Shakespeare, His Fellows, and the New English King

Abstract

That William Shakespeare and his fellow players were patented early in his reign as “these our servants” by James I is well known. Not so well understood is why this happened. Ready answers have been brought forward as self-evident: the new king favored plays and players and also understood that Shakespeare’s was the best company in London. We are thus to understand that ten days after having arrived in London for the first time, without ever having seen a London play, the new king was now familiar enough with the city companies to initiate immediately the patent process for one particular acting group. The socio-political climate of London and of England generally, however, suggests other possible scenarios according to which Shakespeare and his fellows might have been awarded a royal patent. The political situation in England awaiting a new monarch newly arrived from Scotland can suggest other royal motivations for awarding a group of players a royal patent so early in the reign. This regnal gesture may have had less to do with the artistic climate of London and more to do with its political climate.