Queen's Men Biographies - Actors in the 1583 Company

John Bentley (c.1553-1585)

• Aged 30 when he joined the new Queen’s company in 1583.

• A letter (undated) to Edward Alleyn from a “W.P” at Dulwich mentions a wager made among gentlemen as to whether Alleyn could overgo Bentley and Knell in one of their parts, implying that Bentley, like Knell, excelled in tragic or heroic roles. The letter is transcribed in Collier’s Memoirs of Edward Alleyn (1841) along with accompanying verse (12). Collier’s tendency to contaminate (and fabricate) sources may put its authenticity into question.

• In an incident outside the Red Lion Inn in Norwich during the company’s first summer tour (June 1583), Bentley may have dealt the wound that killed a local man named “George.” Bentley had been onstage, wearing a “players berd” in the role of a “Duke” when a citizen named “Wynsdon” refused – apparently with beligerence – to pay the admission fee. Tarlton is said to have tried and failed to intercede as Bentley struck at this Wynsdon with his sword hilt. Bentley and his fellow, John Singer, pursued the man, who fled alongside another man, “George,” who wore a “blew cote,” evidently in Wynsdon’s service. The actors caught up with George who threw a stone to defend himself against Bentley’s rapier attack. It is said to have “broke his head.” George was several times “pricked” with weapons and bled to death in a nearby house. Bentley and Singer were briefly imprisoned after the killing (Norwich: 1540-1642, pp. 66-76, 378-381, 394-395)

• Bentley was himself deceased by 1585, the register of St. Peter’s Cornhill giving his age as “yers 32” (Dictionary of Actors, 44). Nashe recalled his ability in Pierce Penniless (1592) and Heywood remembers him in Apology for Actors (1612) as an important early English actor.

• His will records his landlord in Shoreditch as Robert Scott, perhaps indicating that he shared a residence with, or was neighbor to, Simon Jewell, whose will refers to the same landlord in the same parish (Playhouse Wills, 56, 59).