The Lord Chamberlain's Men (Shakespeare's company) performed in the courtyard of The White Hart through this archway in the 1590's.
"All the world's a stage"
Attached to the side of what was the former "Tudor Tea Rooms" and is now Strakers estate agents, is the Blue Plaque to William Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain's men: the Plaque however can only be seen when the gates at the entrance to Russell Square from the High Street are open.
It is known that the Chamberlain's Men toured in 1596 and 1597, and they also toured in August and September 1597 in Faversham, Rye, Dover, Bristol, Bath, and Marlborough; probably in that order, with payment of 6s 8d being given to the company by Marlborough Corporation.
The reason for this 1597 tour is clear, on 28th July 1597 all London theatres were closed because of a scandal brought about by a play called "The Isle of Dogs" that had been performed at the Rose theatre. The Privy Council wanted to raze the London theatres to the ground but couldn't, and the theatres were subsequently reopened on 11th October. But to keep their companies going, the stage players had to travel in order to reach audiences, and these strollers, as they were known, took to touring.
Touring also took place when there were bad outbreaks of the plague in London but touring did not happen very often because of the practical transport problems and associated costs. The players had to attract large audiences to make money. Their visits to Bristol with an estimated population of 12,000 (London, 200,000) would have made some sense, but visits to Marlborough with an estimated population of 2 to 3,000 could not have been commercially viable, unless they just stopped there en route from Bristol and Bath to London and vice versa. Certainly the Chamberlain's Men did not come to Marlborough for any literary reasons or for an appreciative and cultured audience. There is evidence that Marlborough audiences were hard work. Stage plays were actually banned by the Town Corporation in 1602 because of violence and damage done both by the players and their audience.
But the 'performing en route argument' may not be entirely right since more companies visited Marlborough than either Bristol or Bath, so another more plausible reason could have been due to the patronage of the Earl of Hertford and the Countess of Pembroke. This cannot be proved but it is probably more than coincidence that the year companies stopped coming to Marlborough was 1622 and both Hertford and the Countess died in 1621.
The Earl of Hertford at that time occupied the castle at Marlborough and had his own company of players and thirty miles away lived that great patroness of the arts in Elizabethan times, the Countess of Pembroke, who also had an acting company.
Generally it would seem, then, that the townspeople were not too keen on these strollers. The 6s 8d, recorded as being given to the Chamberlain's company, was a very small sum out of the total amount of payments of £59 3s 11d for that year. Without substantial patronage therefore, Marlborough could not economically have been visited, even en route.
Finally, whether Shakespeare's company actually performed in the Courtyard of the "White Hart" is not clear as it may be that the company came to Hertford's house rather than the "Hart". But any such public performance in the inn-yard rather than the Earl's house, may have happened as a public-spirited act of benevolence on the part of the Earl.
Blue Plaque Location:
Click here for details of a circular walk linking all the Blue Plaques