The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0021 Friday, 18 January 2013
Date: January 17, 2013 8:24:51 PM EST
Subject: Size of Touring Troupe in Gdansk, 1654
Not always up on my Continental touring data, I was surprised to read, in a handsomely produced pamphlet from the Gdanski Teatr Szekspirowski , a troupe’s 1654 petition for permission to play in the purpose-built playhouse designed to accommodate touring English actors, a building known as the Gdansk Fencing School.
In translation it reads:
“Herr Bergomaster // High, Honourable, Stern, Noble, Praiseworthy, Most Wise and Especially Respected Lords, // Since the time approaches when the St Dominic’s Fair will be held again, of which time all manner of amusements are permitted, we have come here in a rather large company of 24 persons in the hope that it may be permitted us to present sundry religious and secular plays to be watched and listened to, both comedies and tragedies, most of which are new and ingenious and yet noble at the same time. This is what we have humbly and appropriately seen fit to beg Your Magnificences, namely to show us grace not only by granting us permission to play, but by assigning the Fencing School to us, as being a very suitable place. We for our part will gladly make an appropriate payment. Besides this, we will behave in such a way that everyone will take pleasure in watching us. In expectation of your gracious and favorable response, we remain // Your True Humble // I, William Roe in the name of // the whole company.”
Though many theories have been offered concerning the size of troupes of traveling players, my admittedly partial memory of those arguments does not recall any hard evidence for just how many players, boys, assistants, wranglers, teamsters or porters may have been on the road together. The “rather large company of 24 persons” seems not have been customary at any time. And it may well have been especially large in 1654, after the closing of the theaters in London. Nevertheless 24 is at least a pretty definite and pretty big number. One ought not generalize from a sample of one, but this one documented touring troupe had lots of players available. And it seems to go against this one hard nugget of evidence just to assume that a script like Romeo and Juliet Q1 (1597) Or Henry V Q1 (1600) must have been cut down for a touring troupe. Or that touring companies before the closings would have been accustomed to playing scripts reduced to be managed by small groups of only ten or a dozen.
Time for me to get back to reading more of Susan Cerasano, Roslyn Knutson, and others who have written about acting companies on the roads.