Burbage family



  • The English actor-manager James Burbage (c. 1530 - 97)and his two sons, the actor-manager Cuthbert Burbage (c. 1566 - 1636)and England's first great actor Richard Burbage (c. 1567 - 1619).

    James Burbage began his career in about 1572 as ajoiner and actor with Leicester's Men. In 1576 he leased land in Shoreditch,London, and erected the Theatre, England's first permanentplayhouse. In 1577 he built a second theater in Shoreditch calledthe curtain (because it was constructed on land known as Curten Closeor Courtein). The Chamberlain's Men, a cooperative of theBurbage family and the leading actors, appeared there on a regularbasis and some scholars believe Romeo and Juliet was firstperformed there in about 1595.

    In 1596 Burbage converted part of a former Dominican friaryinto the indoor Blackfriars Theatre. The local residents,however, secured an injunction, and Burbage died before it opened.His sons inherited Blackfriars and leased it to a boys' company (seeboy companies).

    Cuthbert Burbage began as an actor but became involvedin management when he and his brother inherited the theaters. A disputearose with the landowner when the Theatre's land lease expired in1597, and Cuthbert led the fight. While the landlord was absent, thebrothers dismantled their theater and used the wood to build the famousGlobe Theatre on Bankside, forming a syndicate with Shakespeareand others.

    Richard Burbage made his debut at the Theatre withthe Admiral's Men when aged about 18. Although short andstout, by 1594 he was the leading actor with the Chamberlain's Men.At the Globe, under his brother's management, he created such Shakespeareanparts as Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and Othello. As Richard III (his firstmajor role) he became particularly celebrated for his death scene.A Bosworth inn-keeper supposedly took his guests to Bosworth Fieldand would point out the spot where Burbage cried: "A horse! Ahorse! My kingdom for a horse!"

    Burbage also appeared in the first productions of works byJohn Webster, including the role of the evil Ferdinand in The Duchessof Malfi, and Ben Jonson, Thomas Kyd, Francis Beaumont, and JohnFletcher. His name was synonymous with acting during his lifetimeand for long afterwards. A character in Jonson's Bartholomew Fairasks, "Which is your Burbage now?...your best actor?"Burbage was also an accomplished painter, and some attribute the Chandosportrait of Shakespeare to him. The Bard left Burbage a small remembrancein his will. When Burbage died, Richard Flecknoe (d. 1678) wrote:

    No more young Hamlet, old Hieronymo; King Lear, the grieved
    Moor, and more beside, that lived in him, have now forever died.
    Emlyn Williams made Burbage a character in his play Spring1600 (1934). see also Richard III.