Shakespeare: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men

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The “Lord Strange’s Men” was an early group of actors, which were the forerunners to the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”

So who were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men?

They were a group of actors who performed the plays as written by William Shakespeare, and he was in the early day’s one of its shareholders, and often stepped in, to play secondary roles, for he was no actor in the true sense of the word.

It was founded in 1594, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England with Henry Carey the 1stBaron Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain as their patron.

When their patron died on the 23rdJuly 1596 his son George Carey the 2ndBaron Hunsdon took over the position as their patron, and under his direction they were no longer known as “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” but “Lord Hunsdon’s Men.” When George Carey was appointed to Lord Chamberlain on the 17thMarch 1597, they reverted their stage name to that of “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603, having been on the throne for 45 years, and served her people well.  King James IV of Scotland became the new King James I of England when he ascended to the English throne in 1603.  He became the new patron to the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” who duly changed their name to the “Kings Men,” in honour of their new patron, and King.

Lord Chamberlain’s Men, came about by way of a former group known as “Lord Strange’s Men.”  For it was James Burbage an impresario who ran the company till his death in 1597, when sons Richard and Cuthbert took over ownership, with little involvement in the early days.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men consisted in the early times with eight shareholders, who would share between them the profits and debts of their company.

One of the most remembered would be William Kempe who played the part of the clown, in Shakespeare’s plays; Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and by 1601 he had left the company.

George Bryan, a former member of the “Leicester’s Men” in the 1580’s and friend of William Kempe performed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, until his retirement from the stage between 1597-1598.  Later he became Groom of the Chamber, within the household of King James.

Thomas Pope, a former member of the “Leicester’s Men,” also performed with the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and retired from the stage in 1600, and died a few years later in 1603.

Augustine Phillips, formerly a member of the “Lord Strange’s Men,” remained with the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” until his death in 1605.

Henry Condell and John Heminges, two young actors, with a vision, who also came from the former “Lord Strange’s Men,” and onto “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”  They made a name for themselves, when in 1623, for they were responsible for producing “Shakespeare’s First Folio,” of his works.

Two shareholders of the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” who would be remembered for their contributions: William Shakespeare as a secondary actor and playwright and Richard Burbage as lead actor, who performed in Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth, and would go on to become a famous Renaissance actor.

It is known a number of boys within the group went on to have distinguished careers in their own rights. Alexander Cooke, played female roles in many of Shakespeare’s plays, whilst Christopher Beeston became a wealthy 17thcentury impresario.

The original members of the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” changed much over the years, as members died off, got old, or left to pursue other directions.

For one of those was William Kempe who was replaced by Robert Armin an author, offering the group an alternative to the works of William Shakespeare.  He had been credited with creating originality to the characters; “Feste” in Twelfth Night, “Touchstone” in As You Like It and the “Fool” in King Lear.

Yet, the majority of the work performed by the company was that of Shakespeare’s.  However, the earliest production of a non-Shakespearean play was performed in the summer of 1598.  “Every Man in His Humour,” by Ben Jonson’s and in 1599 its sequel “Every Man out of His Humour.”

In 1601, the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” tried to avoid involvement with the Earl of Essex and his insurrection; his attempt to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I.

It is a known fact that some of Essex supporters commissioned a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II, hoping to get the public on their side, so they could overthrow the Queen, but they were thwarted by their actions.

Witness statements provided by the actors, claimed they had been offered forty shillings more than their standard fee for a performance … how could they refuse.

No charges were laid against the members of “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and they performed for Queen Elizabeth I on the 24thFebruary 1601.

On the 25thFebruary 1601, the Earl of Essex was executed for his crime, against the monarchy.

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