Cast of characters

In fitting the characters in the Shakespeare plays to the life of the Earl of Earl of Oxford, one thing must be kept in mind, namely how very small were the communities involved. England is part of an island, roughly two-thirds the size of California. Much of it then was still wooded or otherwise inhabitable. Rivers were the major means of transport, roads being poorly maintained and dangerous. Messages could only be passed in writing, or memorized by couriers, who travelled by horse or boat, a matter of days or weeks. There was only one real city. The Court, located in Westminster, just west of London proper, was also very small, some 200 individuals, male and female, when all were gathered from around the island for some important ceremony, hardly the size of most American high schools.

High school is a good metaphor for the community we deal with, one most were born into and from which they only graduated with death. That only a few names were used, that fathers and sons often had the same name and title, all adds to our difficulties in assigning roles to those whose names come up in the histories of the period. I have about 500 DNB bios, but the DNB rarely notes where an official was also a patron of an acting company, another indication of how the Stage was regarded then as not much better than a brothel. The death rate was enormous; women would have ten or twelve children in hopes that two or three would survive birth and childhood. Envisioning such a world isn’t easy for 21st century readers, but it must be done if the truth is to be located, and understood. Again, the image of a small high school that meets, not in a reunion every ten or twenty years, but every day, or several times a year, for the rest of their lives.

Thirty years of study and collecting biographies has left me with the following cast of characters. For those who read this, who have found this a compelling study (I hope there are a few), here’s what I’ve come up with. questions about names I may have forgotten to add are welcome:

Important Poets (everybody wrote poetry then, these the ones that merit the term; some are both poets and patrons; pen names not included)
Earl of Oxford
Sir Philip Sidney
Countess of Pembroke, Mary Sidney
Sir Francis Bacon
Christopher Marlowe
Sir Walter Raleigh
Ben Jonson
John Donne
George Gascoigne

Important Patrons
Queen Elizabeth
Earls of Oxford
Earl of Leicester
Earl of Sussex
Earl of Worcester
Lord Henry Hunsdon
Lord Admiral Charles Howard
Sir Francis Walsingham
Countess of Pembroke, Mary Sidney
King James and Queen Anne
3rd Earl of Pembroke (Mary’s son)

Actual Patrons of Acting Companies
16th Earl of Oxford
Earl of Leicester – Leicester’s (Burbage’s) Men
Sebastian Westcott – Paul’s Boys
Earl of Oxford – the Dutton brothers
Sir Francis Walsingham -The Queen’s Men
Earls of Sussex’s Men
Earl of Worcester’s Men
Lord Henry Hunsdon – The Lord Chamberlain’s Men

Prominent Performers
Will Somers (under HVIII and Mary) 
Richard Tarleton-comedy
Will Kempe-comedy
Edward Alleyn-drama
Richard Burbage-drama
The Dutton brothers-various

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