chapter  15
Touring players and their plays before 1570 Peter Greenfield
Pages 16

Touring players like those who act the Murder of Gonzago in Hamlet appear frequently in the drama of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Some are struggling bumblers, like Sir Oliver Owlet’s Men of Histriomastix , who “travell . . . with our pumpes full of gravell” (Marston, iii: 264), but the actors who visit Elsinore can move Hamlet to tears and inflame Claudius’ guilt, even if Shakespeare mocks their outdated style. The travels and practices of such players during the reigns of Elizabeth and James have been extensively examined over the last three decades. 1 Perhaps the most important realization produced by these studies is that touring was not – as earlier theatre historians portrayed it – an unusual, even desperate action taken only when playing in London was prohibited due to plague. Rather, touring was the normal, expected practice, even for the most successful London companies. Hamlet might ask the visiting players, “How chances it they travel?” believing that both “reputation and profit” would be better in “their residence” in the city (II, ii, 330-1), yet in 1572 the Earl of Leicester’s Men wrote to their patron that they “travayle amongst our frendes as we do usuallye once a yere” (Chambers, 2: 86).