touring Players and their Plays Before 1570

Authored by: Peter Greenfield

The Routledge Research Companion to Early Drama and performance

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472421401
eBook ISBN: 9781315612898
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043669


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Touring players like those who act the Murder of Gonzago in Hamlet appear frequently in the drama of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Some are struggling bumblers, like Sir Oliver Owlet’s Men of Histriomastix, who “travell. . . with our pumpes full of gravell” (Marston, iii: 264), but the actors who visit Elsinore can move Hamlet to tears and inflame Claudius’ guilt, even if Shakespeare mocks their outdated style. The travels and practices of such players during the reigns of Elizabeth and James have been extensively examined over the last three decades. 1 Perhaps the most important realization produced by these studies is that touring was not – as earlier theatre historians portrayed it – an unusual, even desperate action taken only when playing in London was prohibited due to plague. Rather, touring was the normal, expected practice, even for the most successful London companies. Hamlet might ask the visiting players, “How chances it they travel?” believing that both “reputation and profit” would be better in “their residence” in the city (II, ii, 330–1), yet in 1572 the Earl of Leicester’s Men wrote to their patron that they “travayle amongst our frendes as we do usuallye once a yere” (Chambers, 2: 86).

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