- A Jacobean Company and its Playhouse: The Queen’s Servants at the Red Bull Theatre (c.1605-1619) by Eva Griffith
Recent years have seen growing interest in the study of early modern acting companies, inspired by the publication of works such as Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean’s The Queen’s Men and their Plays (1998). Eva Griffith’s new book is an important contribution to this new wave of theatre history. In its own words, it “fills a major gap concerning the world of Shakespearean drama” by telling the story of Queen Anna’s [sic] players (1603-1619), including chapters on the background of the troupe, its major theatre, the Red Bull, and the troupe’s connections with Queen Anna’s court circle. Despite the troupe’s importance in its own day, its history has received comparatively little scholarly attention. As Griffith explains, this is partly because of the complex nature of the evidence relating to its existence, but it is also a consequence of the Red Bull’s lowly reputation and association with citizen audiences.
Based on a wealth of original archival research, Griffith’s book invites scholars to re-examine traditional assumptions about Queen Anna’s men. This includes drawing attention to the fact that the company did not confine itself to one London playing venue. It performed at the Curtain as well as the Red Bull. Griffith also shows that the troupe did not limit its repertory to “citizen” dramas, but rather performed a generically diverse body of plays, targeted at more than one kind of audience (262). As well as affording new insights into the company and the part played within its history by key figures such as the actor and manager Christopher Beeston, Griffith’s study throws fresh light on the world of early modern theatre more generally. She highlights the close connections between actors and the communities in which they lived and the fluidity of the early seventeenth century theatre world, as players regularly moved between companies.
The book is at its strongest when engaged in its exploration of the multiple contexts in which Queen Anna’s players worked, and its extensive bibliography of archival sources should prove an excellent resource for theatre historians. [End Page 65] Most of the chapters also include discussion of at least one play from the troupe’s repertory, although I would have welcomed more attention to the troupe’s plays and the ways in which Griffith’s contextual research invites scholars to reappraise them. An appendix listing the plays and its members would have been a useful addition.. Overall, though, this an impressively researched work which is sure to prove valuable to early modern drama scholars.