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Andrew Gurr. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625.

Andrew Gurr. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company, 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. ix + 317. $99.00.

This book, which continues Andrew Gurr's work documenting the theatrical companies of the early modern English era, is a counterpart to his The Shakespeare Company, 1594-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Described as "the biography of a company" (10), it reflects his theory that the Admiral's Men and the Chamberlain's Men formed a duopoly that dominated the early modern English stage. The book draws from Gurr's previous work and also that of Susan Cerasano, Roslyn Knutson, Richard Dutton, and David Bradley, among others.

The book's title contains an implicit conundrum. Shakespeare's Opposites suggests that the Admiral's Men was fully equivalent and analogous to the Chamberlain's Men. However, most historical analysis of Shakespeare's company is extrapolated from information about the Admirars Men, because little financial information survives on Shakespeare's company itself. It is therefore difficult to distinguish between the two in histories of the early modern stage. Gurr himself acknowledges this difficulty, but points out that it is possible to distinguish certain differences in company composition, theatrical practices, financial organization, and audience demographics. The Chamberlain's/King's Men were a co-operative organization of several sharers, he argues, while "the Admiral's Men ... eventually became the first playing company to be controlled by an impresario" (4).

The book is divided into five chapters--"The Company's Unique Features," "Disguise and Travel," "Henslowe's Accounts and the Play-Texts," "Staging at the Rose and the Fortune," and "The Company's Repertory Practices"--and includes four appendices on the plays, players, traveling, and court performances.

Chapter 1, though entitled "The Company's Unique Features," is largely about Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe. Gurr notes that much more data survive on the Admiral's Men's playhouses, their financial dealings, and the plays they performed than on any other company--although, as he acknowledges later, Henslowe's records are hardly exemplary, or even neat. Since the Admiral's Men were organized around Alieyn, Gurr posits that the plays acquired by the company were intentionally written to exploit the quick change disguises necessitated by having one charismatic leading player, though he was eventually to move away from his role as player to that of manager. This chapter serves as a miniature biography of Alleyn, including his distinct gifts as a player: a large and imposing presence, a talent for "huffing parts" and a knack for self-parody.

Chapter 2, "Disguise and Travel," focuses on the touring schedule and touring practices of the Admiral's Men. Occasionally, the organization of this chapter suffers: the conjunction of "disguise" and "travel" sometimes seems a bit arbitrary, although Gurr explains that the latter necessitates the frequent use of the former. Despite this, it is one of the most interesting chapters, especially the discussion of quick change disguises alluded to in the first chapter and here elaborated upon, particularly the extremely quick changes made by Alleyn, and the plays which exploit these disguises, such as The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, The Wise Men of Westchester, and John a Kent and John a Cumber. A large section is devoted to Look About You, which makes such extensive use of disguise that there has to be a dialogue to explain what happens: Gurr suggests that the play uses everything except identical twins. He pays considerable attention to the touring schedule, including methods of transportation, number of players, and locations; he also provides a map. Gurr also acknowledges that it is quite difficult to establish precisely how profitable touring was to the company.

Chapter 3 focuses on Henslowe's Diary and includes an extensive analysis of income and expenditure. The projection of expenditures, income, and profit is necessarily an extremely speculative branch of writing a history about any early modern company, and Gurr is careful not to push these speculations beyond what is possible or likely. His analysis includes a discussion of the sale of foodstuffs, which may have been profitable to the company and not to the theater owner, as is usually assumed. The second half of chapter 3 focuses on the play-texts purchased and owned by the company: much of this section builds on the previous work of Roslyn Knutson on the play-buying process, and a full list of the company's plays appear in appendix 1.

Chapter 4 centers on staging at the Rose and the Fortune theaters. The portions on archaeological evidence, the Fortune contract, and the inventories of properties and apparel are familiar to theater historians, but helpful for the discussion of speculative staging that follows. The placement of the onstage posts, in particular, probably necessitated staging significantly different from that used in the Globe. The chapter also contains discussions of the staging of The Battle of Alcazar and Tamburlaine and the company's connections to other Marlowe plays.

Chapter 5 begins with a hypothetical internal debate by Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels: which play ought he to select for presentation at court? Hieronimo, Hamlet, or both together? Admiral's Menor King's Men? This debate, while speculative, leads to the very real question as to "why the Fortune company fell so completely off the Revels lists for the court after 1615" (165). Gurr suggests a number of possible causes: problems with the patrons, audience snobbery, and a differing repertory and acting style from the King's Men, a repertory and acting style that may have aged along with Edward Alleyn, though not nearly as gracefully.

Perhaps the chief value of Shakespeare's Opposites is that named by Gurr: it is the "biography of a company"--an important company which does not have as many books dedicated to it exclusively as does the Chamberlain's/King's Men. Shakespeare's Opposites collates much of the information and current scholarship on the Admiral's Men in one compact, discrete, and elegant volume and provides interesting, original speculations of its own as well.


California State Polytechnic University at Pomona
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Author:Aaron, Melissa D.
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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