Alleyn And Shakespeare
By Brian Green

So what, apart from sharing the year 1616, did William Shakespeare and Edward Alleyn have in common? Well actually, quite a lot!

Both acted, Shakespeare with the King’s Men, Alleyn with the Lord Admiral’s Men. Both had a financial interest in the theatres - Shakespeare at the Globe on Bankside and Alleyn at the Fortune in Golden Lane. They both had a connection with Bishopsgate. Alleyn was born there, ‘at the sign of the Pye’, where later his brother John continued their father’s inn keeping business and Shakespeare was renting rooms in the parish. At other times, Shakespeare lived for a spell in Cripplegate where Alleyn had his theatre and both lived on Bankside. They shared some of the same friends and acquaintances, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson come to mind.

Tantalisingly, Edward Alleyn’s diary which is in Dulwich College archives does not commence until 1617, a year after Shakespeare’s death. Earlier years, if there were any, are missing. The only reference in the Alleyn archive that is not a forgery, is a reference to Alleyn buying a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (price 6d) in 1609.

So convinced was J P Collier, the eminent Shakespeare scholar of the nineteenth century, of a close connection between the two men that he seeded the Dulwich archive with some 40 fictitious references which he forged over a five year period. This was the subject of an article by Dr Jan Piggott in the Journal (J P Collier: scholar and rogue published Spring 2013) which may be read online in the Journal Archive. To his credit, and he needed as much credit as he could muster, it was Collier who drew attention to the important place Alleyn had in the late Elizabethan and Jacobean stage.

An odd piece loosely linking the two men was printed in the 1770 Annual Register Vol XIII p.107 under the title - Anecdote of Shakespeare, never printed in his works.

‘Ed. Alleyn, the Garrick of Shakespeare’s time had been on the most friendly footing with our poet as well as Ben Johnson. They used frequently to spend their evenings together at the sign of the Globe, somewhere near Blackfriars, where the play-house then was. The world need not be told that the convivial hours of such a triumvirate might be pleasing as well as profitable, and may truly be said to be such pleasures as might fear the reflections of the morning. In consequence of one of these meetings, the following letter was written by G Peel, ª a Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford and a Dramatic Poet who belonged to the club, to one Marle,(ƅ) an intimate of his.

“Friend Marle

 I must defyre that my syfter (sister) hyr watche, and the Cookerie book you promyfed may be fente bye the man - I never longed for their company more than last night: we were all very merrye at the Globe, when Ned Alleyn did not scruple to affyme pleafauntely to my friend Will, that he had stolen his speeches about the qualitys of an Actor’s excellence in Hamlet hys Tragedye from converfations manyfold which had passed between them and opinions given by Alleyn touching the subject - Shakespeare did not take this talke in good forte; but Johnson put an end to the strife with wittinglye remarking “This affair meeteth no contention, you stole it from Ned, no doubt, do not marvel: Have you seen him act tymes out of number?

Believe me most sincerelie

Yours G. Peel”

As Mr Alleyn is a character at present little known in the theatrical world, though we need not subjoin any other testimony to his merit than the above compliment from such a judge as Ben Johnson, we shall however beg to leave to add (by way of showing it was no friendly partiality) the openness of the two Gentlemen, whose established literary characters are too well known to doubt their complimenting at the expense of their genius and sincerity. Dr Fuller, in his Worthies says that Alleyn made any part especially a majestic one, become him and Burbage. “The best actors of our time”, and adding, “What Plays were ever so pleasing as when their parts had the greater part”, and in his Chronicles we find more joining Alleyn with Burbage in the following encomium: “They were two such actors, as no age might ever look to see the like.”