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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0009  Thursday, 7 January 2010

[1] From:   David Kathman <
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     Date:   Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 18:11:47 -0600
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0623 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?

[2] From:   John Briggs <
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     Date:   Monday, 28 Dec 2009 17:49:36 +0000
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0623 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Kathman <
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Date:       Sunday, 27 Dec 2009 18:11:47 -0600
Subject: 20.0623 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0623 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?

William Sutton wrote:

 >We know that actors in Elizabethan time had to be a member of a
 >guild, as acting was not an accepted profession. Therefore, the
 >question: to which guild did Shakespeare belong?

Actually, it's not true that Elizabethan actors had to belong to a 
guild, assuming that by guild you mean livery company (the proper name 
for these organizations in London). Quite a few actors in the 16th and 
early 17th centuries did belong to London livery companies, as I 
detailed in my article "Grocers, Goldsmiths, and Drapers: Freemen and 
Apprentices in the Elizabethan Theatre" (Shakespeare Quarterly 55 
(2004), 1-49), and many of these actors bound apprentices in those 
livery companies but trained them in the theater, as they were allowed 
to do by the custom of London. However, one did not have to be a freeman 
of a livery company in order to bind apprentices, and numerous actors 
who were not members of any livery company (such as Augustine Phillips 
of the Chamberlain's/King's Men) bound apprentices for theatrical 
purposes. Other actors who were not freemen of a livery company, such as 
Edward Alleyn, bound boys as covenant servants for periods shorter than 
the seven-year minimum for apprentices; this was often three years, the 
period for which Alleyn bound Richard Perkins in 1596, and the standard 
period for binding boys in the boys' acting companies after 1599. I 
discuss all this in more detail in "Players, Livery Companies, and 
Apprentices" in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre, published a 
few months ago.

 >And of course this begs the question has anyone ever looked for his
 >membership of a guild? Or was he exempted as a writer of plays and
 >poems? Assuming that is that writers didn't need to be members of a
 >guild.

I've looked through many livery company records in London over the past 
eight years, and have never found any record of William Shakespeare or 
any members of his family, though people named Shakespeare occasionally 
pop up. But there was no need for Shakespeare to be a member of a livery 
company, even though several professional playwrights were, including 
Anthony Munday (Drapers), John Webster (Merchant Taylors), and Ben 
Jonson (Tilers and Bricklayers).

Dave Kathman

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[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Briggs <
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 >
Date:       Monday, 28 Dec 2009 17:49:36 +0000
Subject: 20.0623 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0623 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?

William Sutton wrote:

 >We know that actors in Elizabethan time had to be a member of a guild,
 >as acting was not an accepted profession.

No, we don't know that. It isn't true.

 >Therefore, the question: to which guild did Shakespeare belong?

He didn't.

 >And of course this begs the question

That isn't what "to beg the question" means.

 >has anyone ever looked for his membership of a guild? Or was he exempted
 >as a writer of plays and poems? Assuming that is that writers didn't 
need to be
 >members of a guild.

It is difficult to know where to start with this. Membership of a guild 
only applied *within* the City limits. Acting wasn't a trade. Acting 
troupes were notionally "servants" of a particular nobleman, who gave 
them protection. Don't get me started on scriveners...

John Briggs

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