Privy Council Letters regarding Censorship of Plays

TNA: PC 2/16

pp 388–9 (12 November) (Westminster)


A lettre to the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. That wheras there hathe growne some inconuenience by Common playes and enterludes in and about the Cyttie of London, in the players tak vppon them to handle in their plaies certen matters of Diuinitye and of State vnfitt to be suffred: for redresse whereof their Lordshipes haue thought good to appointe some persones of iudgemt and vndrstanding to viewe and examine their playes before they be permitted to present them publickly: his Lordship is desired that some fytt persone well learned in Diuinity be appointed by him to Ioyne with the Master of the Revells and one other to be nominated by the Lord Mayor, and they Ioyntly with some spede to viewe and Consider of suche Comedyes and Tragedyes as are and shalbe publickly played by the Companies of players in and aboute the Cyttie of London, and they to geue allowance of suche as they shall thincke meete to be plaied and to forbydd the rest.

A lettre to the Lord Mayor of London, That wheras their lordshipes haue already signifyde vnto him to appoint a sufficient person learned and of Iudgemt for the Cyttie of London to Ioyne with the Master of the Revelles, and with a divine to be nominated by the Lord Archebishop of Canterbury for the reforming of the plaies daylie exercised and presented publickly in and about the Cyttie of London, where the players tak vppon them without Iudgement or Decorum to handle matters of Divinitye and State. he is required if he haue not as yet made choice of suche a persone that he will so doe forthwith, and thereof geue knowledge to the Lord Archebishop; and the Master of the Reveles; that they may all meet accordingly|

A lettre to the master of the Revelles, requiring him with two others the one to be appointed by the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and the other by the Lord mayor of London to be men of Larning and Iudgement and to Call before them the seuerall Companies of players (whose servauntes soever they be) and to require them by authorytie herof to delyver vnto them ther booke that they maye Consider of the matters of their Comedyes and Tragedyes, and therevppon to sayke oute or reforme suche partes and matters as they shall fynd vnfitt and vnreuerent to be handled in playes, bothe for divinitie and state, comanding the said Companies of players in her Maiestes name, that they forbear to present and playe publickly anie Comedy or Tragedy other then suche as they there shall haue seene and allowed which if they shall not observe they shall lett them knowe from ther lordshipes that they shalbe not onely sevearely punished but made Capable of the exercise of ther profession forever hereafter


  • Footnotes
    • A: in display script
    • in: for in that
    • iudgemt: for iudgement; abbreviation mark missing
    • vndrstanding: for vnderstanding; abbreviation mark missing
    • Master of the Revells: Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, 1579–1610
    • A: in display script
    • Iudgemt: for Iudgement; abbreviation mark missing
    • A: in display script
  • Glossed Terms
    • sayke v inf to seek
  • Endnote

    At least two of the companies involved in these controversial performances are known to have been the Queen's Men and John Lyly's boy company at Paul's, both of which seem to have come to grief as a result of their participation. It is also possible that Will Kemp and his company, Lord Strange's Men, engaged in satirical stage mockery of Martin. Kemp is listed as one of the 'haggling and profane' satirists working to ruin Martin in Theses Martinianae, dated 22 July 1589; see further Manley and MacLean, Lord Strange's Men , pp 37–41. Although the date of arrival of Lord Strange's Men for residence at the Rose has not yet been confirmed, it seems very likely that they were there by c 1590, as their extant petition to the Privy Council and another by the Thames watermen pleading for their continuing use of the Rose indicate (see further 'History of the Playhouse'. The summer of 1589 remains a possibility for their early performances at the Rose therefore.

  • Document Description

    Record title: Privy Council Letters regarding Censorship of Plays
    Repository: TNA
    Shelfmark: PC 2/16
    Repository location: Kew

    The series of letters on pages 388–9 was precipitated by the ongoing controversies around the unlicensed Martin Marprelate pamphlets, first published as a Puritan diatribe against the established church in the autumn of 1588. By the spring of 1589, several performance troupes and some playwrights had joined the battle of words, on page and stage, mocking the Martinist followers in equally scurrilous terms. The authorities were therefore roused to control the involvement of players in the debate about 'matters of Diuinitye and of State' by suppressing such performances in all the public theatres in the London area, including the Rose and Newington Butts south of the Thames.

    For an abstract of the document and details of its transcription history, see the related EMLoT event record.

    15 May 1589–6 April 1590; English; paper; ii + 292 + ii; 350mm x 220mm; ink pagination 1–586 (pp 2, 585 unnumbered); some repairs but minimal loss of text; bound in worn brown leather over boards, tooled, title on spine in gilt: 'ELIZABETH. | VOL. VI. | COUNCIL | REGISTER. | 19. FEB. 1586. | TO | 1.NOV. 1587.'

  • Manuscript Images

    The National Archives of the UK, PC 2/16

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