Adult Playing Companies to 1583

W. R. Streitberger

in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697861
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Adult Playing Companies to 1583

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)



In March 1583, Elizabeth I's Principal Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, asked Edmond Tilney, then Master of the Revels, to choose a new company of players to serve under the Queen's patronage. Tilney drafted players from several sophisticated companies to create the largest and most talented playing company of the era, one that dominated in the Queen's Revels throughout the 1580s and continued to play in the provinces until the end of her reign. Professional theatre in England dates from as early as the fourteenth century, when groups of players who earned their livelihood from their performances travelled the countryside in search of audiences. Some early playing companies were independent, known by the names of their leading players, but by the late fifteenth century others were under community sponsorship. Between 1572 and 1583, there were at least thirty-five companies with known patrons, but the adult playing companies that offered all fifty-six plays in the revels during this period were patronised by only ten of them, all members of the Queen's family or close personal friends.

Keywords: England; Elizabeth I; adult playing companies; professional theatre; Edmond Tilney; revels; patronage; Francis Walsingham

Article.  10650 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)

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