A Companion to Henslowe's Diary by Neil Carson

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By Neil Carson

Henslowe's 'diary' is a distinct resource of knowledge in regards to the daily operating of the Elizabethan repertory theatre. Philip Henslowe, a theatrical entrepreneur, stored documents of his monetary dealings with London businesses and actors from 1592-1604. The diary itself is hard to decipher. Neil Carson's research relies on a way more thorough correlation of Henslowe's entries than has been tried earlier than, breaking down into transparent tabular shape the most goods of source of revenue and expenditure and drawing conclusions concerning the administration systems of the corporations, 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 regulate over the actors' expert actions used to be less wide than has usually been meant.

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While it is dangerous to generalize from Henslowe's book-keeping to his personality it is, perhaps, fair to say that the diary is a much more systematic and accurate document than is sometimes implied. It seems clear that it formed only part of Henslowe's accounting records, which included also formal bonds and very likely one or more ledgers. The diary and papers reveal glimpses of a man conscientious in his family responsibilities, and undemanding in his business dealings. While he undoubtedly earned interest on the money he invested in a pawnbroking business, that interest (although higher than the legally allowable 10 per cent) was not more than was customarily charged abroad.

The players charged that Henslowe deliberately broke the Company in order to avoid surrendering the stock. This last point is of particular interest for the light it throws on the way in which Henslowe was able to interfere in the autonomy of the acting troupes. Ostensibly Henslowe was only an agent of 'fower of the sharers'. In fact, however, the landlord was in the habit of securing bonds from individual players to protect his investment. Since these bonds were drawn up in Henslowe's name rather than in the name of the Lady Elizabeth's Men, Henslowe was apparently able to 'withdraw' the hired men and to 'turn them over to others'.

While the players remained in Henslowe's debt, he would retain their costumes and playbooks as security for his money. Once the debt was retired, which the players estimated would be in three years, the stock was to be turned over to the Company. The players charged that Henslowe deliberately broke the Company in order to avoid surrendering the stock. This last point is of particular interest for the light it throws on the way in which Henslowe was able to interfere in the autonomy of the acting troupes.

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