- Locating the Queen's Men, 1583-1603: Material Practices and Conditions of Playing
This collection of sixteen essays, focusing on the Elizabethan acting company known as the Queen's Men, derives from a stimulating conference held in conjunction with a theatrical experiment to mount a limited tour of three of their known plays to six different Canadian venues in the Toronto-Hamilton area in October 2006. The collection is dedicated to the memory of Scott McMillin, who would have been both amazed and delighted by the scholarly and dramaturgic energy that has continued the exploration of the company's repertory and practices initiated by our coauthored study, The Queen's Men and Their Plays (1998). The relevance of this publication for those interested in Shakespeare is primarily in the context provided for understanding, as the subtitle suggests, the material practices and conditions of playing during his early years in the theater, whether or not he joined the Queen's Men as his first engagement.
The essays are grouped into four parts: "In and Out of London," "The Repertory on Page and Stage," "Figuring Character," and "From Script to Stage." The twenty-three-page introduction serves up a meaty contribution to the study of the company and its contemporary significance. Among other observations, the editors rightly challenge traditional assumptions that the Queen's Men declined in popularity [End Page 586] in London in the 1590s—an era when the documentary evidence comes primarily from Henslowe's Diary for the Rose theater, only one of several urban playing venues available. Also questioning the measurement of London success by the print history of plays (a prevalent interpretation that will always favor a Marlowe or a Shakespeare but not Greene, who wrote several plays for the Queen's Men), the editors point out that stationers of the time apparently still considered Queen's plays marketable in the 1590s, noting that the company was showing economic good sense rather than failure in seeking this relatively new source of revenue.
To my mind, the first and strongest part of the collection features essays on touring, performance spaces, and patronage by the late Barbara D. Palmer, Paul Whitfield White, Lawrence Manley, David Kathman, and Tiffany Stern. Palmer's careful tally of portable props, costumes, and special effects required to tour three plays in the Queen's Men's repertory (King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V, and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay) proves a worthwhile exercise. While one might debate the likelihood that Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay was in the touring repertory—larger items to be carried included, for example, a golden tree with a fire-breathing dragon—the need to extend our thoughts of doubling beyond cast to props and costumes is urged persuasively in Palmer's fictive northern provincial tour account. White's study of the continuing reception of the Queen's Men at Cambridge during a period when University officials were striving to ban professional players is a rewarding example of the dividends yielded by detailed research into the shifting influence of local officials and powerful patrons such as Lord North of Kirtling on communities like Cambridge. Two other important essays in this section will be further developed in book-length studies: Manley explores the Stanley family's history; the flattering representation of the role of Thomas Stanley, first Earl of Derby, in the True Tragedie of Richard the Third; and the possibility that this might have been the complimentary play the Queen's Men performed at New Park in 1588. And Kathman's account of the Bull and the Bell, two London inns known to have been used by the Queen's Men, focuses on venues too often overlooked in standard theater histories; my only caveat is the omission of the relevant sections of the 1676 Ogilby and Morgan map to situate his detailed description.
Picking up Kathman's theme of neglected theater spaces in the final essay of...