Doubling for the London Theatres

The evidence of the surviving documents from the London playhouses suggests that their actors were rarely asked to work under such pressure. King and Bradley’s extensive analysis of the extant Plots, Prompt Books and Cast Lists from early modern English theatre reveal that actors would usually be given an entire English scene to change from one character to another 3. They also suggest that actors were not frequently asked to change character and then return to their original character – it happened, but it was relatively rare. Bradley refers to this as “dodging” (36) and decided to avoid this practice when doubling the plays under his analysis (42). Following his protocol produces a quite different doubling chart for Friar Bacon (download pdf, download Excel doc) that demands a company of 21 actors, including three boys, three hired men playing smaller roles and 15 master actors or sharers 4. Such doubling increases the number of actors needed to stage the show but decreases the demands made on the actors.

3 T.J. King, T.J. King, Casting Shakespeare’s plays: London actors and their roles, 1590-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) and David Bradley, From text to performance in the Elizabethan theatre: preparing the play for the stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

4 Certain roles I assigned to master actors may be considered minor due to the low number of lines and could therefore be considered work for hired men. This would bring the numbers closer in line with the personnel resources of the London playhouses, where King and Bradley argue an average of around 10 lead actors was the norm.