boy companies



  • In the Elizabethan theater, companies of choir boys who actedsemi-professionally and gained a great popular following. The firstsuch companies came from the Chapels Royal in London and Windsor andfrom St Paul's Cathedral. They performed masques and disguisings atcourt until 1576 when Richard Farrant (d. 1580), master of the Windsorchoirboys, adapted Blackfriars Theatre for their use. The same venuewas used by the Boys of St Paul's, boys from Oxford's Men,and by the Children of the Chapel.

    Boy companies soon acquired a quasi-professional status andat the turn of the century their popularity often outstripped thatof adult companies. The irritation this caused is evident from Shakespearegiving Hamlet a line denouncing boy actors as "little eyases".The boys gave several first performances of major plays, incudingBen Jonson's Cynthia's Revels (1600) and The Poetaster(1601) (both of which starred Nathan Field and William Ostler, wholater became leading adult actors) and works by John Lyly, GeorgeChapman, and others.

    The public infatuation with child actors had run its courseby 1615, although such groups as Beeston's Boys continuedto perform into the Restoration era.