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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). 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 may well have appeared first in theatrical records as a touring company. In 1592-3 the company performed at Bath, Coventry, York, and Rye (REED PP) as well as Ipswich (MSC II.3, p. 277). Under their patron's title of Lord President, the players performed also in Shrewsbury, Ludlow, and Shropshire (REED PP. For 5 of the 7 performances, the REED records indicate that the venues were indoor civic halls, for example a guildhall or common hall. Pembroke's men also 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 company performed at the earl's provincial residence of Ludlow Castle.

The most notorious fact about Pembroke's men 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 men 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"), three 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 argument ("Simon").

1597 and The Isle of Dogs

Pembroke's men were reconstituted in 1595; they were on tour, stopping at Oxford, Bath, and Bristol (REED PP). By February 1597 they were in London in residence at the Swan playhouse (see Ingram, below). In late July their play, The Isle of Dogs, attracted the attention of the privy council, and three of their players were arrested: Gabriel Spencer, Robert Shaa (Shaw), and Ben Jonson, the latter of whom with Thomas Nashe was one of the play's authors. Much scholarly discussion (and some fake documents) has been generated over the episode of The Isle of Dogs. See Ingram, below for a recent opinion. In the wake of this uproar, five players left Pembroke's men for the Admiral's men, and they appear to have taken playbooks with them. The players were Shaa, Spencer, Richard Jones, William Bird (Borne), and Thomas Downton. The playbooks were Hardicanute, Friar Spendleton, Bourbon, Black Joan, Sturgflatery, Branhowlte, and Alice Pierce (Perrers) Greg, II.


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. There is no record of them in London or at court in these years.

Further Reading

Edmonds, Mary, "Pembroke's Men," Review of English Studies, n. s. 25.98 (1974): 129-36.
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, n. 243 (2009): 61-77.
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, n. 106 (1976): 174-7.
Somerset, J. A. B. "The Lords President, Their Activities and Companies," Elizabethan Theatre X. Port Credit, 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.