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The ensuing volume is chiefly composed of minute particulars; but particulars, however minute, are not on that account trifling or uninteresting, since they obviously assume importance in proportion to the prominence or distinction of the parties to whom they relate: these details have reference to Shakespeare, to the great dramatists of his day, and to the principal actors engaged in the original performance of their plays.
General readers will hardly be aware of the time and trouble employed in collecting the facts here arranged; and the compiler is afraid to dwell upon them, lest it should be imagined that he is disposed to over-estimate his labours or his acquisitions. He is fully sensible of the many deficiencies of what he now offers: he knows how much remains to be done; but he knows, too, how much more is contained in the following sheets, than was ever discovered or brought together before. Those only who are acquainted with the scanty and imperfect materials of preceding biographers in this department, will be likely to do justice to the quantity of new information comprised in the volume in their hands. Some few (the author hopes they will be only few) may be of opinion that, at best, it is a monument of time mispent, and industry misapplied.
A separate leaf of the folio of "Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies," edited by Heminge and Condell in 1623, contains "the names of the principal actors in all these plays:" they are twentysix in number, and are arranged in two columns. We have dealt with them as they there stand, beginning with the first column, and going down that, before we commenced with the second column. This seems to have been the order intended by Heminge and Condell; and perhaps, before we proceed farther, it may be well to insert the list exactly as it stands in the original, observing, that for our purpose we have throughout employed the copy of the first folio in the library of the Earl of Ellesmere. We need not dwell on this new instance of his lordship's kindness, because towards the Shakespeare Society and the author of the present work it has been invariable.
THE NAMES OF THE PRINCIPALL ACTORS IN ALL THESE PLAYES.1
1 We here follow precisely the spelling of the names in the original, but that some of them are wrong we have no doubt, though, as to others, it may be difficult to decide what is right, or what is wrong. Hemmings, for instance, in this list is Heminge at the end of the dedication of the same volume: Kempt is no where else found so spelt, and Poope elsewhere is always Pope. Similar observations will apply to others, but the author has been accustomed to consider the mere orthography of a name, even of that of our great dramatist himself, a matter hardly worth consideration. Any man who corrects a single letter of his writings confers a lasting favour on mankind.
Our volume consists of such circumstances, published by others, or accumulated by ourselves, as relate to the incidents of the lives of the preceding enumeration of actors, with one exception: for that exception the reader will be prepared, because the biography of Shakespeare has been so recently written and printed by the author, that he could have added little to it. With regard to the rest, he has presumed that Heminge and Condell had good reasons for the arrangement they made of the names of their fellow tragedians and comedians, and to that arrangement he has adhered. How far it was regulated by the value and amount of services rendered, by the age of individual performers, or by the periods when they joined the company, we have no such information as will enable us to decide it is very possible that all these considerations, mixed up perhaps with claims derived from private intimacy, influenced the editors in the order of insertion. That Condell had more to do with it than Heminge, we may be disposed to think from the respective places that their own names occupy.
Some omissions from the list may appear extraordinary the most remarkable of these is Lawrence
Fletcher (who acted before James I. in Scotland, anterior to his accession to the English throne) whose name comes first in the patent of 1603, and who, not having died until the autumn of 1608, might have sustained characters in most of the plays of our great dramatist. He was buried at St. Saviour's, Southwark, and the registration, in the book which has always hitherto been referred to, is
1608. Sept. 12. Lawrence Fletcher, a man: in the church. There were, however (and it is a singular fact not previously noticed, but indisputable) two Lawrence Fletchers residing in the parish of St. Saviour at the same time, and both are mentioned in the old records preserved at the church: therefore, the entry of "Lawrence Fletcher, a man," would apply to either, and does not necessarily belong to the actor; but we have been able to resort to an authority, never before consulted (because only recently brought to light from an old chest preserved in the vestry) which settles the point distinctly. We allude to the unbound periodical accounts on separate sheets, from which the entries in the registers were subsequently copied, with such omissions as the transcriber, for brevity's sake perhaps, thought fit to make the instance of Lawrence Fletcher illustrates this point very remarkably, for in the monthly accounts of deaths in the parish of St. Saviour, in the year 1608, we find his burial recorded as follows, with much particularity :
1608. Sept. 12. Lawrence Fletcher, a player, the King's servant, buried in the church, with an afternoon's knell of the great bell......
Thus we see that the "Lawrence Fletcher, a man," who was buried on 12th September, 1608, was not merely "a player," but "the King's servant," (that is to say, a member of the company of actors so licensed and called) and that 20s. were paid for his burial in the church, and for the afternoon's tolling of the great bell.
It is from the "token-books" at St. Saviour's, often quoted in our volume, that we chiefly derive the information that there was another person with both Lawrence Fletcher's names resident in the same parish, and a victualler.' These documents (kept, we apprehend, in order to show who had, and who had not, received the sacrament) often contain curious. and particular information respecting the places of abode of players at the Globe and other theatres on the Bankside; and, in the case of Lawrence Fletcher, the actor, we learn from them that in 1607 he was living near the playhouse," doubtless the one in the receipts at which he was largely interested.
It is still a question, and will perhaps ever remain so, whether John Fletcher, the dramatic poet, were not related to Lawrence Fletcher, the actor; and we may
1 However, the following entry in the register of a baptism establishes both these points :—
"1612. May 24. Constance Fletcher, daughter of Lawrence, a victualler."
It is by no means impossible that Lawrence Fletcher, the victualler, was son to Lawrence Fletcher, the actor.
2 From MS. Lansd., 982, fo. 241, printed in Birch's "Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth," it appears, as Mr. Cunningham has pointed out to