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Playing Politics

Authors say popular English theatre troupe of 1580s was supported by the Crown

The Queen’s Men, the most popular English theatre troupe in the 1580s, was probably supported by the Crown for political reasons, say the authors of an award-winning book. The players, who toured the country widely for 20 years, were representatives of the royal court on the road. And they perhaps also acted as its eyes and ears. “The Protestant Queen Elizabeth and members of her court were fully aware that a percentage of the population was very sympathetic towards Mary, Queen of Scots, who was Roman Catholic. We believe that the Queen’s Men performed a specifically Protestant repertoire to bolster the English queen,” says co-author Sally-Beth MacLean of the Records of Early English Drama project. Shakespeare seems to have known these plays well, rewriting some of them in the 1590s in his own style, and he may have been a member of the company in the early years of his career, MacLean says. She and Scott McMillin of Cornell University co-wrote The Queen’s Men and Their Plays (Cambridge University Press), which won the Sohmer-Hall Prize in 1998 for the best book about the early English stage and staging practice. The award will be presented in London, England, at a ceremony being held at the Globe Theatre, through which the prize is given.

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