Lord Chamberlain's Men - Repertory and Performances

Repertory and Performances

Shakespeare's work undoubtedly formed the great bulk of the company's repertory. In their first year of performance, they may have staged such of Shakespeare's older plays as remained in the author's possession, including Henry VI, part 2, Henry VI, part 3, as well as Titus Andronicus. A Midsummer Night's Dream may have been the first play Shakespeare wrote for the new company; it was followed over the next two years by a concentrated burst of creativity that resulted in Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labours Lost, The Merchant of Venice, and the plays in the so-called second tetralogy. The extent and nature of the non-Shakespearean repertory in the first is not known; plays such as Locrine, The Troublesome Reign of King John, and Christopher Marlowe's Edward II have somewhat cautiously been advanced as likely candidates. The earliest non-Shakespearean play known to have been performed by the company is Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, which was produced in the middle of 1598; they also staged the thematic sequel, Every Man Out of His Humour, the next year.

On the strength of these plays, the company quickly rivalled Alleyn's troupe for preeminence in London; already in 1595, they gave four performances at court, followed by six the next year and four in 1597. These years were, typically for an Elizabethan company, also fraught with uncertainty. The company suffered along with the others in the summer of 1598, when the uproar over The Isle of Dogs temporarily closed the theatres; records from Dover and Bristol indicate that at least some of the company toured that summer. The character of Falstaff, though immensely popular from the start, aroused the ire of Lord Cobham, who objected to the use of the character's original name (Oldcastle), which derived from a member of Cobham's family.

In the last years of the century, the company continued to stage Shakespeare's new plays, including Julius Caesar and Henry V, which may have opened the Globe, and Hamlet, which may well have appeared first at the Curtain. Among non-Shakespearean drama, A Warning for Fair Women was certainly performed, as was the Tudor history Thomas Lord Cromwell, sometimes seen as a salvo in a theatrical feud with the Admiral's Men, whose lost plays on Wolsey date from the same year.

In 1601, in addition to their tangential involvement with the Essex rebellion, the company played a role in a less serious conflict, the so-called War of the Theatres. They produced Thomas Dekker's Satiromastix, a satire on Ben Jonson that seems to have ended the dispute. Somewhat uncharacteristically, Jonson does not appear to have held a grudge against the company; in 1603, they staged his Sejanus, with dissatisfying results. They also performed The London Prodigal, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, and The Fair Maid of Bristow, the last a rarity in that it is a Chamberlain's play that has never been attributed in any part to Shakespeare.

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