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SHAKESPEARE SOCI E T Y’S
PA P E R S.
Art. I.-A new Document regarding the authority of the Master
of the Revels over Play-makers, Plays, and Players, in 1581.
I send for insertion in the next volume of “The Shakespeare Society's Papers” what I am entitled to call one of the most curious documents connected with the history of our stage, only two or three years before our great dramatist became a writer for, and an actor upon it. Moreover, it is quite a novelty, no hint of its existence being anywhere given: it was communicated to me by Mr. Palmer, of the Rolls' Chapel, a short time since, as being on the patent roll,' and as unknown to Mr. Payne Collier when he published his “History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage,” in 1831.
It is entitled Commissio specialis pro Edo. Tylney, Ar. Magistro Revellorum, and it will be recollected that Edmund Tylney had been appointed Master of the Revels in July, 1579: the document before me bears date 24th December, in the 24th year of Elizabeth; i.e., the day before Christmas, 1581, for the 24th year of her reign did not end until 16th November, 1582. Tylney had therefore been only a short time in office, when he was entrusted with the extraordinary powers communicated to him by this patent.
Rot. Paten. de diversis annis tempore R. Elizabeth. VOL. III.
It will be remarked also, that it preceded the formation of the company of “the Queen's Players,” which Howes, in his continuation of Stow's Annales, informs us consisted of twelve performers, including Robert Wilson and Richard Tarlton. Sir Francis Walsingham is said to have been instrumental in the selection of the actors; and we know, on the authority of the Accounts of the Expenses of the Revels, that Tylney was sent for by “Mr. Secretary," on 10th March, 1582, “to chuse out a company of Players for her Majesty.”!
That this important theatrical event was contemplated when the subjoined instrument was placed in the hands of Tylney, we need have little doubt : it must, in fact, have been preparatory to it; and anything more arbitrary, or, as we should now call it, unconstitutional, was perhaps never heard of. It seems framed in some degree upon the model of the unrestricted powers, at much earlier dates, given to the Master of the Children of the Chapel, &c., to take boys from the choirs of any cathedrals or churches, in order that they might be employed in the Chapel Royal. Tylney's warrant, however, does not apply to mere singing boys, but to grown men, artificers, actors, and dramatists; and, as will be seen, it is much larger and more imperative in the authority it conveys. .
For the purposes of the Revels at Court for the amusement of the Queen, it enables Tylney, or his deputy, in the first place to command the services of any painters, embroiderers, tailors, property-makers, &c., he thought fit, and, in case of refusal or neglect, to commit them during his pleasure, “ without bail or mainprise;" so that they had no remedy but to submit. But the most remarkable part of the Patent comes afterwards, where the same unprecedented power is given to Tylney, or his deputy, to order all players of comedies, tragedies, or interludes, “ with their playmakers,” to come before him to recite such performances as they were in a condition to represent. Thus actors and poets were put as much at the mercy of Tylney and
Cunningham's Revels' Accounts, p. 186.