Biographical Index of English Drama Before 1660
David J Kathman
This is an annotated list of all people known to have been involved in dramatic
activities in England before 1660. The list includes:
Biographies in some of these categories, particularly playwrights and actors,
have been gathered in earlier works of theatre history, most notably E. K.
Chambers's Elizabethan Stage (1923), G. E. Bentley's Jacobean and Caroline Stage
(1941-68), and Edwin Nungezer's Dictionary of Actors (1929). But these works,
however thorough in their own time, are decades out of date, and this index
focuses largely (though not exclusively) on research published since Chambers,
Bentley, and Nungezer.
- playwrights (including authors of plays for the public theatre; court
masques; royal entertainments; civic pageants; closet dramas; and academic
plays in Latin and English);
- actors (including players for professional companies in either London or the
provinces; English actors performing in Europe; foreign actors performing in
England; actors in academic plays at Oxford or Cambridge; actors in civic
pageants; and some quasi-dramatic performers such as rope dancers and puppet
- performers in masques between 1603 and 1640 (mostly noblemen, noblewomen, and
other courtiers who danced but did not have speaking parts);
- musicians (including instrumentalists, singers, and songwriters for the
professional companies as well as for masques, entertainments, and pageants);
- patrons of playing companies, either in London or in the provinces;
- theatrical managers and entrepreneurs;
- carpenters who built playhouses;
- ancillary theatrical employees (such as tiremen and gatherers);
- Lords Chamberlain, Masters of the Revels, and subsidiary employees of the
- contemporary critics of the theatre, both positive (e.g. Francis Meres) and
negative (e.g. William Prynne), plus miscellaneous other people important
important for theatre history who do not fall into any of the above categories.
Many people in other categories, such as patrons, masque performers, and
musicians, have been the subject of biographies in general reference works, or
in reference works dealing with areas other than drama (such as the Grove
Dictionary of Music and Musicians). My intention here is to focus specifically
on such people's dramatic activities, however minor these may seem in the
person's life as a whole. It is useful to know, for example, that Cardinal
Wolsey patronized a playing company, that magician John Dee directed a comedy
at Cambridge, that the composer John Dowland and his son Robert both performed
in masques and entertainments, and that the ill-fated Duke of Buckingham danced
in at least three court masques.
This index is a prolegomenon to a more ambitious work, namely a Biographical
Dictonary of English Drama Before 1660. That work will flesh out the index
entries with narrative biographies for each person, along with further details
such as exact birth and death dates, education and apprenticeships, and lists
of works by playwrights. I have made this index available to the online
scholarly community so that scholars can use the information it contains
without having to wait for the full Dictionary; however, I also hope that those
using the Index will inform me of any errors or omissions, so that the final
product can be as accurate and complete as possible.
Readers may notice the absence in this index of that greatest of biographical
resources, the Dictionary of National Biography. This was a deliberate
decision, made for a number of reasons. The original DNB is more than a
century old, and most of its entries have been superceded by subsequent
research; this is especially true of theatre people, about whom our knowledge
has advanced exponentially in the past century. More importantly, a completely
revised and updated version of the DNB, to be called the Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography, is being published by Oxford University Press in 2004.
Earlier versions of the present index have been used by the Oxford DNB editors
in their reseach, and I myself wrote 37 entries for the new DNB, most of them
on people included here. Once the new Oxford DNB is published, its entries
will be indexed here; until then, I have not felt it necessary to index entries
in the original DNB, which will soon be obsolete.
The following notes concerning the format of the entries may be useful.
- Each entry contains: the person's name; dates of birth and death where known
(otherwise dates of flourishing); any relevant noble or ecclesiastical titles;
alternate spellings of the name; what the person did in the theater (e.g.
playwright, actor, patron, etc. - obviously many people performed more than one
function); any family relationships the person had with other people on the
list; and a chronological list of sources containing biographical information
about the person. This list contains abbreviated citations, with the full
citation for each item given in the bibliographic files; users can click on the
abbreviated reference to go to the full citation.
- Entries for actors list all the acting troupes the person is known to have
belonged to, and the years he belonged to each one. Similarly, entries for
patrons list the years during which the person is known (from documentary
evidence) to have patronized an acting company. Entries for masque performers
list each masque the person is known to have performed in, and the name under
which he or she performed (if this differs over time, or if it is not evident
from the name under which the person is listed).
- Dates of birth and death are accompanied by various symbols. A plain date
(e.g. 1564) means that documentary evidence for the person's birth or death
survives - a baptismal or burial record, or something similar. When a date is
given as "c.1564", this means that there is no documentary evidence of the
event itself, but circumstantial evidence allows us to pinpoint it within a
year or two. This occurs most often when a person's age is given in a
deposition or similar document - such ages are not always accurate (numerous
examples exist of the age stated in a deposition conflicting with a baptismal
record, or with the age stated elsewhere by the same person), but they can be
assumed to be accurate within a year or two. When a date is given as "1564?",
this means that a documentary record exists, but there is some doubt as to
whether it refers to the person in question or to someone else of the same
name. Finally, a date given as "c.1564?" is based on intelligent guesswork in
the absence of direct evidence; I have generally only included such guesses
when they are made by one of my sources. The symbols ">" and "<" are used as
E.K. Chambers used them in The Elizabethan Stage: "1564>" means "later than
1564" and "<1564" means "earlier than 1564". The notation "1587-1613>" would
mean that the person was born in 1587 and is last heard of in 1613, having died
some time after that date.
- Members of the peerage are listed under their family name rather than their
title(s), with cross-references included for any relevant titles. Numbering of
titles follows that in The Complete Peerage: the first number counts from the
most recent creation, while the number in parentheses (if any) counts all
holders of the title from the beginning of the English nobility. Thus, Robert
Devereaux is listed as the 2nd (19th) Earl of Essex; his father had been
created Earl of Essex after the title had lapsed, and thus Robert was the 2nd
Earl of that creation, but he was the l9th person to hold the title Earl of
- Most women are listed under their last known married name, with
cross-references under any other married names and their maiden name (if
known). However, women who are best known under their maiden name, or under an
earlier married name, generally have their primary listing under that name.
Women who married two or more men on the list have their own entries, whether
or not they were otherwise involved in drama, since such connections are of
potential interest to theatrical historians and biographers.
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