English Comedians



  • Wandering troupes of English actors who travelled the Continentduring the 16th and 17th centuries. Their repertoire of Elizabethancomedies and tragedies, usually abridged and always in English (sometimesinterpreted), included a popular burlesque version of Hamlet(Die bestrafte Brudermord) that later became an essential partof the repertoire of German companies. The plays were supported bymusic, dancing, and comic sketches; the general comedy was broad enoughto appeal to their foreign audiences. English clowns were popular,especially Robert Reynolds as Pickelhering (upon whom theGerman clowns Hanswurst and Thaddädl were modelled).

    An early troupe performed in 1586 under William Kempe in Hollandand Denmark, before moving on to Dresden and other German towns. Thefirst company of English Comedians to achieve great acclaim and renownwas led by Robert Browne, who produced plays in Leiden in 1591 andthe next year took the group to the Frankfurt fair where they performedbiblical plays, works by Marlowe, and Gammer Gurton's Needle.Shortly afterwards, Thomas Sackville took a company to Wolfenbütteland established it in the Court Theatre of Heinrich Julius, Duke ofBrunswick, who was a playwright: the duke's extant plays show theinfluence of the English Comedians' repertoire.

    The overall effect of these travelling actors was to bringaction and passion to a German theater preoccupied with lengthy speeches.By 1630 the printed repertoire of the English Comedians containedmany works of German origin. They continued to play in Europe despitethe Thirty Years' War, and returned in greater numbers during thePuritan Interregnum, although there is no record of themafter 1659.