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Welcome to Episode #175 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

In 1603, as King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England following the death of Elizabeth I, one of the people James’ tapped to walk in his coronation parade was William Shakespeare, along with the entire Lord Chamberlain’s Men company who received the official patronage of James I to become the King’s Men. The new title and status brought big changes to the performance of plays, the subject matter selected for play writing, and gave William Shakespeare the position in society he had long sought after. Our guest this week, Lucy Munro, is here to share her research into the King’s Men and what the shift from Elizabethan into Jacobean England brought about for Shakespeare.

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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 :

  • Did William Shakespeare himself walk in the coronation parade for James I?
  • Lucy writes that Shakespeare wrote several of his plays with the King’s Men in mind. Lucy, how was this perspective different now that the King’s Men were officially patronized by the King? Had Shakespeare not always been writing with his specific playing company as the intended performance group? 
  • What changed for the life of William Shakespeare with this new appointment? Was he making more money, did he have a higher status in society? How was the day to day life of William Shakespeare impacted by this official patronage?
  • … 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.

A silken doublet, a velvet hose, a scarlet cloak, and a copatain hat!
Vincentio

Taming of the Shrew (V.1)

This is not the kind of coronation sash that Shakespeare would have been given for the coronation of James I. (Please don't send me letters.) I am putting this here as an example of ancient scarlet cloth to demonstrate that the sash they would have been given could have been very ornate. This cloth is actually The Coronation Mantle of Roger II of Sicily, silk dyed with kermes and embroidered with gold thread and pearls. |The Coronation Mantle Palermo Royal workshop, 1133/34 Figured silk (kermes-dyed), gold and silk embroidery, pearls, gold with cloisonné enamel, precious stones H 146 cm, W 345 cm SK Inv. No. XIII 14 | This kind of cloth seems to have been denoted by the Arabic siklāt. Royal Workshop, Palermo, Sicily, 1133–34. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Public Domain. Source

The King's Men wore Scarlet Robes in the Coronation Parade

When James I was crowned King of England in 1603, a huge parade was planned called the Coronation parade. However, in March when the King was supposed to be celebrated with the parade, an outbreak of plague cancelled the festivities. The parade was delayed by an entire year, and would not be held officially until 1604. When the parade finally took place, a few of the men in the company of players known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men had been brought under the official patronage of King James I and were invited to walk in the coronation parade with the King as members of his company. Lucy explains that of the members of the parade,

1,000 royal servants are not part of the households of these royal family members. 9 of the King’s Men, 9 of Prince Henry's Men, and 9 of Queen Anne's men, are issued 4.5 yards of cloth (just over 4 meters) and given to the lower status, and higher status were given scarlet clothes, Used to make livery–which is clothing that marked you out as being a royal servant.”

The livery was kind of like a uniform, only it went over your standard clothing (so maybe more like a badge or an official arm band to compare to today's terms). While certainly the designation was a huge honor for Shakespeare, the Burbages, and other members of the King's Men playing company, when it comes to the actual event, their participation may have been more mundane.

“Whether they walked in the procession or stood at strategic points, or part of this asmasing of the royal hoysehld to show how extensive it was, it’s nocetable that the King’s PLayers (big letters inthemargin) appear after themessegners, masters of hounds, ad the o=royal falconers, not that prominent and not that close to the King.”  

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There is the playhouse now, there must you sit…

Chorus

Henry V (II.0)

Memorial to Heminges and Condell in London (That's Shakespeare's head the First Folio on the top, but if you read in the black rectangle at the bottom, you will see information on Heminges and Condell as “close personal friends” of William Shakespeare). Photo by Nicholas Jackson This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Source

The King's Men Official Appointment

Separate from the scarlet cloth and participation in the coronation parade, becoming The King's Men was simply a matter of royal appointment. Lucy explains that the main solidifying event to confirm royal patronage was simply a piece of paper.
They are given a paper, royal patent, to say they are now the King’s Men, they take it when they travel–it license and authorized them to “exercise the art and faculty….” goes through quite a process, initial request from the King’s Men to be made into royal patronage, and various processes and offices that sign off and then finally the patent is issued. King’s Men paid to have it entered into the patent roll. 
William Shakespeare was the lead dramatist for the King's Men, but despite his status in the company, would likely not have been a point of contact with the King or the Master of the Revels, whose job was to coordinate with the playing company to approve entertainments before they were presented at court. Lucy explains this point of contact would have most likely been John Heminges.
Seems to be someone else that James talks to. He does appear in the paperwork as a payee for performances in 1594-1595 and this is the only time he appears in that capacity, the regular liaison person is John Heminges, who holds that role right through to the early 1630s. Business manager of the King’s Men. There are sometimes notes in the Master of the Revels that John Heminges was liaising for the playing company. The master of the revels is who worked with the company, no one would have been talking directly to James. The master of the revels would organize the companies and organize/coordinate the plays. He also censors the plays. …a couple of papers survive with the master of the revels seal on it, but sadly, not any of Shakespeare’s plays.

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Avoid the gallery.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII (V.1)

Diagram of the Globe Theater, showing the various parts of the theater. Housekeepers made money from the Gallery and Tiring House. Drawn by Cassidy Cash. Copyrighted, please do not reproduce without permission. (Though do please share this page!)
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The King's Men performed at The Globe

When it comes to how much money the players made from different venues, it gets complicated to piece together price numbers. For court appearances, we know they were paid

“10 pounds for each court performance [which is a] Substantial sum. We can compare it with the playhouses, but we don’t have precisely what the profits were for specific performances…[From Philip Henslowe's diary] we know that Henslowe was making at various points around the 1590s/1600s, a performance that is probably one of Shakespeare’s…Henry VI plays at the Globe, Henslowe gets paid a portion [she says specific value in the audio] and it’s over 3 pounds [for that one play], which means the total value of profits at The Globe [more than one play] was as much more more than what was made at Court. They were making significant amounts.” 

Lucy writes that Shakespeare wrote several of his plays with the King’s Men in mind. We can tell Shakespeare'splays shifted in tone and content after becoming the King's Men, and Lucy explains some of these changes can be attributed to the actors for whom Shakespeare was writing.

“A playwright like Shakespeare is particularly embedded amongst the people performing his pays. u p untl at least the 1600s was probably taking a number of role himself. There’s a shift because you have a different set of actors yo uare writing for. Not just particular boy actors graduating from female roles, but there are some important deaths. Thomas Pope 1603, Kempe has left by this point, and one important change of John Lowand [Cassidy Notes: Not sure on my spelling here] joins in 1603, first actor to play Iago and has a commanding stage presence. There are ways that Shakespeare’s writing accounts for Lowand (probably taking on roles of Pope) and as a shareholder…”

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…performance is a kind
of will or testament…

Painter

Timon of Athens (V.1)

While the actual sitter is unknown for certain, this is reputedly a self portait of Richard Burbage done c. 1600. Originally printed in: Ackroyd, Peter (2005). Shakespeare: The Biography. Colour plate, opp. p.338. | Public Domain | Source 

 

The King's Men Changes Shakespeare's Plays

Not only with the creation of new plays do we see changes in Shakespeare's retinue, but old works previoualy performed are now outfitted with new parts and additional content. Lucy writes that the King’s Men were “the first group to revive his plays, and the first to have them revised, either by Shakespeare himself or by other dramatists after his retirement.” Lucy outlines a few of the specific changes we know about today:

A couple of plays that are not printed until the First Folio edition, but seem to have revisions (probably post dating Shakespeare's death) the most famous is Macbeth, revised by Thomas Middleton, around 1615, and Middleton amplifies the role of the witches in the play, and is an aspect of Macbeth that appears to be calculated to appeal to James himself. James’ perspective on witches shifts over his life, by the 16teens he’s involved in inquiring about witchcraft cases, most credulous when he feels the witchcraft is affecting him personally. Particularly incensed about witchcraft around his marriage to Queen Anne. Middleton amps up Hecte and adds some songs that Measure for Measure 1620s, original play Italian settings, and relocated to Vienna in 1620s near the start of the 30 Years War, which would have been more resonate location.

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.

Want to learn more about Richard Burbage?

Download this free fact file with 10 Incredible Facts on Shakespeare's leading man.

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