Welcome to Episode #030 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.
I believe that if you want to understand Shakespeare's plays, then understanding the life of William Shakespeare, the man, is essential. This podcast is designed to help you explore early modern England as Shakespeare would have lived it by interviewing the historians, performers, authors, and experts that know him best.
If the saying is true that you are the sum of your five closest friends, then one great way to get to know William Shakespeare is to take a look at the lives of his closest friends. John Heminges and Henry Condell helped form the foundation of the shareholder agreement Shakespeare made at The Globe and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They would remain loyal to Shakespeare from Elizabethan England into Jacobean England as the company became the King’s Men under James I. Acting in plays together, writing plays, surviving the Globe’s famous fire, and watching each other get married, have children, and grow old together is a stronger definition of friendship than many people ever get to experience, and by all historical accounts, Heminges and Condell were just such strong friends for William Shakespeare not just until his death in 1616, but through the publication of the 1623 First Folio, and continuing ever after.
As our guest this week, we are delighted to have Paul Edmondson, the Head of Research at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and the author of the chapter about Heminges and Condell that appeared in the recent book he edited called The Shakespeare Circle. We welcome Paul today to discuss the lives of Heminges and Condell and help us get to know Shakespeare’s extraordinary friends.
Paul Edmondson is Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of many books and articles about Shakespeare, including Shakespeare: Ideas in Profile (an overview of Shakespeare for the general reader), Twelfth Night: a guide to the text and its Theatrical Life, The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography and Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (both with Stanley Wells for Cambridge University Press), Shakespeare’s Creative Legacies (with Peter Holbrook for The Arden Shakespeare);and Finding Shakespeare’s New Place: an archaeological biography (with archaeologists Kevin Colls and William Mitchell for Manchester University Press). New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity (co-edited with Ewan Fernie is forthcoming with The Arden Shakespeare).
In this episode, I’ll be asking Paul about :
- Why was Condell not a founding shareholder in The Globe?
- Do we know what roles Shakespeare, Heminges, and Condell played in that performance?
- What other businesses, besides acting, did Heminges and Condell work in during their lives?
Noble friends, That which combined us was most great, and let not A leaner action rend us.
First page of William Shakespeare's will, which you can read a copy of online here. Accessed 2-15-2019
John Heminges (1566 – 1630)
Made famous for his collaboration with Henry Condell to compile Shakespeare's First Folio, John Heminges was an actor and businessman, along with being a good friend to William Shakespeare.
In 1593, Heminges was part of the Lord Strange's Men, and after the plague caused a reorganization of playing companies, he joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men with William Shakespeare as a trusted business manager who would serve the company successfully for more than a quarter century.
A well respected man with a great talent for management, he became one of the first shareholders with Shakespeare in The Globe. He was also a proprietor at the Blackfriars.
I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a soul remembering my good friends.
Richard II, II.3
When the Globe theater was first established, it was done so rather clandestinely. Shakespeare and his fellows owned a theater building, but not the land that it was sitting upon. They leased the land from Thomas Brend, When the land owner tried to force the company out of the theater by claiming a lease disagreement, Shakespeare and his friends conspired to dismantle and move the entire theater, timber by timber, across a frozen Thames River and establish The Globe theater in Southwark, just outside the reach of London authorities while still close enough to draw in ticket sales from the city.
It was likely Heminges and Burbage who would have helped their good friend William Shakespeare move the theater that very cold January night.
Print from 1812, showing what the Globe would have looked like in London in 1612, the same Globe Heminges and Condell were likely a part of assembling, the year before the theater burned down. Public Domain Image. Source
What know I how the world may deem of me?
There's a record of a “Harry” listed in Richard Tarleton's play, Seven Deadly Sins, and while we don't know for sure, if that Harry is referring to Henry Condell, it means he was acting as early as 1590s, making him an established figure in the industry when Shakespeare came on the scene.
We know he married Elizabeth Smart in 1596, had nine children who were baptized, only three of which lived to adulthood.
In addition to Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), Condell was in the cast for four of Ben Jonson's plays. He acted in Sejanus, Volpone, The Alchemist, and Catiline. He was the very first person to ever play the Cardinal in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, and he was in at least eight plays by Beaumont and Fletcher.
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Nearly a decade after his death, John Heminges and Henry Condell would compile Shakespeare's first folio, a collection that would ensure the rest of the world for centuries afterwards would know about and read the works of William Shakespeare.
Heminges and Condell took great pains to make it known the publication of the folio was to honor and respect the work and memory of their dear friend.
Containing 36 of Shakespeare's plays, the Folio is dedicated to the 3rd Earl of Pembroke and his borther, William and Philip Herbert.
The Folio represents one of the only reliable text versions for at least 20 of Shakespeare's plays. The plays of Shakespeare not included in the Folio are Pericles, Prince of Tyre; The Two Noble Kinsmen, Cardenio (a lost play), and Love's Labour's Won (also a lost play).
To learn more about Shakespeare, the First Folio, as well as Heminges and Condell, Shakespeare Documented as well as The Folger Shakespeare Library are great places to start. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust also contains many resources for learning more on this topic including articles by today's guest, Paul Edmondson. You can read the one he wrote about Heminges and Condell here, and I encourage you to read the series he has done about Shakespeare's will here.
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