chapter  3
Playing I: Literacy and Oral Performance Practices
Pages 33

Widely varying performance practices and skills can be detected on the London stages before the 1590s. As of 1583, a new company aligned with the court and filled with famous clowns, the traveling Queen’s Men, began performing a repertory that was highly successful on stage but did not translate well into print. At the same time, John Lyly, the most celebrated playwright of the decade, provided a repertory of plays for boys performing as the Children of the Chapel playing at the Blackfriars and St. Paul’s that consisted of bookish, classically inspired comedies or tragi-comedies that were published soon after being performed. Even before Lyly’s embrace of the child actors, and prior to the eventual shift from Tudor artisanal playing to adult professionalization in London-based Elizabethan and Jacobean theaters, classically influenced plays performed by the children’s troupes had been dominating the Revel’s calendar at Elizabeth’s court. Troupes of child players, some of whom had become “professionalized,” at least to the extent that they were playing before paying audiences (if not being paid to do so), would receive a majority of all payments for performance at court for the first two decades of Elizabeth’s reign, and then, after the formation of licensed adult professional companies in the 1580s and even after the temporary postMarprelate closure of Blackfriars and Paul’s had imposed a hiatus upon these two most famous children’s playing groups, they would continue to receive a third of all Elizabethan payments at court.