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Welcome to Episode #167 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

When William Shakespeare first arrived in London sometime in the 1580s, James Burbage was already making waves in the early modern performance industry by establishing a shareholders agreement at The Theater, a playhouse which the Burbages owned. After a fight with the owner of the land on which The Theater was built, the building itself would be dismantled by the Burbages and William Shakespeare who helped the Burbages clandestinely move the building timber by timber across the Thames to create the theater known as The Globe. Today, we refer to The Globe, as well as the first indoor playhouse, the Blackfriars, as Shakespeare’s theaters. Of course, the bard was intimately involved and arguably held a position of leadership in these establishments (he was one of the shareholders) but defining terms from his lifetime like “shareholders”, “leaseholder”, and “housekeeper”, all help us take a closer look at who exactly owned the theater and how being one of the shareholders was different from being an owner in a theater. Our guest this week, Lucy Munro, is the author of the article for King’s College London, titled “Who Owned the Blackfriars Playhouse” and she is here with us today to share the mechanics behind theater and playing company ownership in the 16-17th century, as well as to answer the question of whether Shakespeare really did own the theaters we give him credit for today. 

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Lucy Munro is Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature at King’s College London. She teaches, researches and writes on the plays and poetry of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, theatre history, histories of gender and childhood. Her publications include three books, Children of the Queen’s Revels: A Jacobean Theatre History (2005), Archaic Style in English Literature, 1590-1674 (2013) and Shakespeare in the Theatre: The King’s Men (2020), and editions of plays such as Shakespeare and Wilkins’s Pericles, Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, Richard Brome’s The Demoiselle and The Queen and Concubine, Massinger’s The Picture and Dekker, Ford and Rowley’s The Witch of Edmonton. Her edition of Shirley’s The Gentleman of Venice is forthcoming in The Complete Works of James Shirley in summer 2021. Her most recent essays include studies of the Blackfriars playhouse in English Literary Renaissance and Shakespeare Quarterly. She is a contributor to two collaborative research projects, Before Shakespeare (beforeshakespeare.com) and Engendering the Stage (engenderingthestage.humanities.mcmaster.ca)

In this episode, I’ll be asking Lucy Munro about :

  • In the early 17th century, Shakespeare’s company the King’s Men were “placed” in the Blackfriars. Lucy, who was it that sent the King’s Men to this theater and what does it mean for a company to be “placed” there?
  • How did the shareholders, leaseholders, or housekeepers make money on the performances? 
  • Did actors from the playing companies ever act as leaseholders on the building? Did Shakespeare hold any ownership in the Blackfriars building?  
  • … and more!

Click here to watch the video version of our show with Lucy Munro (with bonus archival images!) All the video versions of our show along with documentaries, animated plays, and bonus content are included in the streaming app for That Shakespeare Life. Try the app for free with our 14 day free trial, then stream unlimited Shakespeare history episodes for just $5/month (or $49.99/year) after that.

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Image of the Memorial to Cuthbert Burbage, in St Leonards
  • The Old Globe theatre — a print of the original theatre in London, 1642
  • Diagram of the Globe Theater, showing the various parts of the theater, drawn by Cassidy Cash
  • 17th century, Self-portrait of Richard Burbage
Sign up now for just $5/mo (or login here) and all the bonus content will immediately expand right on this page. (You will also get access to all our other patrons-only content, too!)

Book & Resources Lucy Munro recommends:

Lucy recommends Shakespeare Documented, a truly incredible resource of digitized archival documents about the life of William Shakespeare. Explore Shakespeare Documented here.

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