Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men

Posted by by Janet Dooley on 4 January 2012 in category in Tudor Art - 0 0 Comments

Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, was Elizabeth I’s cousin and a loyal subject. Their mothers (Mary and Anne Boleyn) had been sisters, and these cousins shared a love of theater. It was Hunsdon who first organized and patronized the theater group then known as Hunsdon’s Men. When he was given the post of Lord Chamberlain, the group became known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. After his death, Hunsdon’s son continued patronage of the troop.

Shakespeare became associated with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men sometime around 1594. He remained with the group until 1610, spanning the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. The author of Hamlet, King Lear and a Midsummer’s Night Dream wrote and acted for the company, which performed in the famed Globe’s Theater. Late in his career, Shakespeare even had an ownership stake in the company and its theater. 

Shakespeare was not only a gifted writer, he was a successful one. Which meant he actually made money from his writing. Very few peers could claim the same. Even Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s and a very popular playwright, died in poverty. But Shakespeare’s success might have more to do with some business acumen than his status as a writer. He had the foresight to invest in property in his hometown of Stratford and became a leading citizen there.  

As popular as theater was as an entertainment, it was not considered a serious literary art form, and so no one usually bothered to preserve or copy scripts. There are very few manuscripts that survived for prosperity, and often those that did are unattributed. Shakespeare was an exception.

In addition to his other talents, Shakespeare must have been a very likable and respected man. It was due to the devoted work of his colleagues that so many of Shakespeare’s plays survived for posterity. After his death, two of his colleagues, Henry Condell and John Heminges undertook the task of collecting and copying his works. Ben Jonson wrote the introduction. This has become known as the First Folio. 

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