Internet Shakespeare Editions


The companies

Shakespeare among the players granted a length of scarlet cloth to celebrate the King's Royal Procession through London (15 March, 1604). Public Record Office, L.C. 2/4/5, f. 78. This document may be copied and downloaded for personal and research purposes only. You must apply to the Public Record Office for any other use.

Acting companies were often involved in activities at Court. In the Master of the Wardrobe record for 15 March, 1604, Shakespeare is listed among "Players" who were given "scarlet red cloth" to be worn for the King's Royal Procession through London.

Between 1590 and 1642, there were approximately twenty companies of actors in London (although only four or five played in town at one time), and more than a hundred provincial troupes. The usual pattern of the companies was to play in London in the winter and spring and to travel in the summer when plague ravaged the city.

There was no guild of players, but the companies organized themselves on the same principles: members were divided into sharers, apprentices*, and hired men*.

Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, was one of the few companies to own their own playhouse and to maintain ownership over a long period. By 1608 they were operating two theatres, the Globe and the Blackfriars; the company employed up to twenty actors*.


  1. Boys/apprentices

    The boys in the company whose voices had not yet changed were highly trained in female impersonation and played the roles of women, children, and old men. Understandably, this was a limited career. Famous boy players: Salamon Pavy, Nicholas Burt, Richard Robinson.

    While it is unlikely that the boys would have been formally and legally bound as apprentices, there is little doubt that they learned the craft of acting while performing minor parts.

  2. Hired men

    The "hired men" were minor actors, musicians, stage managers, wardrobe keepers, prompters and stage hands. They were paid weekly wages by the sharers.

    Women did not play on the professional stage in England until the Restoration period.

  3. The size of the company

    An average play required a cast of twenty, filled by the sharers, three or four boys for women's roles, and six or more hired players. There would also have been stage hands and musicians. Some players would have doubled two or more minor parts. Thus the actual size of the company, especially when it was touring, was often no more than a dozen actors.