*Philip Henslowe


The Fortune Playhouse, Golden Lane From Wilkinson's “Londinia Illustrata,”  1819

The Fortune Playhouse, Golden Lane From Wilkinson's “Londinia Illustrata,” 1819

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Philip Henslowe

Philip Henslowe was born in Lindfield, Sussex, around 1550, son of the master of the game in Ashdown Forest. He was living in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, London by 1577. He had been apprenticed to a dyer, and after his master’s death, married his rich widow. This fortuitous match allowed Henslowe to acquire much property, including inns, lodging houses, and Bankside brothels. In addition to wealth, the marriage gained Henslowe a step-daughter, who in 1592 married the most famous actor of the day, Edward Alleyn.

By then, of course, Henslowe was well established in the business of the theatre. The Rose, built in 1587/8 was his, and perhaps also the theatre in Newington Butts. Henslowe may also well have had a hand in the Swan Theatre in the Paris Garden at the western end of the Bankside. Not only was Henslowe an adept businessman, he also had standing at Court. In 1592, he became a Groom of the Chamber; and in 1603 a Gentleman Sewer of the Chamber. Yet Henslowe’s main focus was entertainment.

Ever the shrewd businessman, Henslowe (with Alleyn who was now both his son-in-law and business partner) built the Fortune Theatre for the Admiral’s Men north of the Thames in 1600, when it seemed the Rose was losing out to the Globe. In the building contract, Henslowe specified the features of the Globe he wanted to adopt for the Fortune. In 1604, Henslowe and Alleyn jointly purchased the patent as Master of the Royal Game of Bears, Bulls and Mastiff Dogs, and the two presented bull- and bear-baiting near the Swan. In 1614, Henslowe created the first, what we now would call, “flex-space”—the Hope Theatre on the Bankside, built on the site of the Bear Garden. It had an adaptable arena that would function as both a theatre and, with its removable stage, as an animal-baiting ring.

Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time, showing the Bull and Bear-baiting Gardens, the Falcon Inn, &c. From an old plan in the British Museum

Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time, showing the Bull and Bear-baiting Gardens, the Falcon Inn, &c. From an old plan in the British Museum

Henslowe employed and associated with the eras most famous actors and playwrights, including Jonson, Dekker, Middleton, and Webster, and many of the period’s most important plays were first performed at his theatres. Yet the foremost reason Henslowe is so central to modern scholarship is his Diary, which passed along with his other papers to Alleyn upon his death. The Diary, now held in Dulwich College, offers invaluable documentation and insight into the world of Elizabethan theatre. The manuscript contains records of theatrical income and expenditure at the Rose including payments, loans, and advances to playwrights and players, as well as lists of properties, costumes, Henslowe’s pawn accounts, his brother’s mining accounts, and whatever else Henslowe felt worth noting down in his attempt to keep his affairs in order.

Henslowe’s other businesses included manufacturing starch, money-lending and pawnbroking. It is said that it was through usury that Henslowe held such sway over his actors and playwrights. Henslowe himself wrote, “Should these fellowes come out of my debt I should have no rule over them.” A company of players brought a suit of ‘oppression’ against Henslowe the year before his death, the outcome of which is not known. Henslowe died in 1616, four months before Shakespeare’s death.

1 Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Other Local Resources:

* Location Map of Elizabethan London
* Visscher’s Panoramic View of London, 1616. COLOR

Books for further study:
Carson, Neil. A Companion to Henslowe’s Diary
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 vols.
Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1923.

Donohue, Joseph W., ed. The Theatrical Manager in England and America:
Players of a perilous game. Philip Henslowe, Tate Wilkinson,
Stephen Price, Edwin Booth, Charles Wyndham.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Foakes, R.A. and R.T. Rickert. Henslowe’s Diary.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642. 3rd Ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Henslowe, Philip. The Henslowe papers. R.A. Foakes, Ed.
London: Scolar Press, 1977.

Rhodes, Ernest L. Henslowe’s Rose : the stage & staging.
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976.

Henslowe on the Web:

* The Diary of Philip Henslowe, from 1591 to 1609, J. P. Collier, ed. 1845
* Philip Henslowe – The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
* Philip Henslowe – The Encyclopedia Britannica
* Philip Henslowe and the Admiral’s Men – UVictoria

Article Citation:

Jokinen, Anniina. “Philip Henslowe.” Luminarium.
12 Nov. 2001. [Date when you accessed the page].

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