Henslowe Diary

Philip Henslowe’s diary is considered one of the most important contemporary sources of information on Elizabethan theatre. The book measures 33.66 x 20.32 centimetres and contained 242 pages today. It originally belonged to John Henslowe, who used it as an account book for his timber and mining business in Ashdown Forest. John died before 1592, after which the book passed into the possession of his brother Philip. He used it as a business and notebook until 1609. Of primary interest are the entries up to 1604, which deal mainly with the theatre. Philip Henslowe died in 1616 and the book passed to Edward Alleyn, who had married Henslowe's stepdaughter Joan. Alleyn founded the College of God’s Gift in Dulwich, which also looked after his inheritance. Therefore, the Henslowe Diary is still in the library there.

It was first used for scientific purposes by Edmond Malone. In 1790 he published in his Historical Account of the English Stage the parts of the diary that seemed relevant to him. J. P. Collier published the theatre-related entries in 1845 under the title Henslowe’s Diary. It was not until 1902 that Walter Greg began a new edition, followed six years later by a commentary volume. Greg’s work was subsequently used as the basis for all subsequent editions of the book.

In this case it is more appropriate to speak of an account book than a diary. Apart from some private notes, Henslowe mainly recorded his income and expenses. He wrote next to the date the play that was played and how much his shares were. He was entitled to half of the income from the gallery’s entrance fees. He prefixed the letters "ne" to some of the plays, but it is still unclear what he meant by this. The most likely assumption is that he used it to mark new plays, however, some dramas so marked were not really new, but the earnings were sometimes somewhat higher. It is likely that the price of admission to these particular works was increased.1 Another possibility is that such marked plays were performed in a different theatre, which is why the receipts differed from the norm.2 Henslowe was often unable to decide which title or which orthographic version he should prefer. The Massacre at Paris, for example, is written in eight different ways, Doctor Faustus in fourteen. Henslowe’s handling of the date was equally free. Sometimes it seems as if he has already written the dates in advance. Not only did he make a few mistakes, he also got confused with the corresponding performances. For example, 2 plays are recorded for 5 August 1594. The actual performance date therefore seemed to be of secondary importance. The assumption that the dramas were actually all performed on the days recorded by Henslowe must certainly be put into perspective. If only because he had a 31st April in 1595! Even the money he took in is not always clear to read. All data obtained from the records are subject to a certain degree of fluctuation, depending on how they are read.
Between 25 February 1592 and 1 February 1597, the plays, performance dates and Henslowe’s earnings can be quite clearly read from the diary. After that, the date, but above all the amount of the income, can no longer really be ascertained.

Two of Marlowe’s plays are unlikely to have been performed by Henslowe: Dido, Queen of Carthage and Edward II, for they are not mentioned once by him. No other play was shown as often during this period as The Jew of Malta (there were 36 performances in total). Henslowe also earned the most money with it.
The first recorded performance of The Massacre at Paris is the only one, of all Marlowe’s works, that Henslowe marked with the – already mentioned – "ne". The income of 74s is the second highest he made. Since the meaning of "ne" has not yet been clarified, it is not possible to say whether this sum refers to the work itself, or to the circumstances under which it was shown.3 Regarding the performance figures, the difference between Tamburlaine 1 and Tamburlaine 2 is interesting. With 15 performances, the number of performances of the first part is more than double that of the 2nd part (7 performances). This results from the fact that Part 2 has only ever been played in combination with Part 1. According to the performance dates, there was a maximum of one day between the performances. Tamburlaine 1, on the other hand, was performed independently of the second part. Apparently Tamburlaine 2 was considered too weak to succeed without the first part. A tendency that is apparent in the Henslowe Diary with all dramas that have two parts.

Henslowe not only earns money from Marlowe, performing him has also cost a lot. Over the years, Henslowe has had to buy costumes in particular. In 1598, the actor William Birde was given money to buy silk stockings for The Massacre at Paris. In May 1601, the actor Robert Shaw and William Juby bought sundries for The Jew of Malta. Until November of the same year, bills were repeatedly settled with Redford, the tailor who made costumes for The Massacre at Paris. The total expenditure was £15 16s and 6p. Moreover, these entries prove that at least two of Marlowe’s plays were still being performed after January 1597. At the end of January 1601, Henslowe bought three dramas, including The Massacre at Paris, from Edward Alleyn, for the proud sum of £6. All of these works had been performed before. It is unclear why Henslowe paid for them again. Alleyn may have reworked them. In early December 1602, William Birde and Samuel Rowley received £4 for additional scenes in Doctor Faustus. A list of theatre costumes written by Edward Alleyn on a sheet of paper lists "faustus Jerkin his clock" in the second column under item 17. It is probably the waistcoat Faustus wore in his last scene. The entry in the third column regarding The Massacre at Paris is not entirely clear.

"2 silver paynes lact wt carnation satins lact over wt silver
3 the guises
4 Rich payns wt Long stokins"

It is not clear whether "the guise" refers to item number 2 or number 4.

Malone published an inventory of the Admiral’s Men in 1790 in The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare Volume I, Part 2 on pages 300 to 307, listing costumes, textbooks, etc. According to his own account, he found it in a bundle of loose sheets at Dulwich College. In the meantime, this list is lost. However, there is little doubt about Malone’s statements, for if one goes by the spelling, it could very well be a writing by Henslowe.4 On the list dated 10 March 1598 (It is no longer possible to ascertain which style this dating follows.) are the following items that were used for Marlowe’s plays.

"Item, ij marchepanes, & the sittie of Rome
Item, viij viserdes; Tamberlyne brydell; j wooden matook
Item; iij tymbrells, j dragon in fostes
Item, j cauderm for the Jewe"

Presumably "the sittie of Rome", served as a prospectus in Doctor Faustus . At the beginning of the third act, Faustus and Mephostophiles are in Rome. However, "j dragon in fostes" is puzzling. The Oxford English Dictionary knows about 14 meanings for "dragon" in the period in which this list may have been compiled. Neither in the A- nor in the B-text of Doctor Faustus does anything occur that could correspond to one of these meanings. Perhaps Marlowe intended a dragon in his text and it was deleted in the later adaptations, or there was a later version with dragons that has since been lost.

Incidentally, Henslowe never mentioned the playwright Christopher Marlowe. The reference on the sheet with the number 20086 is a forgery by J. P. Collier.5

In the nearly 5 years that Henslowe kept the records, he recorded 752 performances of 96 different plays with a total income of £614 2s 3p. (Today, this would correspond very roughly to an amount between € 200,000 and € 220,000. It is pointed out again that these are not absolutely precise figures for reasons already mentioned). Of these, Marlowe’s works account for just over 12 per cent. Taken as a whole, Henslowe’s records may not always be entirely clear to decipher, but one thing is clear from them: "[…] there was Money in Marlowe."6

Frazer, Winifred. 1991. “Henslowe’s ’Ne’.” Notes and Queries 38: 34–35. https://doi.org/10.1093/nq/38.1.34.
Henslowe, Philip. 1961. Henslowe’s Diary: Edited with Supplementary Material, Introduction, and Notes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  1. Henslowe (1961)↩︎
  2. Frazer (1991)↩︎
  3. Frazer (1991)↩︎
  4. Henslowe (1961)↩︎
  5. Henslowe (1961)↩︎
  6. Healy (1994), 18↩︎

Aktualisiert am 18.01.2023

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