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Geoffrey Rush as Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love

Even apart from Shakespeare’s death, 1616 was a momentous year, theatre-wise,  and Shakespeare’s Globe is going to make the most of it, by celebrating this year’s numerous anniversaries with a host of events, shows, talks, concerts…

This month, the focus is on Philip Henslowe, one of the two great impresarios of Elizabethan theatre, Edward Alleyn’s father in law, and the man whose diary, preserved through the centuries, gave us most of what we know about the daily business of playhouses and companies.

Henslowe started off as a dyer, then understood that good money was to be made out of London’s unquenchable thirst for entertainment. So he built the Rose playhouse in Southwark, and began to lease it to players. Among them, leader and star to the Admiral’s Men (and Strange’s, up to 1594) was Ned Alleyn, the greatest tragedian of his generation. In 1592 Ned married Henslowe’s stepdaughter Joan, and the two men forged a partnership that would make both very rich over the years.

It wasn’t just the playhouse: as well as the Rose (and later, jointly with Alleyn, the Fortune), Henslowe owned the bear ring, a number of “stews” and land, and HensloweBWhouses… But to us, four hundred years later, the journal is the important thing. Thanks to Henslowe’s diary – and Ned Alleyn’s farsightedness in gifting his own and Henslowe’s papers to Dulwich College, Elizabethan London is more real to us, more alive and more colourful than it would have been otherwise.

Now, if one were in London, there would be plenty of Henslowe-related wonders at the Globe, such as a dramatic reading from the journal – in Elizabethan pronunciation, no less. Or a special Read Not Dead session, featuring four now rather obscure plays that were first performed at the Rose – including Greene’s Orlando Furioso. And then talks, and exhibitions… If, like myself, you are well away from London and the Globe, you can sigh over the Globe’s website, and read Grace Ioppolo’s lovely post about Philip Henslowe, Ned Alleyn and their world.

Considering that the Globe was home to the Chamberlain’s Men led by Richard Burbage – Alleyn’s great rival, just as Richard’s father James was Henslowe’s rival – I can’t help thinking that good Philip would have a good chuckle if he could see himself so remembered and celebrated there… Then again, considering that Henslowe’s rediscovered Rose, papers, and building contract for the Fortune were vital in bringing to life Sam Wanamaker’s reconstructed Globe, I’d say it’s only fair.