Players, Livery Companies, and Apprentices

David Kathman

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

 Players, Livery Companies, and Apprentices

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


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Apprenticeship was a key feature of early modern playing companies, yet it is easily misunderstood by modern observers. The development of apprenticeship in Elizabethan England paralleled the development of trade guilds, more properly known in London as livery companies. Male apprentices were important because they played all the female roles on the professional English stage before 1660, but the institution also served as a training ground, with many (perhaps most) theatrical apprentices going on to become adult players. In this sense, theatrical apprenticeship was much like apprenticeship in more traditional trades, and the similarities became more notable as the professional theatre became more stable and structured. In fact, many professional players were members (or freemen) of the livery companies that collectively oversaw most of the trades in London, and theatrical apprentices were often formally bound as goldsmiths, grocers, drapers, or some other trade, even when all their training was on the professional stage.

Keywords: England; apprenticeship; apprentices; livery companies; players; playing companies; trade guilds; training; theatre

Article.  8380 words. 

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

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