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Theories of Origin

There are two popular theories of origin for Pembroke's men post-1590. One, anchored by E. K. Chambers, is that the company arose out of "special conditions of the plague-years 1592-3, and was due to a division for travelling purposes of the large London company formed by the amalgamation of Strange's and the Admiral's" (2.129). This theory relies on the assumption that touring companies were necessarily small (a dozen or fewer). The second, anchored by Andrew Gurr, is that in 1591-2 James Burbage "set up a new company led by his son [Richard] under a new patron" (267). Gurr's theory presupposes a vacancy at the Theater that the new company would fill and an alliance of Burbage with Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke, through Burbage's late patron, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester.


Pembroke's men were on tour and at court in 1592-3, and the provincial records are not dated specifically enough to confirm that their touring began in advance of the court dates, though that seems likely. In 1592-3 the company performed at Bath, Coventry, York, and Rye (REED PP); Ipswich (MSC II.3, p. 277); Leicester (Murray I.72), and King's Lynn (MSC XI.65). Under their patron's title of Lord President, the players performed also in Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Bewdley, and Shropshire (REED PP). For five of the performances, the REED records indicate that the venues were indoor civic halls such as a guild or common hall. Pembroke's players performed at court on 26 December 1592 and 6 January 1593. Presumably they also performed in London, but there is no documentation to indicate where and when. There is also no evidence that the players performed at the earl's provincial residence of Ludlow Castle, though the stops in the West Midlands indicate they were in the neighborhood.

A notorious fact about Pembroke's players is that late in the summer of 1593 the company suspended its tour and returned to London. In a letter dated 28 September 1593 and addressed to his son-in-law, Edward Alleyn, Philip Henslowe wrote that "my lorde a penbrockes wch you desier to knowe wheare they be they are all at home and hauffe ben t<his> v or sixe weaches for they cane not saue ther carges <w>th trauell as I heare & weare fayne to pane the<r> parell for ther carge" (Foakes 280).

Scholars generally agree that four of the plays owned by Pembroke's in 1592-3 were Marlowe's Edward II, The Taming of A Shrew, and the quarto versions of Shakespeare's 2H6 and 3H6. If Scott McMillin is right about the company affiliation of The Dead Man's Fortune (see below, "Plots"), players with the company at this time were Richard Burbage, Richard Darloe, Robert Lee, and "b Samme." Edmonds (below) makes a case for Simon Jewell's membership in the company; see McMillin, below, for an alternative reading of the company affiliation of Jewell's associates ("Simon").

1597 and The Isle of Dogs

Pembroke's men were reconstituted by 1595; they appear in records for Ipswich on 7 April (MSC II.3, p. 278). They also performed at Oxford, Bath, and Bristol in 1595-7 (REED PP). By February 1597 they were in London in residence at the Swan playhouse (see Ingram, below). A second notorious fact about the company is that in late July their play, The Isle of Dogs, attracted the attention of the privy council, and three of the players were arrested: Gabriel Spencer, Robert Shaa (Shaw), and Ben Jonson. Also, Jonson, with Thomas Nashe, was one of the play's authors. Much scholarly discussion (and some fake documentation) has been generated over the episode of "The Isle of Dogs." See Ingram (below) for a recent opinion on the coincidence of the performance of the play and the privy council order on 28 July to close the playhouses. In the wake of this uproar, five players left Pembroke's for the Admiral's company, and they appear to have taken playbooks with them. The players were Robert Shaw (Shaa), Gabriel Spencer, Richard Jones, William Bird (Borne), and Thomas Downton. The most likely playbooks to have migrated were Hardicanute, Bourbon, Black Joan, Sturgflatery, Branhowlte, and Alice Pierce (Greg, II). Henslowe listed two plays as having been purchased by the Admiral's men and Pembroke's men: The Cobbler of Queenhithe (23 October 1597) and "a book of yonge horton" (5 November 1597). In an account of receipts, Henslowe referred to the company at the Rose as "my lord [of] admeralles & my lord of penbrocke men" from 21 October 1597 through 4 March 1598.

(F. 36v / Greg I)


A company called Pembroke's/Lord President's players may be found in provincial records from 1598-1600 and sporadically thereafter in 1607-10 and 1615-16 (REED PP). Pembroke's were in Bristol between 28 August and 10 September 1597, which follows the brouhaha over "The Isle of Dogs" by about a month. In 1598, there are payments to the company at Coventry on 4 July, Dover 7 October (see also MSC VII.48), Coventry again on 12 December, and Bewdley in Worcestershire on 22 December. There is no record of them at court in these years.
There is no record of them at court in these years, but there is a record of their being in London. Henslowe's Diary provides the following entry, beginning 28 October 1600:

F. 83 (Greg, I. 131)

My Lordes of penbrockes men began to playe
at the Rosse the 28 of october 1600 as foloweth

[Red at]       Red at the [devell] licke vnto licke . . . . . . . . . . xjs 6d
octbʒ 28       Res at RodeRicke . . . . . . . . . . vs


Edmonds, Mary, "Pembroke's Men," Review of English Studies, n. s. 25, no. 98 (1974): 129-36.
Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearian Playing Companies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
Ingram, William. A London Life in the Brazen Age: Francis Langley, 1548-1602. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Pembroke's Men in 1592-3, Their Repertory and Touring Schedule," in "Issues in Review: Reading Company Repertories," Early Theatre 4 (2001): 129-38.
Mateer, David. "Edward Alleyn, Richard Perkins and the Rivalry Between the Swan and the Rose Playhouses," Review of English Studies n. s. 60, no. 243 (2009): 61-77.
Malone Society Collections II.3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1907.
Malone Society Collections VII. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Malone Society Collections XI. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980-1.
Murray, John Tucker. English Dramatic Companies 1558-1642. 2 vols. 1910, New York: Russell & Russell, 1963. Vol. I
McMillin, Scott. "Casting for Pembroke's Men: The Henry VI Quartos and The Taming of A Shrew," Shakespeare Quarterly 23 (1972): 141-59.
—— "The Plots of The Dead Man's Fortune and 2 Seven Deadly Sins: Inferences for Theatre Historians," Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973): 235-43.
—— "Simon Jewell and the Queen's Men," Review of Engish Studies n. s. 27, no. 106 (1976): 174-7.
Somerset, J. A. B. "The Lords President, Their Activities and Companies," Elizabethan Theatre X. Port Credit, ON: P. D. Meany, 1988. 93-111.
Wentersdorf "Arden of Faversham and the Repertory of Pembroke's Men," Theater Annual 31 (1975): 57-71.
—— "The Repertory and Size of Pembroke's Company," Theater Annual 33 (1977): 71-85.

Plays associated with Pembroke's Men.