Travel was difficult in the Elizabethan era. There were frequent outbreaks of the terrifying Bubonic Plague during this time. All strangers were viewed with suspicion. Actors had the reputation of being rogues and vagabonds. A license, obtained from the Bailiff in the Guild Hall, was required by anyone who wanted to travel around England. This ensured that the spread of disease, especially the plague, was contained as much as possible and that the poor, homeless, vagabonds and thieves did not easily move from one village to another village.
Elizabethan Acting Troupes - Licences
Licenses were granted to the aristocracy for the maintenance of troupes of players, who might at any time be required to show their credentials. Thus the Elizabethan Acting Troupes were formed. The movement of actors were therefore regulated. The major Elizabethan Acting Troupes were as follows:
- Elizabethan Acting Troupes
- Lord Strange's Men
- Chamberlain's Men
- Admiral's Men
- King's Men
Elizabethan Acting Troupes - The Sumptuary Laws ( Clothing restrictions )
Elizabethans were prohibited by Law to wear any clothing which was above their social standing - these were called the Sumptuary Laws. Many Elizabethan plays were about Kings and the nobility but actors were restricted to wear any clothes which might convey this high status. This would have obviously severely restricted and spoilt the performance of plays. The Queen herself enjoyed this form of entertainment so a 'Get out Clause' was written into the Sumptuary Laws. The English Sumptuary Law of 1574 ( The Statutes of Apparel ) stated the following:
" Note also that the meaning of this order is not to prohibit a servant from wearing any cognizance of his master, or henchmen, heralds, pursuivants at arms; runners at jousts, tourneys, or such martial feats, and such as wear apparel given them by the Queen, and such as shall have license from the Queen for the same."
This was another reason for the formation of the Elizabethan Acting troupes who were sponsored by the nobility.
Earl of Leicester's Men Elizabethan Acting Troupe
The Earl of Leicester's Men were the earliest organized Elizabethan acting company. Formed in 1572 from members of the Earl of Leicester's household, the troupe performed at court the following year. The Earl of Leicester was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth and the company was granted a license by royal patent. In 1576 James Burbage, a member of the troupe, built The Theatre to stage their productions. With the death of the Earl of Leicester in 1588, the troupe merged with Lord Strange's Men.
Lord Strange's Men Elizabethan Acting Troupe
The troupe of Lord Strange was made up from members of the household of Lord Strange, they toured the provinces before appearing at court in 1582. From 1588 to 1594 they were associated with the Admiral's Men. The troupe performed at The Theatre and at the Rose Theatre, where they are believed to have staged several of Shakespeare's plays. Upon the death of Lord Strange in 1594, the group left London to perform in the provinces. Some members, however, joined the Chamberlain's Men.
Chamberlain's Men leading to the King's Men Elizabethan Acting troupe
Chamberlain's Men were the most important company of players in Elizabethan England. Between 1564 and 1567 this acting troupe was initially known as known as Hunsdon's Men, whose patron was Henry Carey, first Lord Hunsdon. Hunsdon took office as Lord Chamberlain in 1585, and another company (the Lord Chamberlain's Men) under his patronage is traceable to 1590. After their patron's death in 1596, the company came under the protection of his son, George Carey, 2nd Lord Hunsdon. Once more it was known as Hunsdon's Men, until their new patron himself took office as Lord Chamberlain in 1597. It was again known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men, until the accession of James I in March 1603, when, by letters patent, it was taken under royal patronage and henceforth known as the King's Men.
Admiral's Men Acting Troupe
Between 1576 and 1579 they were known as Lord Howard's Men after their patron Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham. In 1585, when Lord Howard became England's Lord High Admiral, the company changed its name to the Admiral's Men. The chief actor of the Admiral's Men was Edward Alleyn; their manager and effectively their employer until his death in 1616 was Philip Henslowe whose diary, covering the years 1592 to 1603, documents the Elizabethan theatre and its organization. Once considered the finest Elizabethan theatrical company, the Admiral's Men began to decline with the rise of the Chamberlain's Men and the subsequent retirement of Alleyn in 1603. By 1631 the company had disbanded.