Richard Burbage Haiku

Chill dark of winter

Hamlet and bros strike out to

Snatch back theater

Let’s continue with Actor Week! This is actually the fourth actor in a row, so fuck it, I’m keeping this going ’til Saturday.

Today’s subject is Richard Burbage, who was not just a famous Shakespearean actor, but the first, and a damned popular Elizabethean actor in general. As is the case with the vast majority of people alive then, details of his life are scant. But some interesting bits survive.

He was born in 1567 and, his dad being an actor and theater builder, promptly joined the biz himself. He assembled the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, to which Will Shakespeare became attached, and Will wrote most of his big, leading roles for Richard. Richard III, Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear… Yep, that was him and the crowds went wild.

He was a decent painter too. Today’s pic? Self-portrait. It’s also thought he painted that portrait of Shakespeare.

Oh yeah, and he stole a theater.

He and his brother owned a playhouse aptly named The Theatre. It was a pretty popular place! But their landlord Giles Allen, an irritating sort of Puritan, shut them down, with the goal of selling the building’s lumber when the lease ran out. Richard, losing money from this dickery, read the contract. Allen owned the land, but he owned the playhouse. Huh!

So while Allen was out of town, the Burbages and their crew (including pal Shakespeare) went and stole the whole goddamned playhouse over the course of several nights. They took it over to the southside of the Thames and from it, constructed the famous Globe.

Allen was pissed when he came back, but aside from launching a bunch of lawsuits, there wasn’t much he could to about it.

His death in 1619 caused a wailing, gnashing of teeth, a lot of poetry, and a disrespect for royalty. (Queen just died? Who cares? BURBAGE.) The best of the poems was also the most succinct:

‘Exit Burbage.’

(PS: Yep, I’m assuming Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him because the arguments are against that largely boil down to classism and a massive misunderstanding about the completeness of historical records.)

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