Queen's Men Biographies - Actors in the 1583 Company

William Knell (d. 1587)

• A member of the company at its inception in 1583, or by 1585 at the latest.

• Nashe’s Pierce Penniless praises Knell’s acting alongside Tarlton’s and Alleyn’s. Heywood’s Apology for Actors also remembers him as a talent.

• Credited with “playing Henry the fift” in Tarlton's Jests, presumably in The Famous Victories (before his death in 1587). This is the only known assignment of a role but it points to one capable of taking vigorous, youthful parts.

• A coroner’s inquest reports that on 13 June, 1587, between 9 and 10 pm, Knell entered a close called White Hound in Thame, Oxfordshire and assaulted John Towne, his fellow actor. Towne, fearing for his life, took to the high ground of a nearby “mound” and put his sword through Knell’s neck in self-defence. Knell was dead within the half-hour. The Queen pardoned Towne on 15 August after it was determined he acted in self-defense (Shakespeare in Warwickshire, 82-83, 157-158).

• Less than a year earlier, Knell had married Rebecca Edwards at St. Mary Aldermanbury, London. She was widowed at fifteen. She was soon re-married, aged sixteen, to John Heminges, who would become Shakespeare’s longstanding fellow in the Chamberlain’s Men and may also have acted with the Queen’s company.

• There has been speculation that Knell’s absence opened a door for Shakespeare to join the company as it toured Warwickshire, though no firm evidence supports this.