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Preliminary Queen’s Men 1583 Touring Observations

2012 August 18

This post represents initial considerations of Queen’s Men touring events in 1583. This is part of an ongoing project that uses temporospatial approaches to analysis of Elizabethan touring practices. I will present the first phase of this analysis at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference in October.

In the first year of their existence, the Queen’s Men are recorded as having performed in 22 locations. Of these, ten were single performances (Kirtling, Norwich, Abingdon, Bristol, Leicester, Faversham, Nottingham, Rye, and Whitehall). Two more suggest short residence contracts (Aldeburgh, London). The remaining twelve suggest ongoing contracts that range in length from four months to a year. Three of these contracts indicate no specific performance dates (Canterbury, Ipswich, and Shrewsbury). Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean date the formation of the Queen’s Men as occurring in March of 1583. [nbnote]McMillin and MacLean 1[/nbnote] The first contract (Hythe, Kent) has a start date of 2 February 1583 and lasts for a year.

Of the three undated contracts, there are no subsequent performances recorded for Ipswich or Shrewsbury; all subsequent performances in Canterbury (1586, 1588) are for single dates.

The Spring-Summer touring dates for 1583 present a number of puzzles. The locations and dates in question are listed here:

  • Gloucester (5/26)
  • Aldeburgh (6/2-6/24)
  • Kirtling (6/3 – 6/4))
  • Norwich (2 performances on 6/15)
  • Abingdon (6/24)
  • Bristol (7/24)
  • Leicester (7/25)
  • Faversham (8/26)
  • Nottingham (9/2)
  • Rye (9/14)

There is no way to trace a linear chronological map through these performance locations. The only way to make sense of this information is to cover the touring dates as a split troupe: one group responsible for the West and Midlands, and the other responsible for East Anglia and Kent.
The last recorded date before Gloucester is at the beginning of April in Dover, Kent. It is conceivable that from March – when they were formed – until May the Queen’s Men used London as their base with short trips to Kent. With the onset of the summer touring season, the troupe split in two: one headed for Gloucester and from there to cover the West and Midland dates, and the other to head toward East Anglia, fulfilling the three week obligation at Aldeburgh and in the process covering the Kirtling and Norwich performances. What makes this hypothesis appealing is that it explains how Richard Tarlton, John Singer and John Bentley would have been able to deal with the legal tangle after the Red Lion incident on June 15. By remaining in the region the arrest and hearing of Bentley and Singer would not have affected further performances (by August 26 Tarlton had bailed them out and they were free of Norwich).
Below are a preliminary map in ArcGISOnline and a spreadsheet showing performance information for 1583.[nbnote]All information has been compiled using Appendix A of The Queen’s Men and Their Plays and the Patrons and Performances website, which in turn relies on REED volumes (page references included).[/nbnote]

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