16th Century

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The 16th Century

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men was the playing company that William Shakespeare worked for as actor and playwright for nearly a third of his career.

Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronized by James I and renamed The King’s Men.

The company was founded during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1594, under the patronage of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, the then Lord Chamberlain, who was in charge of court entertainments. After its patron’s death in 1596, the company came under the patronage of his son, George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon, for whom it was briefly known as Lord Hunsdon’s Men until he in turn became Lord Chamberlain in 1597, whereupon it reverted to its previous name.

For most of its life, the company was one of the most prominent of its day, favoured by commoners and aristocracy alike – indeed The Lord Chamberlain’s Men was often invited to perform at Court, and records show that Queen Elizabeth I preferred them above all other companies. Such was the enthusiasm of the next monarch, James I, he even agreed to grant the company Royal Patronage.

The original company began life at a playhouse called The Theatre, northeast of the City of London. The owner of that land, however, had become firmly opposed to letting plays continue at The Theatre, and thus the company entered the late 1590s without a regular playhouse, though records indicate that they performed at the Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch while planning a permanent home. This situation changed when the company leased land in Southwark and, taking the framing timbers from The Theatre, constructed the now world-renowned Globe Theatre.

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