Rehearsal Tools of the ASC – Patronage 

“My worthy arch and patron comes tonight.
By his authority I will proclaim it
That he which find, him shall deserve our thanks”
-Gloucester, King Lear II.ii.59-61 

Many players attached themselves to noble households during the early modern period, as it endowed them with legal status and protection from laws against vagabonds and travelers. Patronage also provided them with social prestige and at times the livery (insignia) of their patron.  Additionally, salaries and rewards were given to players from their patrons, even though they were insufficient to make a living.  Players were even known to be given food and lodging by their patrons, although this was not always the case. Patrons at times would buy costumes and properties that were too expensive for players to purchase for themselves, thus enabling their theatrical endeavors.[1]

Patronage was essential to stable government,and all early modern monarchs recognized this fact. Scholar Catherine Patterson defines patronage as a mutually beneficial exchange between both patron and clients; a symbiotic relationship that was both “hierarchical, reciprocal” but it also, a “flexible” relationship.[2] All non-traveling players needed to be licensed in order to perform in the city, but licenses were only given by barons or earls after 1598; and members of the royal family once James I took the throne in 1603. 

The title page of Romeo and Juliet, 1597, paying reverence to Lord Hunsdon

Nobles and royals retained players for many reasons, including the magnificence and prestige of serving as patron to a company; the elevated social status that this provided; and often times, an interest in staging polemical battles. It has also been suggested that a motive for some members of gentry for hiring players was to support actors and playwrights of the period if the patron was particularly interested in his work.[3]  Whatever the stimulus, it was an honor to act as the patron of a company because of the influence that it endowed.  During Elizabeth’s reign, a tendency towards more centralized control of the theater became the allure of patronage, as the monarchy was able to amend what was performed for the public in theaters.[4] Many patrons were also honored as dedicatees in printings of a playwright’s works, as seen in numerous quarto versions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Henry Carey, by Steven van Herwijck, c. 1561-63. Private collection, on loan to Globe Theater.

The Privy Council issued a law stating: “License hath been granted unto two companies of stage players retained unto us, the Lord Admiral and Lord Chamberlain, to use and practice stage plays, whereby they might be the better enabled and prepared to show such plays before her Majesty as they shall be required at times meet and accustomed, to which end they have been chiefly licensed and tolerated as aforesaid.”[5] The fact that the primary purpose of playing is said to be a type of rehearsal for performing in front of the monarch indicates how intertwined these two entities were at this time. 

The Chamberlain's Men came into existence from replacements of a variety of companies, including the Queen's Men, ex-Strange's Derby's sharers who were without a patron, and Pembrooke's Men.The company’s patron, Henry Carey, was known to be an advocate and supporter of players.[6]  He was a patron to a traveling company for at least three years in the 1560s and to two boy companies in 1576 and 1582-3.

There is no question that Carey would have known the principle sharers/actors in the company and would act as their advocate to the Privy Council and the Queen. Traditionally, the Lord Chamberlain would be in charge of the Queen’s revels and would ensure that the entertainment she enjoyed was sustainable. Thus Carey, through the duopoly in 1594, was able to ensure that the two primary companies would have access to the court because they would be “housed”—allocated playhouses in the liberties.  This simultaneously appeased the city elders who were opposed to commercial theater-going and to satisfy the Queen by ensuring their place at court during the holiday season. Carey was also the Queen’s first cousin (son to Mary Boleyn and William Carey) and was close to her, though their relationship was turbulent, as he had as bad a temper as she did. However, she appointed him Lord Chamberlain in 1585 which would leave him in charge of all of her domestic arrangements, including entertainments as a way to assure his loyalty to her. 

From 1564 to 1566, players were recorded as wearing the livery of Henry Carey in what was known as Hunsdon’s Men. In fact, despite the fact that he was not a member of the playing company, James Burbage claimed Carey’s livery in 1584.[7] After Lord Chamberlain Sussex died in 1583, the company changed their name to The Chamberlain’s Men.  The players were recorded as performing at court: “the servants of the lo: Admiral and the lo: Chamberlaine on 6 January 1586.”[8]

Between 1590 and 1594, there is an absence of records for the company, which Andrew Gurr concedes suggests entirely new membership of the company.  The first listing of The Chamberlain’s personnel appeared in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour in 1598, which credited: “Will. Shakespeare. Ric. Burbage. Aug. Philips. Joh. Hemings. Hen. Condel. Tho. Pope. Will. Slye. Chr. Beeston. Will. Kempe. Joh. Duke”[9] as its principal players.   A patron served as an advocate for players to the city officials, since players were considered to be of a law social status. In 1594, The Chamberlain’s Men tried to perform in the city’s inns during winter, despite the ban at the time.  Henry Carey, also a Knight of the Garter (the highest ranking knighthood in the country) made an appeal to the Lord Mayor to allow the company access to the Cross Keys Inn in the winter, yet was unsuccessful, demonstrating how powerful anxieties were at civic level about theatrical activity.[10] Burbage in turn tried to get around this by building a roofed playhouse in the liberty of Blackfriars. On 22 July 1596, Henry Carey died and The Lord Chamberlain-ship passed to Lord Cobham. Carey’s son, George, became the company’s new patron and carried on his father’s help to his players.[11] After the accession of James I in 1603, the company was taken under royal patronage and became known as The King’s Men.   
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[1] Suzanne R. Westfall, Patrons and Performance: Early Tudor Household Revels (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 134-5. 
[2] Catherine Patterson, Urban Patronage in Early Modern England (Paolo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998), 2.
[3] Leeds Barroll, ‘Shakespeare, noble patrons, and the pleasures of “common” playing’ in Shakespeare and Theatrical Patronage in Early Modern England, ed. Paul Whitefield White and Suzanne R. Westfall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2002), 91-2 
[4] Richard Dutton, ‘Censorship’ in A New History of Early English Drama, ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 297. 
[5] Acts of the Privy Council of England, quoted by Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Playing Companies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 175. 
[6]Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 282. 
[7] Gurr, 279. 
[8] Gurr, 278. 
[9] Gurr, 280. 
[10] Gurr, 282. 
[11] Gurr, 282.