Shakespeare in Stratford and London: Ten Eyewitnesses Who Saw Nothing - Part 11
by Ramon L. Jiménez
Our last eyewitness is Edward Alleyn, the most distinguished actor on the Elizabethan stage. He was also a musician, a book and playbook collector, a philanthropist, and a playwright (Wraight 211-19). He was born about two years after William Shakespeare and came from the same class. His father was an innkeeper, and Alleyn was still in his teens when he began acting on the stage. He was most famous for his roles in Marlowe’s plays, but he also must have acted in several of the Shakespeare plays performed at the Rose, such as Titus Andronicus and Henry VI (Carson 68). In 1592 he married Philip Henslowe’s step-daughter and entered the theater business with his father-in-law.
Edward Alleyn also kept a diary that survives, along with many of his letters and papers. They reveal that he had a large circle of acquaintances throughout and beyond the theater world that included aristocrats, clergymen, and businessmen, as well as men in his own profession, such as John Heminges, one of the alleged editors of the First Folio. In his two-volume edition of Edward Allen’s Memoirs (1841), John Payne Collier printed several references that Alleyn made to Shakespeare and to his plays, but they have all been judged forgeries (Chambers 2:386-90). The alleged reference by Alleyn to Shakespeare that has puzzled scholars the most is one that Collier claimed he found on the back of a letter written to Alleyn in June 1609. There, Alleyn supposedly recorded a list of purchases under the heading “Howshowld stuff,”—at the end of which are the words “a book. Shaksper sonetts 5d.” Although this letter has been lost, the entry has been accepted as genuine by some scholars (Rollins (2:54 and Freeman 2:1142), but rejected as a forgery by others (Race 113 and Duncan-Jones 7). But forgery or genuine, it fails to suggest a connection with William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Thus, except for this one questionable reference, nowhere in Alleyn’s diary or letters does the name William Shakespeare appear. It is impossible to believe that Edward Alleyn, who was at the center of the Elizabethan stage community for more than thirty-five years, would not have met the alleged actor and leading playwright William Shakespeare, and made some allusion to him in his letters or diary.
Wraight, A.C. Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn. London: Adam Hart, 1993.
Carson, Neil. A Companion to Henslowe's Diary. Cambridge: CUP, 1988.
Rollins, Hyder H., ed. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Sonnets. Vol 2.
Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1944.
Freeman, Arthur & Janet Ing Freeman. John Payne Collier: scholarship and forgery in
The nineteenth century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Race, Sydney. “J.P. Collier and the Dulwich Papers.” Notes & Queries 195 (1950) 112-
Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare. London:
Thomson Learning, 1998.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Note: Nigel Cockburn writes: “Francis Bacon knew the great actor Edward Alleyn. In 1618 in a letter to the Duke of Buckingham (Spedding 13.324) Bacon discussed a license which Alleyn was seeking to build a “hospital”. Bacon commented: “I like well that Allen playeth the last act of his life so well” (But Bacon said he preferred that some of the money should go to founding two lectureships). On 13 September 1619 Alleyn opened Dulwich College which he was founding (I am not clear if this was the “hospital”). Bacon, then Lord Chancellor, was the principal guest. One supposes that some of Alleyn’s Theatre friends were present”.
Constance M. Pott found other Alleyn family members known by Francis and Anthony Bacon: First on the pages of Francis Bacon's letters appears Capt. Francis Alleyn, (The Alleyns spell their names variously even in the same letter. Alen, Allen, Allin, Aleyn, Alleyne) a frank, plain spoken soldier, employed by Anthony to intercede for the release of his servant, Lawson, who had been arrested after the charitable manners of the time, on suspicion of being a Romanist. Francis Alleyn seems to have been very useful to the Bacons as a Messenger or "Intelligencer."
William Alleyne got himself into political troubles. Bacon calls him "a base fellow and turbulent." John Alleyn was theatrical servant to the Lords Howard and Sheffield. He was elder brother to Edward Alleyn, the Player, and the ostensible founder of Dulwich College, in which Bacon was curiously interested. How Alleyn found the money to make that noble foundation is only one of the many points which remain "behind the Curtain of the Dark." Henslowe reports two more Alleyns, Charles, and Richard, and amongst Anthony Bacon's letters are at least six from Godfrey Alleyn. There is, therefore, no doubt that the Alleyn family were amongst Bacon's helpers or "servants."