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15 March 1604: New Robes (and Roles?) for the King's Men

By Alan H. Nelson, University of California, Berkeley

On 15 March 1604 King James, Queen Anne, and Prince Henry rode through the City of London in a royal entry postponed from the previous summer because of the plague. Evidence for the event survives in various documents, including an account-book from the Lord Chamberlain's Office, Public Record Office LC 2/4/5. It is uniquely from this source that we learn that William Shakespeare was among the recipients of fabric distributed to royal servants.

Halliwell-Phillips was evidently the first to note the document (The Athenaeum, 30 April 1864). Substantial excerpts were published some fifteen years later in "Shakspere's 4-1/2 Yards of Red Cloth on March 15, 1603-4," Transactions of the New Shakespeare Society, 1877-79, Appendix II, pp. 11*-17*, edited by Frederick J. Furnivall. In his characteristic manner, Furnivall toyed with the emotions of his readers:

... as the whole Household and Servants who had liveries of Cloth cannot be suppos'd to have gone in James's Procession, I take for granted that Shakspere was not in it.

Furnivall's skepticism has been echoed by subsequent Shakespeare biographers, including Ernest Law, Shakespeare as a Groom of the Chamber (1910); E. K. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage (1923), ii, 211; B. Roland Lewis, The Shakespeare Documents (Stanford, Calif., 1940-41), ii, 368; S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life, p. 196; and, more recently, Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life (1998), p. 303.

A few scholars have argued that Shakespeare probably did march in the procession, among others J. Q. Adams, A Life of William Shakespeare (1923), p. 362:

... Extant documents do not note the presence of any actors in the procession; but the grant of liveries was made for that specific occasion, and Shakespeare and his eight fellows may have taken part in it under their more dignified title of Grooms of the Royal Chamber.

Similarly, Dennis Kay, Shakespeare: His Life, Work, and Era (1992), p. 291.

The Jacobean historian G. P. V. Akrigg, who describes the event at some length in Jacobean Pageant (Harvard, 1963), pp. 30-3, renders no opinion relative to Shakespeare or players in general. I myself have recently placed a full transcription of PRO LC 2/4/5 on my website, thus making it generally available for study for the first time.

My first purpose in this present essay is simply to achieve an accurate description of the "Shakespeare" entry in PRO LC 2/4/5, which has been misrepresented in various ways over the years. Law (p. 8) published a facsimile in 1910 which shows an unbroken list of nine players, with the superscription "Red Cloth." This facsimile was published unchanged by Adams in 1923. Law used photographic sleight-of-hand to improve on the original in at least three ways: 1) he pieced together five names from the bottom of p. 78 with four names from the top of p. 79; 2) he cut out all the material between the marginal heading at the top of p. 78 and the first name in the list of players; and 3) he cut the word "Skarlet" from the marginal heading. Lewis, ii, 367, who understood that the original occurs on two successive pages, provided an odd memo to explain the situation: "There is a blank space here at the bottom of folio 78v; the names continue at the top of folio 79r." This is the only time to my knowledge that the bottom margin of a page has been described as "a blank space."

Schoenbaum, who also employed image manipulation, inadvertently set a trap in which he himself has been caught. Starting with a fresh photograph, he snipped out all material between the top marginal heading and the beginning of the list of Players, bringing the two parts together so that the Players list seems to be headed "Skarlet . Red Cloth", quite obscuring the fact that "Skarlet" heads one column of figures, "Red Cloth" a quite separate column. Apparently relying on his own manipulated image, Schoenbaum supplied a misleading caption: "Shakespeare and his fellows granted scarlet cloth ..." Kay and Honan have fallen into Schoenbaum's trap: Kay suggests that the actors "would probably have marched, clad in scarlet livery .. Shakespeare's name heads the list of players receiving scarlet cloth"; Honan reports first that "the playwright and eight of his fellows were each given four and a half yards of cheap red cloth," and subsequently suggests that Shakespeare may have worn "a scarlet gown of low-grade fabric."

Pace Schoenbaum and Lewis, the manuscript is paginated, not foliated; pace Law and Adams, the list of players is not a solid block, but continues from p. 78 to p. 79; pace Lewis, there is no "blank space" between the two parts of the list; pace Schoenbaum, Kay, and Honan, Shakespeare and his fellow players did not receive scarlet cloth, but red cloth; pace Honan, red cloth was not "cheap" or "low-grade."

True, some of the "Red Cloth" provided for the occasion was not as valuable as "Scarlet," but of some 1100 royal servants who received cloth, more than 850 received the same 4-1/2 yards of red cloth as Shakespeare and his fellows. Not only would the King not wish his servants to have been outfitted in recognizably "cheap" or "low-grade" fabric, but the red cloth was purchased at rates from as low as 9s-9d the yard to as high as 22s. The most expensive red cloth was more expensive than the cheapest scarlet cloth (20s), and might be very good indeed.

Commonly overlooked by Shakespeare biographers but of great interest to students of playing companies is the fact that the King's Men were only one of three playing companies named in the same document, the other two being Christopher Beeston's Queen's Men and Edward Alleyn's Prince Henry's Men. The 15 March 1604 document lists nine members of the King's Men, ten of the Queen's Men, and nine of Prince Henry's Men, for a total of twenty-eight players, all included in a single remarkable "snap-shot" in time. To these twenty-eight we may add four members of the office of the Revels: Edmund Tilney, Master; William Hunning, Clerk; Edmund Pakenham, Comptroller; and Edmund Kirkeham, Yeoman. (We know from the Revels Office accounts that Tilney claimed compensation this year for "three daies attend{au}nce at the Trivmphe" (Malone Society Collections, XIII, p. 5).)

Virtually the only scholarly project which has looked beyond the Shakespeare list since The New Shakespeare Society of the late 1870s is E. K. Chambers's "Dramatic Records: The Lord Chamberlain's Office," Malone Society Collections, II.3, 322-3 - a tribute to the continuing value of the Malone Society series.

Presumably the keeper of the King's wardrobe supplied cloth to more than 1100 servants because the King wanted to make a grand impression. But if some of the royal servants did not march, what they do? LC 2/4/5 certainly demonstrates that they were supplied with cloth, and not merely a sum of money which they could commute to other uses. Perhaps they stood along the parade-route in their red garments, swelling out the crowd. Perhaps they were used as guards to line the route, holding the crowd back. Or perhaps they marched in the procession, toward the front, even though - as the "anti-marchers" point out - servants of and below the rank of groom are not named in any of the surviving orders of march.

Published descriptions - as the "anti-marchers" again point out - fail to mention either players or grooms in the procession. On the other hand they do mention certain players in another context. The most prominent of these descriptions are four:

The Dekker and Jonson describe not the procession, but rather the pageants, and include speeches composed by the authors and presented to the King along the route.

Dekker's Magnificent Entertainment identifies two players who recited speeches to the King. First is Edward Alleyn, called "Mr. Allin, Servant to the young Prince":

... [h]is gratulatory Speach, which was delivered with excellent action, and a well-tuned audible voyce, being to this effect: That London may be prowd to behold this day; and therefore, in the name of the Lord Maior and Aldermen, the Councell, Commoners, and Multitude, the heartiest welcome is tendered to his Majesty, that ever was bestowed on any King, &c.

"W. Borne one of the Servants to the young Prince" gave a long speech in verse, the text of which Dekker prints entire.

Edward Alleyn and William Bourne - the latter under his alias Bird - head the list of Prince Henry's players in LC 2/4/5:

     Edward Allen
     William Bird
     Thomas Towne
     Thomas Dowton
     Samuel Rowley
     Edward Iubie
     Humfry Ieffes
     Charles Massey
     Anthony Ieffes

Similarly, the King's players were:

     William Shakespeare
     Augustine Phillipps
     Lawrence Fletcher
     John Hemminges
     Richard Burbidge
     William Slye
     Robert Armyn
     Henry Cundell
     Richard Cowley

We know from his 1616 Works (among other sources) that Jonson wrote primarily for Shakespeare's company, and that Shakespeare and seven others performed in Jonson's Sejanus of 1603:

     Richard Burbage          William Shake-speare
     Aug{ustine} Philips      John Hemings
     William Sly              Henry Condell
     John Lowin               Alexander Cooke

Why should we not suppose that Jonson drew on the same players to deliver the speeches for His Part of King James His Royall Entertainement through his Honorable Cittie of London?

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