Who were The King’s Men?

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In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died and James the VI of Scotland became the new monarch, King James I of England. James loved the arts and was very generous to actors, playwrights, and other performers of the day. In particular, James I loved the theatre, and was captivated by Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the Chamberlain’s Men.

Within ten days of arriving in London, James insisted that Shakespeare’s troupe come under his own patronage. They were granted a Royal Patent and changed their name to the King’s Men, in honour of James. It was indeed lucky for the King’s Men that James held them in such high regard, for in 1603 England saw its worst outbreak of the plague in decades, and all the theatres had to be closed. Shakespeare and his troupe were not out of work, however, because James provided them with many engagements, performing for royalty outside of the infected London area.

By 1608 the King’s Men had a permanent winter home at the Blackfriar’s Theatre and they played to a mostly rich and well-educated audience (they spent the summer months at the Globe). Their creativity began to flourish and they are credited with starting the new style of Jacobean drama. Many of Shakespeare’s greatest plays were performed at court by special request, including The Tempest (1611-12) – likely Shakespeare’s last drama – for the celebration of the union of James’s daughter Elizabeth to Prince Palatine.