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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0031  Thursday, 14 January 2010

From:       John Briggs <
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Date:       Tuesday, 12 Jan 2010 17:19:08 +0000
Subject: 21.0022 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?
Comment:    Re: SHK 21.0022 Was Shakespeare a member of a guild?

William Sutton wrote:

 >My question involves any kind of Guild in which there might be records
 >not yet plumbed for information. The Guilds were active in Europe from
 >the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. Cities and towns all over
 >England had guilds and members. Whether or not they kept records is a
 >matter for local archives.

You should investigate "Records of Early English Drama" (REED).


 >The mystery plays were performed by guild members and as such the guilds
 >fall within the remit of theatrical history. We know that the 1574 Act
 >sent players scrambling for patronage of Noblemen, but that fact
 >detracts and distracts from the rise of the public playhouses and
 >troupes of individual players who were in it for the money i.e. as a
 >trade. After all apprentices were trained to follow their masters.

You are still confusing several issues. We talked about the livery 
companies because they were the guilds for the City of London - and it 
was only London which had public playhouses. In other towns and cities 
travelling players used improvised locations. The mystery plays were put 
on by the guilds themselves - if guild members performed in them, it was 
as amateurs not as professionals. It is thought that the richer or more 
ambitious guilds *did* employ some professionals, but where they got 
them is a bit of a mystery (hah!) There is some evidence for parish 
clerks being hired to organise the guild productions, and some of them 
may have had semi-professional careers as actors. We are talking here, 
of course, about the pre-Reformation period and the larger cities (York, 
N-Town, etc). In cathedral cities, the choirboys would have been used in 
plays, and this becomes important in London *after* the Reformation, 
because there wasn't much singing for them to do. (It is a paradox that 
the theatre at this time was essentially a Protestant art-form, but many 
of those taking part in it were Catholics.)

John Briggs

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