At the Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition until 12 Oct 03, a new collection exploring the everyday life of Shakespeare's colourful contemporaries is on display

At the Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition until 12 Oct 03, a new collection exploring the everyday life of Shakespeare’s colourful contemporaries is on display

At the Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition until 12 Oct 03, a new collection exploring the everyday life of Shakespeare’s colourful contemporaries is on display.

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In partnership with Dulwich College, Shakespeare’s Rivals: Plotting and Playing at the Rose provides a rare opportunity to see manuscripts, documents and artefacts which tell the story of daily theatrical life as it was four hundred years ago.

Shown together for the first time, the collection reveals the theatrical practices, financial problems, literary squabbles and even occasional murder that scripted the back-stage drama at Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses.

Some of the priceless documents on display include:
- The original contracts for the Rose, Fortune and Hope theatres

- Records kept by Philip Henslowe, the Sussex entrepreneur who built the Rose Theatre in 1597 and who was famously portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’

- Sections of the only surviving cue-part of the period, containing speeches and cues from Robert Greene’s ‘Orlando Furioso’ (1592)

These rare documents tell of the trials and tribulations of putting on a play in the days when actors such as Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage were the equivalent of today’s film and television stars.

Daily life was difficult and hazardous for the playwrights and actors of the age: this collection includes a letter from the actor Nathan Field, written from debtors’ prison in 1613, in which he and his co-authors Robert Daborne and Philip Massinger beg Henslowe to post bail for them. Also on show is a letter from Philip Henslowe describing the death of the actor Gabriel Spencer who was killed in a duel with the playwright Ben Jonson in 1598. His contemporary Christopher Marlowe, whose plays were regularly performed at the Rose, is also known to have been killed during a brawl in a Deptford tavern in 1593.

Life was not much safer for members of the audience. The collection includes an eye-witness account of the death of a playgoer due to the firing of a gun used as a stage-prop during a performance of Marlowe’s ‘Tamburlaine the Great’ in 1587. The Globe itself caught fire during a public performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VIII’ and burned to the ground in 1613.

Competition and rivalry between authors was often fierce. Manuscripts show the depth of the enmity between writers such as Ben Jonson and Thomas Dekker, while a likely snipe at Shakespeare’s Hamlet is revealed in a play by rival playwrights Chapman, Marston and Jonson who reduced him to a footman’ ironically entering ‘in haste’ in their comedy ‘Eastward Hoe!’ (1605).

If difficult personal relations were not enough, there was always the prospect of the enforced closure of playhouses either due to the plague or by the powerful censor of the day (the Master of the Revels), who threatened their demolition in 1597.

There was competition from other forms of entertainment too. But in Shakespeare’s day it was pastimes like bull and bear baiting that pulled the crowds. Famous bears such as Tom Hunks, George Stone, Black Ned and Little Bess of Bromley were as celebrated in their day as the heroes brought to life in the theatres. The collection includes the skulls of a bear and a mastiff dog excavated from the site of the present day Globe.

Shakespeare’s Rivals outlines the process of putting on a play in Shakespeare’s time step by step. From the commissioning of a work and read-throughs in taverns to the hand bills used as publicity for shows, the collection uses documents and manuscripts from four hundred years ago to draw comparisons with modern day productions.

To celebrate the new collection, the Globe is running tours to the original site of the Rose Theatre, rediscovered in 1989. Tours of the Rose will be available during the afternoons when matinee performances are taking place in the Globe Theatre.

Entry to Shakespeare’s Rivals is included in the price of admission to Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition and Theatre Tour.

The collection is on display to the public from now until 12 October 2003.

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