Chamberlain's Men, Lord

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Editor: Dennis Kennedy
Date: 2003
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 1
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Chamberlain's Men, Lord

Theatre company in *early modern *London, formed in 1594 as half of a ‘duopoly’ along with the Lord *Admiral's Men, and created to replace the *Queen's Men as providers of royal entertainment at Christmas. Its membership was drawn from several groups whose patrons had recently died. Most of them came from *Strange's Men and Pembroke's Men via Sussex's. The new company's leading player was Richard *Burbage, son of the owner of the *Theatre, their allocated *playhouse. Shakespeare was a sharer and the company's contracted playwright. They began their long career with a rich repertory of Shakespeare's plays, and at the same time acquired several old Queen's Men plays, subsequently rewritten as King John, the Henry IV and Henry V series, Hamlet, and King Lear.

The two companies of the duopoly became the longest lived of all the playing companies in the Shakespearian era. The Admiral's Men ran, under different patrons' names, from 1594 until the death of King James in 1625. The Chamberlain's Men, with James as their patron from 1603, ran on as the King's Men until the closure of the theatres in 1642, a total of 48 years. Their staple repertory included all of Shakespeare's plays that have survived, the work of *Jonson, *Middleton, *Massinger, *Davenant, and *Shirley, together with the 50 or more plays by several collaborative authors known as the *Beaumont and *Fletcher canon.

During the duopoly, between 1594 and 1603, they staged more than half the plays given at court for the winter entertainments. That ratio was sustained under the first Stuart kings, especially once the company had the *Blackfriars Theatre for winter playing indoors. Although Shakespeare wrote only one of his plays (The Tempest) for the Blackfriars instead of the *Globe, the indoor theatre had been built for them as early as 1596 to replace the old Theatre. Roofed playhouses were always favoured by the gentry and nobility, but in 1596 the company lacked the social cachet they needed to secure a playing-place in the most affluent precinct in the city. Once they had established their name thanks to their Shakespeare plays and had the King as their patron, they had no trouble taking over the Blackfriars in 1608. From then on, using the Globe in summer and the Blackfriars in winter, they were unchallenged as the foremost playing company in England.

AJG

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1549200710