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What We Do

 

Many attend REP simply to listen to or perform in drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The group functions as a space for all those who love early drama, irrespective of expertise, but we also have an active research arm. You can meet the research team and find out more about our current project by clicking the button below.

 

 

REP Research 2023

 

The group is currently reading through the extant repertory of the Lord Chamberlain’s, later the King’s, Men (1594-1642), the acting company that performed chiefly at London’s Globe and Blackfriars theatres. The plays are being read chronologically, in accordance with the dates established in Martin Wiggins’s Catalogue, including known revivals where the company's development would have made a difference to the production, such as by recasting some of the parts. We are particularly interested in how the company was structured, in the casting of the plays, and in the lives of the performers themselves.

 

Ongoing research by Dr Martin Wiggins is providing important insights into the company’s apprentice and personnel structures, and we are now able to trace the paths of individual actors within the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men with greater clarity than ever before. By reading through the surviving repertory, Dr Wiggins and the team hope to build further on our growing understanding of the professional dynamics within the company and to learn more about the progression of particular players within it. For example, how was an actor's career influenced by his age, his position in the apprentice hierarchy, and his status as a sharer or otherwise? What sort of challenges and conflicts arose when those categories were problematised? And what can we learn about the company’s casting requirements and its relationship to competitor theatrical companies operating in London at the same time?

 

Integral to our research is the reconstruction of the casting of surviving Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men plays. These include the large corpus of works written by Shakespeare for himself and his fellow players, as well as many authored by regular writers well known to the company. Considering the repertory as an evolving body of work, albeit an incomplete one, allows us to map what we know of individual performers onto the roles that were written for them, and to discover previously unknown material that emerges from the plays themselves. Verifiable information about an actor (age, appearance, skills, life circumstances, certain roles played) provides the basis for one set of conclusions about how he may have been cast. Internal evidence from plays written specifically for the company enables further discoveries. We can deduce the relative heights of some of the performers, for example, gain further insight into physique or appearance, and understand skill sets and limitations. Puns on actors’ names, and even repeated linguistic tropes, add to a collection of markers that provides a surprisingly consistent footprint throughout the repertory. Not only characters, but those who personated them come to life through this process.

 

Part of reconstructing the working experiences of the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men is exploring the histories of the actors more widely. We have made a number of new discoveries about the origins, backgrounds, lives, and networks of these individuals, which will be shared in forthcoming work emerging from REP.

 

Further queries should be directed to readingearlyplays@gmail.com 

 

Citing REP's research

REP's work will inform a number of future publications. If you have a genuine scholarly need to cite any aspect of our ongoing and developing research, please contact the committee in the first instance at readingearlyplays@gmail.com

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