The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1448  Thursday, 17 July 2003

From:           David Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 11 Jul 2003 12:02:18 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 14.1436 David Grote's "The Best Actors in the World"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1436 David Grote's "The Best Actors in the World"

Geralyn Horton wrote:

>I just read David Grote's "The Best Actors in the World: Shakespeare and
>His Acting Company" , Greenwood Press, 2002.
>I enjoyed it, and found it plausible.   I haven't seen a review -- I
>found it in the New Books section of the library.  Has anyone here with
>more knowledge of these matters than I read it and formed an opinion.?

I've read it, and will be writing a review of it for Shakespeare
Newsletter.  Capsule review:  Some of what Grote writes is plausible,
but much is either implausible or unprovable, and quite a bit is
demonstrably wrong.  For SHAKSPERians not familiar with the book
(presumably almost all of you), what Grote has done is try to
reconstruct the history of the Chamberlain's/King's Men between 1594 and
1616, including the roles each actor played in specific productions.
This is very similar to what T. W. Baldwin tried to do in his 1927 book
*The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearean Company*, yet Grote
only mentions Baldwin in passing, and rather disparagingly.  In fact,
Grote draws most of his historical facts from Chambers' *Elizabethan
Stage* (1923), Nungezer's *Dictionary of Actors* (1929), and Bentley's
*Jacobean and Caroline Stage* (1941), and (with a few sporadic
exceptions) seems unaware of the vast amount of research done since
then.  His speculations about the roles played by specific actors are
based almost entirely on guesswork, yet he presents them as obvious
facts, or at least things that "must have been" true.  Some of his
datings of plays are eccentric, and many of the scenarios he presents
are based on no evidence and seem to come out of left field.  For
example, he believes that Robert Armin retired from the King's Men
between 1603 and 1608 and was replaced as the company's clown by
Lawrence Fletcher, only returning to the company after Fletcher's death
in 1608; this despite the fact that there is no evidence either for
Armin retiring or Fletcher even performing on stage.  His assumptions
about apprentices are filled with misconceptions, and much of what he
writes about the Chamberlain's/King's Men's apprentices during this
period can be shown to be erroneous.  There are some interesting
speculations in the book, but the way they're presented -- as though
they were proven "facts" -- is off-putting.  I would advise anybody
reading this book to treat it as speculative entertainment only, and not
to use it as anything like a reference book.

Dave Kathman
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