Based on the portrait of Burbage at the Dulwich Gallery. Reproduced in Shakespeare's England.

The First Folio of 1623 includes a page listing "The Names of the Principall Actors in all these Playes." Heading the list is Shakespeare himself; this page and those that follow record some of the information about the actors and their lives.

Richard Burbage (1568-1619) was the leading actor in the Lord Chamberlain's - King's Men, playing the dramatic leads, including Richard III, Hamlet, Lear and Othello. He may have begun his career as early as 1584; ten years later he rivalled Edward Alleyn as the greatest English tragedian. He continued to perform until his death* in 1619.

"He's gone and with him what a world are dead.
Which he review'd, to be revived so,
No more young Hamlet, old Hieronimo
Kind Lear, the Grieved Moor, and more beside,
That lived in him; have now for ever died"

Excerpt from "A Funerall Elegye on the Death of the famous Actor Richard Burbedg who dyed on Saturday in Lent the 13 of March 1618." The character Hieronimo is the main role in Kyd's popular revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy.

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The son of James Burbage*, he first appears in the records of a dispute* involving his father's playhouse, the Theatre. He inherited the Blackfriars theatre, and with his brother Cuthbert owned a half interest in the Globe. Although he did not achieve the financial success of Shakespeare or Alleyn, Richard did manage to leave his heirs a modest estate of 300 pounds.

James Burbage was a joiner by trade, but spent a short period acting with Leicester's Men. In 1576, with his brother-in-law, John Brayne, he built the first London playhouse, The Theatre, and in 1596 paid 600 pounds for part of the Blackfriars priory, which was later converted into a private theatre.

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When the widow Brayne came to the Theatre to collect a percentage of the profits due to her, the nineteen year old Burbage "fell upon" her escort "and beat him with a broomstick, calling him murdering knave."

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What parts did Shakespeare himself play?

Tradition -- and recent scholarship based on computer analysis of the language in Shakespeare's plays by Donald Foster -- suggest that Shakespeare played relatively minor parts in his own plays, mainly the parts of older men. Here is a list of the parts that Foster proposes, arranged in alphabetical order of the plays (there are some missing because evidence is inconclusive):

All's Well That Ends Well: The King As You Like It: Adam and Corin
The Comedy of Errors: Egeon Coriolanus: Menenius
Hamlet: The Ghost Henry the Fifth: The Chorus and Mountjoy
Henry the Fourth, Part One: King Henry Henry the Fourth, Part Two: King Henry and Rumour
Henry the Sixth, Part One: Bedford Henry the Sixth, Part Two: Suffolk
Julius Caesar: Flavius King John: King Philip
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Theseus The Merchant of Venice: Morocco, Messenger, and the Duke
Much Ado About Nothing: The Messenger and the Friar Othello: Brabantio
Pericles: Gower Richard the Second: Gaunt and the Gardener
The Taming of the Shrew: The Lord (Induction) Timon of Athens: The Poet
David J. Kathman is developing a Biographical Index to the Elizabethan Theater at this address.

Footnotes

  1. On Burbage's death

    "He's gone and with him what a world are dead.
    Which he review'd, to be revived so,
    No more young Hamlet, old Hieronimo
    Kind Lear, the Grieved Moor, and more beside,
    That lived in him; have now for ever died"

    Excerpt from "A Funerall Elegye on the Death of the famous Actor Richard Burbedg who dyed on Saturday in Lent the 13 of March 1618." The character Hieronimo is the main role in Kyd's popular revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy.

  2. James Burbage

    James Burbage was a joiner by trade, but spent a short period acting with Leicester's Men. In 1576, with his brother-in-law, John Brayne, he built the first London playhouse, The Theatre, and in 1596 paid 600 pounds for part of the Blackfriars priory, which was later converted into a private theatre.

  3. Assault with a broomstick

    When the widow Brayne came to the Theatre to collect a percentage of the profits due to her, the nineteen year old Burbage "fell upon" her escort "and beat him with a broomstick, calling him murdering knave."