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Welcome to Episode #86 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

In Elizabethan England, much of what we know about how theaters were operated comes from the diary of a man who ran dozens of theaters during Shakespeare’s lifetime: Philip Henslowe. Henslowe was enterprising and ambitious, setting up the Bear Garden for bear baiting, and establishing the Rose, the Fortune, and the Hope theaters, among others. Throughout his dealings with numerous playing companies including Shakespeare’s The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Henslowe kept a diary about who he paid to perform, what productions were done, and even what props and costumes were used. The result is a fascinating tale of bits and pieces that give a real insider’s look into the daily operations of what it meant to hire actors, collaborate across playing companies, and even part of how Henslowe was able to achieve a royal office in the court of James I as a theater owner in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Since we do not have a similar diary of Shakespeare’s dealings at The Globe, Henslowe’s records help us see into the world of Shakespeare’s theater to get an idea of what it was like to build dragons, stage the Battle of Shrewsbury, and where exactly the resources came from to pull off the grand feats of performance these theaters have gone down in history as having accomplished. 

Our guest this week, Dr. Amy Lidster, returns to the podcast for her second visit here at That Shakespeare Life to talk with us about Henslowe and his diaries

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Dr Amy Lidster is a Research Fellow at King’s College London. She is working on a Leverhulme-funded project called Wartime Shakespeare: Fashioning Public Opinion through Performance, which explores how Shakespeare’s plays have been used to shape public opinion during periods of conflict between the seventeenth and twenty-first century. An introductory blog can be found on the King’s English Department website. Most of Amy’s other research concentrates on history plays, historiography, and the book trade: she has just finished her first book called Unruly Histories: Publishing the history play in the age of Shakespeare. She is now working on another book about ideas of authorship and authority in early modern playbook paratexts (Challenging Authorship), which was the subject of her 2018/19 Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Society for Renaissance Studies. She is co-editing Edward III for Internet Shakespeare Editions, and recently co-organized (with Kim Gilchrist) a two-day conference on history plays, called Changing Histories: Rethinking the early modern history play. Some of the material from this episode derives from the conference’s workshop, Henslowe’s Histories, which featured Artistic Director James Wallace and The Dolphin’s Back. More information about Amy’s research and publications can be found here.

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare’s plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
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In this episode, I’ll be asking Amy about :

  •  Was he unique in keeping heavily detailed records, or did all theater owners keep diaries?

  • Once the The Little Rose was transformed from a brothel in Southwark to The Rose theater we know it as today, was the establishment more respected or was it still associated with being a brothel?

  • Shakespeare is famously partnered with James Burbage when they build The Globe theater, but did this split between Burbage and Henslowe in 1591 impact Henslowe’s association with Shakespeare? Did Shakespeare’s plays get performed at The Rose by Lord Strange’s Men or later at The Fortune with the Admiral’s Men?
  • … and more!

The record of what injuries you did us,
Though written in our flesh, we shall remember
As things but done by chance.


Antony and Cleopatra (V.2)

The Rose (mislabelled as “The Globe”) in the Visscher panorama. In Shakespearean Playhouses, by Joseph Quincy Adams, this image is identified as the first Globe Theatre and is taken from Visscher’s View of London published in 1616, but representing the city as it was several years earlier. In Shapiro, I. A. (1948). The Bankside Theatres: early engravings. Shakespeare Survey (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press) 1: 31. “…Visscher misnames it [sc. The Rose] the Globe and omits the latter altogether.” Source

The Rose Theater

The Rose became the first purpose built theater on bankside. Bear baiting, and other entertainment. So brothels and gaming went on there at the same time as the performances. Theater was not seen as that different from these forms of entertainment. Theater didn’t have a particularly refined reputation. It was quite dangerous or dissolute place. Lots of complaints issued regularly about the theater. 

Diseases, plague, licentiousness. Many complaints by people who didn’t like theaters. Thomas Haywood, much later, still defending the theater as a place where people can go to see worthy acts performed. 

Related Episode You Might Enjoy:

I will fetch my gold and have our two wagers recorded.

Cymbeline (I.4)

Portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon (1526-1596). by Steven van Herwijck (1558-1565) Painting done circa 1561-1563.  Part of a private collection on loan to The Globe theater. Source

Shakespeare didn’t work much with Henslowe

First Lord Chamberlain, established Lord Chamberlain’s Men.was an English nobleman and courtier. He was the patron of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, William Shakespeare’s playing company. The son of Mary Boleyn, he was a cousin of Elizabeth I.

Shakespeare’s earliest plays would have been performed on The Rose stage. Henry VI Part 1 was done with the Lord Strange’s Men in 1592 at The Rose theater. Titus Andronicus was performed by Sussex’s Men, too. Richard III was performed before the Chamberlain’s Men was founded, but it doesn’t appear in Henslowe’s records, which suggests that Richard III was possibly performed by Pembroke’s Men. By the time Shakespeare became established with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as a company sharer, he works exclusively with that company for the rest of his life, with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men becoming the King’s Men in 1603.

It doesn’t seem, from surviving evidence, that Shakespeare had much of an ongoing relationship with Henslowe for most of his professional life, and worked instead primarily with the Burbages.

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare’s plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
 Download the app here.

This app is an official sponsor of That Shakespeare Life.


To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

Macbeth (V.5)

Portrait of Edward Alleyn, British actor, one of the major characters of Elizabethan Theatre. 1626. Source

Henslowe and Edward Alleyn

Edward Alleyn married Philip Henslowe’s daugther, and went into business with Henslowe. This partnership was lucrative for both men, and the path to wealth for Alleyn in particular. As a part-owner in Henslowe’s ventures, he would become the sole proprietor of several playhouses, bear-baiting arenas, and brothels after Henslowe’s death. These included the Rose theater on bankside, the Paris Garden, and the Fortune Theater. The Fortune was completed the very next year after Shakespeare’s Globe was built (the Globe was built in 1599). Henslowe and Alleyn worked with the same contractor as Shakespeare, with Peter Street, though their theater did not use the Globe’s signature round shape and instead was a square construction. The Fortune was the home theater for The Admiral’s Men, the company for which Alleyn was in charge.

The Bear garden, Bankside, some time before 1616. From Visscher’s Map of London – The Project Gutenberg eBook, Shakespearean Playhouses, by Joseph Quincy Adams. Source

He filled, in conjunction with Henslowe, the post of “master of the king’s games of bears, bulls and dogs.” On some occasions he directed the sport in person, and John Stow in his Chronicles gives an account of how Alleyn baited a lion before James I at the Tower of London. Alleyn and Henslowe wanted this official position under James I because it was a lucrative and important position. Henslowe had sought it out for a long while and it fits well with Henslowe and Alleyn’s interests. Alleyn had bought Bear Garden, a bear baiting arena close to The Rose, and Henslowe ran it from 1594. Unfortunately not a lot of information survives about their interests or daily operations at Bear Garden. After the lease expired in 1605, they dismantled The Rose and Henslowe mainly worked as a Master of the Bears at Bear Garden and they made a small fortune at this job. Later, after they built The Hope theater, it had a dual purpose as a bear baiting arena and a stage for actors. These interests were integral to their careers.

Bear and bull-baiting rings, Bankside, c.1560. From Agas’s Map of London, – The Project Gutenberg eBook, Shakespearean Playhouses, by Joseph Quincy Adams. Source

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Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?

Romeo and Juliet (III.2)

Dr. Fausto by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) Rio Grande do Sul Museum of Art. Porto Alegre, Brazil. Source

The Dragon for Faustus

One particularly fascinating record from Henslowe’s diary is a dragon for Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus production.

From Henslowe’s diary, the famous “Dragon” listed in his records as part of an inventory of all the props held by the Admiral’s Men, was taken in March 1598, specifically for use in Marlowe’s play, Dr. Faustus. We know because the line item (though agonizingly brief with nothing to follow) says “one dragon in Faustus”

Mephistopheles flying over Wittenberg, in a lithograph by Eugène Delacroix. Source

Critics have debated where this dragon appears in the play, but it seems likely that it was a disguise for Mephistopheles, the demon that appears to Faustus throughout the play. In one text of Dr. Faustus, he calls upon the devil and a spirit, during which he says “dragon” and that seems to be a misplaced stage direction describing the appearance of the character when he first comes on the stage.

Mephistopheles is a demon featured in German folklore. He originally appeared in literature as the demon in the Faust legend. Faust is the main character in a classic German legend, based on the historical Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480–1540).

Title page of a late edition of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, with a woodcut illustration of a devil coming up through a trapdoor. 1620. by John Wright Source

Faust is highly successful but unhappy, and he seeks to find happiness by making a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, where he trades his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. As you might already be guessing, this Faust legend is the inspiration for many books, tales, and even films right up into the modern day.

Books & Resources Dr. Amy Lidster recommends:

Note from Cassidy: The Lost Plays Database as well as the Henslowe and Alleyn Digitization Project are websites where these primary resources are being made available in digital archives. You can click on those images to be directed to their respective websites.

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