Shakespeare in Company

Michael Neill writes:

In 1598 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were forced to dismantle James Burbage’s Theatre in Shoreditch, which they had occupied since their foundation in 1594, so they transported it across the Thames and built their own playhouse on the Bankside. This was the building whose 20th-century replica was christened ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’. The possessive might have surprised Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, who between them owned half the Globe, whereas Shakespeare’s portion amounted to a tenth; but that stake was enough to make him a member of the ‘housekeepers’ whose investments set them apart from the mere ‘sharers’ in the company. The Globe, as James Shapiro reminded us in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), was ‘the first London theatre built by actors for actors’, but, by virtue of Shakespeare’s position there, it developed as ‘a playwright’s and not an actor’s theatre’. In it Shakespeare would enjoy the professional security that allowed him to develop a new kind of audience, a ‘regular, charmed clientele’, for whom he could write ‘increasingly complicated plays that dispensed with easy pleasures and made … playgoers work harder than they had ever worked before’. Citing John Aubrey’s image of a reclusive playwright who was never ‘a company keeper’, Shapiro insists that the business of biography is not to attempt to recover ‘Shakespeare in love’ but rather to discover ‘Shakespeare at work’.

(LRB 6 February 2014)

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