Archived from

Shakespeare's fellows

by Gwen Herat

It was Ben Jonson's eulogy of Shakespeare that contributed as a preface to a part collection published by his friends, Herminge and Condell in 1632. Jonson was one among many of the famous writers during the Bard's era to recognise his outstanding literary qualities.

As an actor and playwright, there were no evidence to show his movements and activities during his years of absence from Strafford. He may have been a teacher or served on a nobleman but it is recorded that he left for London in 1587 in a company of actors. He can be traced from London from 1592 onwards as an actor, a reviser and as a playwright. He was around twenty eight when public notice fell on him and many of his contemporaries were impressed by his work. However, one writer who never saw him eye to eye was Robert Greene who described Shakespeare as an 'Upstart crow', words that Greene was to regret later.

Shakespeare's first narrative poem was Venus and Adonis dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothesley, later Earl of Southampton. It was published in 1583 and met with great success which prompted their relationship to further strengthen. It is often said that Shakespeare wrote all his sonnets to the Earl of Southampton.

Shakespeare's association with many companies of players and his partnership in various theatrical ventures, establish him as an actor and playwright. He was one of the Chamberlain's men from the time of the accession of James 1. He provided entertainment at court and it was this company that many of Shakespeare's plays were written.

Shakespeare was pre-eminently a man of the theatre and in 1599 became one of the share holders of the Globe Theatre that was build on the Bankside.

While Shakespeare's Fellows were many and among them Nathan Field, Richard Barbage, Ben Jonson, William Sly, Edward Elleyn etc. are but a few to mention, he had a list of twenty six players with him acting in comedies, tragedies and historical tragedies.

The principle actors

William Shakespeare Samuel Gillborne
Richard Barbage Robert Armin
Augustine Phillip William Oftler
John Hemmings Nathan Field
William Kempt Nicholas Tooly
Thomas Pope John Underwood
George Bryan William Eccleflone
Henry Condell Foleph Taylor
William Slye Robert Benfield
Robert Cowley Robert Gough
John Louine Richard Robinfon
Samuel Croffe John Shanke
Alexander Cooke John Rice

Nathanial Field (1587-1633) - Formed himself on the lines of Jonson and Champman. Not a great writer but collaborated with Fletcher and Massinger who greatly inspired him. Field wrote a pair of good humoured antiithetic comedies called a women is a weather and amends of ladies in 1610.

He was an actor who was interested in the literary history, especially in playwrights who were linked between the stage and literary segments. To review dramatic writers of the Renascence was a failure as the few who remained were the only principle names that could have been counted upon fingers. Some of their plays were ascribed to Shakespeare by contemporary publishers or attributed to him subsequently. Playwriters like Field were mediocre but contributed mainly to the theatre.

Richard Barnfield (1564-1627) - Yet another contemporary of the Bard, made very little contribution towards literary works but is passionately remembered for his charming little odes in the Passionate Pilgrim that were long attributed to Shakespeare. Especially the short pieces and songs were exclusive as a collection. It was the Elizabethan age but made throughout the Renascene. It was during the awakening of an artistic sense by humanism. By now England had become the impassioned lover of song and theatre and actors like Barnfield was responsible.

Edward Alleyn (1567-1626) - A playwright actor who cashed on his talents was Alleyn. He became famous doing the lead roles in Marlow's plays. After making a fortune out of it, he turned director of Lord Admiral's Company. He purchased a manor for ten thousand pounds from Lord Francis Carlton, a feat even Shakespeare could not afford or dream about. Alleyn magnificently founded the Dulwich College on this manor and endowed many charities for the less fortunate. But Alleyn the actor who created many parts and who had to utter all characters' declamatory violences and repeated hysteria, found nothing could be less dramatic or more monatenous.

Richard Barbage - With the uprising of the theatre, playwrights tried to sell their plays to companies. It was to such as actors' company that Shakespeare belonged and was patronised by turn by Leicester, Ferdinando and Lord Strange and who became Lord Derby in 1593 at the accession of James 1.

In turn, it became the King's Company. King James owned two companies, the Globe in Southwalk and the Blackfriars. This company was directed by Barbages who were father and son of Richard Barbage who was the most famous actor of the day. This was from 1597-1619. It had some of the sharpest struggles with the Lord Admiral's Company for a period but retained its supremacy until the theatres were closed down.

With Shakespeare's plays being staged and the Barbages sustaining its survival, the passion for the theatre attracted money. It was about this time money was being invested in the theatre and Alleyn's father-in-law, Philip Hounslowe built the Rose Theatre and the Fortune Theatre as well as the Hope Theatre. Theatre was becoming big business and playwrites' found their work getting notices on stage. Shakespeare had given the impetus and what followed was amazing.

Ben Jonsen (1573-1637) - Came the enigma in the guise of Jonson who was to play a pivoted role in the theatre as well as among playwrites. Temperament by nature, he was a romantic. He holds the distinction of providing the typical antithesis to Shakespeare and because his works had real value, his attitude was conspicuous.

His lengthy career as a dramatist and playwrite is relatively large compared to the rest of Shakespeare's contemparies. Famous for his combativeness which brought him to conflict with several of his playwrites, resulted in sarcastic references to his public life. This made him a centre for study over Shakespeare in the Renancene drama.

Explosive in his dramatic career as well as in private life, Benson rose to be one of the most illustrious sons of England, he was an academic from Cambridge after studying his primary at the Prestigious Westminster School of William Camdon, the famous antiquary. Jonson was truly learned and his works were amply documented and maintained an accurate conception of manners and customs that are found in his work.

He wrote many plays perhaps more than Shakespeare and tried his skills at Toamn Tragedies too. He was a colossus during his time and many scholars still believe he overshadowed even Shakespeare during their time.