Playwrights were expected to produce a number of new plays every year to satisfy demand. Many of these were never published. Plays, when written, became the property of the company and not the playwright. William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher were just a few of the many playwrights of that era whose work is still performed today.
The Old Vic printed poster, 48th annual season, 1961
Jude Law in Dr Faustus, Young Vic Theatre, London, 2002
Christopher Marlowe's story of Dr Faustus is of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for 24 years of absolute knowledge and pleasures of his choice. The deal is sealed in Faustus' own blood, taken from his arm.
Jude Law returned to the London stage to play the role at the Young Vic in 2002.
Engraved print of John Fletcher, 1647
John Fletcher collaborated with William Shakespeare in writing Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. However, Fletcher's name is usually linked with that of Francis Beaumont. Collaboration was a common method of working for playwrights at this time and Fletcher wrote plays with a number of different partners. Many of the plays performed and published under the label Beaumont & Fletcher were actually written by Fletcher and Philip Massinger. Beaumont and Fletcher's collaborations include Philaster, The Maid's Tragedy and A King and No King. Fletcher also wrote as a solo dramatist, his best-known plays including The Faithful Shepherdess and The Woman's Prize or The Tamer Tamed, a sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Following Beaumont's death in 1616, Fletcher became chief playwright for the King's Men.
Fletcher died in 1625 and is buried in Southwark Cathedral in the same grave as Massinger.
Will Kempe (died ca 1603), photograph of an engraving, 17th century
Will Kempe was the principal clown of Shakespeare's company during the 1590s. He would have played major comic roles and was well known for his ability to 'ad lib', amusing audiences with tumbling and physical comedy.
Kempe was not only an actor. Before and after his time in the theatre he travelled around Europe as a clown and musician. When he left Shakespeare's company in 1600, he danced from London to Norwich, with spectators betting on his progress. He wrote a book entitled 'Nine Days Wonder' about his adventures. This picture, which was an illustration to the book, shows Kempe dancing on his journey with morris bells tied to his legs.
Tamburlaine the Great, Old Vic Shakespeare Company, 1952
Tamburlaine the Great is a two-part play by Christopher Marlowe. In this scene Tamburlaine, played by David Wolfit, is about to kill the King of Persia, played by David Waller. Other cast members included Leo McKern, Kenneth Griffith and Jill Balcon. Directed by Tyrone Guthrie.
Portrait of Richard Burbage (1568-1619), engraved print, late 16th century
Richard Burbage was the leading player in Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which later became the King's Men. Burbage created many of the leading roles in Shakespeare's plays. He specialised in tragic roles and was the first Hamlet, King Lear, Othello and Richard III. Burbage's family was also involved with the London theatre. His father, James Burbage, became an actor and then a theatre builder. He rented land in Shoreditch and built The Theatre, the first amphitheatre playhouse in London. His sons, Richard and Cuthbert, inherited The Theatre but after problems with their landlord, they dismantled The Theatre and transported the pieces across the River Thames where they rebuilt it and called it the Globe. Richard Burbage acted there until his death in 1619.