- The Elizabethan theater company for which Shakespeareacted and wrote most of his plays; he was also a leading shareholder.Founded in 1594, the company became the most successful troupe of its daywith Richard Burbage (see Burbage family) as its leading actor;they were originally based at the Theatre, which had been built by Richard'sfather, James Burbage. The comedians William Kempe and Robert Armin createdmost of Shakespeare's clowns and fools.
In 1599 the company moved to the new Globe Theatre.Two years later, they risked serious political consequences by performingShakespeare's Richard II (about the deposition of a king)at the time of the Earl of Essex's unsuccessful rebellion. They escapedwith an admonishment and probably toured the provinces for a while.The company quickly returned to favour, playing at the court of ElizabethI shortly before her death. In 1603 they were renamed the King'sMen after the accession of James I. They took over the secondBlackfriars Theatre in 1608 but continued to play at the Globe until1613, when it burned down after a performance of Shakespeare's HenryVIII. It was rebuilt the following year, enabling the companyto stage Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.
After Shakespeare's death in 1616 and Burbage's in 1619, manyof the actors moved to other companies. In 1623 two members, JohnHeminge and Henry Condell, collected 36 of Shakespeare's plays togetherand published the famous First Folio. The two men also actedas the company's business managers, in which role they were succeededin about 1630 by Joseph Taylor and John Lowin.
In 1624 the company's production of Middleton's A Gameof Chess was banned and the players admonished after a complaintby the Spanish ambassador. On the death of James I (1625) the King'sMen came under the patronage of his successor, Charles I, who protectedthem from a Puritan attempt to close Blackfriars Theatre. Queen HenriettaMaria was an especially keen supporter of the company, who made courtappearances at the indoor Cockpit-in-Court at Whitehall and elsewhere.Philip Massinger became their main dramatist and was succeeded onhis death (1640) by James Shirley. In 1642 the King's Men disbandedwhen the Puritans closed the theaters (see the Interregnum).