The Boy Companies 1599–1613

Mary Bly

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

 The Boy Companies 1599–1613

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


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The years 1599–1613 were the heyday of boy theatre companies: the decade in which they occasionally triumphed over adult companies and frequently performed some of the best plays available in London. Even if the boy repertories were not designed in opposition to those of adult companies, they did offer a particular type of pleasure. Their plays would have been recognisable not only owing to the age of their actors, but owing to similar preoccupations, delights, and jokes. Five key characteristics recur in many boys' plays of this period. They exhibit a wild, often humorous, fascination with erotic matters, body parts, and cuckoldry; they emphasise the beauty of the boy actor, toying with homoerotic desire; they engage in dangerous satire of the court and government; they often challenge the audience's suspension of disbelief; and they make abundant use of song and learned languages, reflecting the boys' skills as students and musicians. This article traces the history of England's boy companies operating in 1599–1613 and looks at their playhouses, erotic and homoerotic material, music and literacy, satire, and meta-theatricality.

Keywords: England; theatre; boy companies; repertories; plays; homoerotic desire; satire; playhouses; meta-theatricality; music

Article.  7438 words. 

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

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