Companies were hierarchical - actors who had a stake in the company were called 'sharers' and divided up the profit between them; 'hirelings' were just paid a weekly wage, whilst the boys who played women's roles were 'apprentices' and paid very little. Actors specialised in specific roles which they performed as part of their repertoire.
Painting of The Alchemist, by Peter van Bleek, hand-coloured mezzotint, ink and wash on paper, 1738, Harry Beard Collection. Museum no. S.4961-2009
Full length portrait of Benjamin Griffin and Benjamin Johnson as Tribulation and Ananias in Act III, Scene 2 of The Alchemist by Ben Jonson.
Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, died in 1637, but his works were still popular well into the 18th century. His scholarly and sophisticated witticisms appealed to Restoration audiences, and The Alchemist was regularly revived. Set in Blackfriars in the heart of London, this comedy is about two conmen, Subtle and Face. Subtle poses as an alchemist (someone who claimed he could turn base metals into gold). Tribulation and Ananias, pastors of an Amsterdam church, are two of the ‘gulls’ who fall victim to the scam.
Portrait of Edward Kynaston (1640-1712), photograph of mezzotint reproduced on plate V of 1st volume of the book An Apology for the Life of Mr Colley Cibber, Written by Himself, a new edition with notes and supplement by Robert W Lowe, published by John C Nimmo, London, 1889
Edward Kynaston was one of the last Restoration actors to play women's roles. As the picture shows, he was a good looking young man and made a convincing woman. Samuel Pepys called him 'the loveliest lady that ever I saw', though he added 'only her [sic] voice not very good'. Part of Kynaston's appeal was his ambiguous sexuality. Colley Cibber recalled that 'the Ladies of Quality prided themselves in taking him with them in their Coaches to Hyde-Park in his Theatrical Habit, after the Play'. Cibber also reported that a performance of a tragedy attended by Charles II was once delayed because, as someone explained, Kynaston, who was playing the Queen, 'was not shav'd'.
In the 1660s women were permitted to appear on stage and the day of the boy player was over. Kynaston went on to make a successful career in male roles. He was noted for his portrayal of Shakespeare's Henry IV.
Portrait of Michael Drayton (1563-1631), print of an engraving, 1597-1608
Michael Drayton was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Although he produced many plays in his lifetime, none are performed today and he is better remembered as a major poet of the Elizabethan period. His most thankless task was collaborating on a play about Sir John Oldcastle. Oldcastle was the name originally given by Shakespeare to the character of Sir John Falstaff in his Henry IV plays. The character proved so popular that Philip Henslowe, owner of the rival theatre to Shakespeare’s, the Rose, commissioned Drayton and others to write a play on the original Sir John Oldcastle. Henslowe, it seems, wished to cash in on Shakespeare's success and also to set the record straight. The historical Oldcastle was a Protestant martyr, very different from the roistering drunkard, Falstaff, but, unsurprisingly, Falstaff proved the more popular of the two and Drayton's play has not survived on the stage.