A Companion to Henslowe's Diary by Neil Carson

By Neil Carson

Henslowe's 'diary' is a different resource of knowledge concerning the daily operating of the Elizabethan repertory theatre. Philip Henslowe, a theatrical entrepreneur, stored files of his monetary dealings with London businesses and actors from 1592-1604. The diary itself is hard to decipher. Neil Carson's research is predicated on a way more thorough correlation of Henslowe's entries than has been tried prior to, breaking down into transparent tabular shape the most goods of source of revenue and expenditure and drawing conclusions concerning the administration tactics of the firms, the pro relationships of actors and playwrights and the ways that performs have been written, rehearsed and programmed. earlier hypothesis has brushed off Henslowe himself as ignorant, disorderly and greedy. Carson exhibits him to were a benign and effective businessman whose keep watch over over the actors' expert actions was once less broad than has usually been meant.

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Regulations under which the pawnbrokers operated specified that pledges had to be kept for a year and a day after which they became forfeit and could be sold. The customary rate of interest allowed by law was 2d in the pound per week or 43 per cent (De Roover 1948: 121—5). Although the rate seems usurious (and was frequently attacked as such), it has been argued that it was not excessive in view of the expenses involved. These would include licence fees, rent, wages, interest on capital borrowed, storage charges and depreciation on pledges (De Roover 1948: 128).

It appears that offices in the Company were not permanent, but that the 'vsuall manner was, that sometymes one, and sometymes another . . Did provide Clothes and other necessaries for the settinge forth of the actors' (Wallace 1909: 40). Since the case concerns an alleged debt to a mercer, the emphasis is on the business transactions most directly related to that suit. The fact that no mention is made of the purchase of plays or the paying of hired men does not necessarily mean that Beeston did not also have responsibility for such activities.

How the players can have reduced their financial obligations to Henslowe so rapidly, and in a period when playing was severely curtailed because of the plague, is a mystery which we cannot solve with information from the diary. Unfortunately Henslowe's records are sketchy at the very point when we would expect them to be most detailed. Whether the players had money in reserve, or sold their costumes to raise cash, or gave Henslowe a share of the theatrical 30 THEATRICAL LANDLORD stock as payment of their debt we will never know.

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