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Shakespeare question

I’m curious, if anyone knows: what were the usual ages for actors in Shakespeare’s time?

By corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

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From my understanding, boys began acting in theatre companies (playing the younger women characters) from ages 14 -24. Recent research has shown that these boys were in “Boys’ Companies” that farmed out to other acting companies such as “The Admiral’s Men” or “The Chamberlain’s Men.”

At around an average of age 22, when voices and physiques changed, most of the boys (if they continued as apprentice actors) would transfer over to the adult companies.

As for the adult companies, I haven’t found much in the way of age/actor ratios. However, Edward Alleyn, the historically named greatest actor of “The Admiral’s Men, ” retired in 1604, making him roughly 38 years old. Richard Burbage, the premiere actor of “The Chamberlain’s Men” (also known as “The King’s Men”), continued acting until he died at age 50 or 51 (differing information can be found about the exact dates of his death).

I would say that it would be common to find actors from their early teens well into their middle ages. So to answer you question in a truly round-about way, Steve, I would say that the unusual ages for actors in Shakespeare’s time would be those actors beyond their middle age years. But that is just speculation based on the research.

Hope it helps…

This is fascinating. James, do you have any books to recommend on the subject? I’m reading Bill Bryson’s brief profile of Shakspeare and enjoying it very much but would love to read more about that period of time.

amysue,

It’s nice to know someone out there shares the fascination.

If you are interested in some in-depth, collegiate-style informational books, I would recommend the following:

#1 “The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642” by Andrew Gurr (1992)

#2 “Global Economics: A History Of The Theater Business, The Chamberlain’s/King’s Men, And Their Plays, 1599-1642” by Mellisa D. Aaron (2005)

#3 “The Profession of Player in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590-1642” by G.E. Bently (1984)

Each is an excellent source of information if you can slog through periods of dryness in between the jewels you find. In fact, in “The Shakespearean Stage,” even the dry parts are still pretty good.

Then again, if you want a more light, fun read, then I would recommend “Roaring Boys: Shakespeare’s Rat Pack” by late historical writer and professor, Judith Cook (2004). Cook seems to have really done the research, and what she presents is a lively view of theatre in Elizabethan London. It is not as in-depth as the others, but it is o-so-much-funner (can I use “funner”?) to read. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Thanks for the interest.

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