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Philip Henslowe (c. 1550 - 6 January 1616) was an Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur and impresario. Henslowe's modern reputation rests on the survival of his "Diary", a primary source for information about the theatrical world of Renaissance London.


Henslowe was born in Lindfieldmarker, Sussex, Englandmarker of a family with roots in Devonmarker. His father Edmund Henslowe was appointed Master of the Game for Ashdown Forestmarker, Sussex, from 1539 until his death in 1562. Before Edmund Henslowe’s death his daughter Margaret had married Ralf Hogge, an ironmaster who had risen from humble roots to operating his own mills. Henslowe maintained links with Sussex throughout his life, through his business interests and his family, most of whom lived there.

By the 1570s, Henslowe had moved to London, becoming a member of the Dyers' Company. Henslowe is recorded working as assistant to Henry Woodward, reputed to be the bailiff of Viscount Montague, owner of Cowdray Park and Battle Abbeymarker in Sussex. Henslowe married Woodward’s widow, Agnes, and from 1577 lived in Southwarkmarker, opposite the Clink prison. His elder brother Edmund, a merchant, also owned property in Southwark. It was at one time assumed that his wife's inheritance gave Henslowe his start in business, but there is no evidence for this assumption.

His success at business appears to have brought him some social prominence; by the early 1600s he was a vestryman, churchwarden and overseer of the poor in St Saviour’s ward in Southwarkmarker; under James I he served as a Gentleman Sewer of the Chamber (under Elizabeth I he had been a Groom of the Chamber). Henslowe also served as a collector of the Lay Subsidy.

Henslowe died in 1616, still actively involved in the theatre.

He was played by Geoffrey Rush in the film Shakespeare in Love.

Business Interests

Henslowe developed extensive business interests, including dyeing, starch-making, pawn-broking, money lending and trading in goat-skins. He owned property in East Grinsteadmarker and Buxtedmarker, Sussex, where his brother in law Ralf Hogge lived. Between 1576 and 1586 Henslowe was involved in the trade in timber from Ashdown Forest. However, his main activity was as a landlord in Southwark. One of his authors, Henry Chettle, described him as being unscrupulously harsh with his poor tenants, even though Henslowe made many loans to Chettle and they seem to have been on friendly terms.

Theatrical Interests

In 1584 Henslowe purchased a property known as The Little Rose, in Southwark, which contained rose gardens and, almost certainly, a brothel. In 1587, Henslowe and John Cholmley built The Rosemarker, the third of the large, permanent playhouses in London, and the first in Banksidemarker. From 1591, Henslowe partnered with the Admiral's Men after that company split with The Theatremarker's James Burbage over the division of receipts. Edward Alleyn, the Admiral's' lead actor, married Henslowe's stepdaughter Joan in 1592, and they worked in partnership.

In 1598, Burbage's company (by then, the Lord Chamberlain's Men) erected the new Globe Theatremarker in Bankside; Henslowe moved the Admiral's Men to the north-western corner of the city, into a venue he had financed, the Fortune Theatremarker. John Taylor, the "Water Poet", petitioned the King on behalf of the Watermen’s Company, because of the expected loss of business transporting theatre patrons across the Thames.

He also had interests in the Newington Butts Theatremarker and The Swanmarker.

Animal Shows

Henslowe and Alleyn also operated the Paris Garden, a venue for baitings; early in James's reign, they purchased the office of Keeper of the Royal Game, namely bulls, bears and mastiffs. In 1614, he and Jacob Meade built the Hope Theatremarker in Bankside; designed with a moveable stage for both plays and animal baiting, it was the last of the large open-roof theatres built before 1642. The animal-shows ended up ascendant at this venue. The induction to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, performed at the Hope in 1614, complains that the theatre is "as dirty as Smithfieldmarker, and as stinking every whit." The theatre did not have a regular theatrical tenant after 1617; Henslowe's share in it was willed to Alleyn.

Henslowe's Diary

Henslowe's "diary" is a valuable source of information on the theatrical history of the period. It is a collection of memoranda and notes that record payments to writers, box office takings, and lists of money lent. Also of interest are records of the purchase of expensive costumes and of stage properties, like the dragon in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, which provide insight into the staging of plays in the Elizabethan theatre.

The Diary is written on the reverse of pages of a book of accounts of his brother-in law Ralf Hogge’s ironworks, kept by his brother John Henslowe for the period 1576–1581. Hogge was the Queen’s Gunstonemaker, and produced both iron cannon and shot for the Royal Armouries at the Tower of Londonmarker. John Henslowe seems to have acted as his agent, and Philip to have prudently reused his old account-book. These entries are a valuable source for the early iron-making industry.

The diary begins covering Henslowe's theatrical activities for 1592. Entries continue, with varying degrees of thoroughness, until 1609; in the years before his death, Henslowe appears to have run his theatrical interests from a greater distance. At some time after his death his papers, including the diary, were transferred to Dulwich Collegemarker, which Alleyn had founded.

Henslowe recorded payments to twenty-seven Elizabethan playwrights. He variously commissioned, bought and produced plays by, or made loans to Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, Robert Greene, Henry Chettle, George Chapman, Thomas Dekker, John Webster, Anthony Munday, Henry Porter, John Day, John Marston and Michael Drayton. The Diary shows the varying partnerships between writers, in an age when many plays were collaborations. It also shows Henslowe to have been a careful man of business, obtaining security in the form of rights to his author’s works, and holding their manuscripts, while tying them to him with loans and advances. If a play was successful Henslowe would commission a sequel.

Plays with Shakespearean titles like, Hamlet, Henry VI, Henry V, Taming of the Shrew and others, are found in the diary. In 1599, Henslowe paid Dekker and Henry Chettle for a play called Troilus and Cressida. However, there is no mention of William Shakespeare in Henslowe's diary (despite the forgeries of John Payne Collier).

The History of the Diary

The papers first came to critical attention in 1780, when Edmond Malone requested them from the Dulwich library; the papers had been misplaced and were not recovered until 1790. Malone made a transcript of the parts he viewed as relevant to his variorum edition of Shakespeare; the original was returned to Dulwich after Malone's death. (Malone's transcript was returned to the library around 1900.) The next scholar to examine the manuscripts was John Payne Collier who inserted forgeries which supported his own theories about Shakespeare.


  • Bromberg, Murray. "Shylock and Philip Henslowe." Notes and Queries 194 (1949), 422-3.
  • Cesarano, S. P. "Philip Henslowe." Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Cerasano, S. P. "Philip Henslowe, Simon Forman, and the Theatrical Community of the 1590s." Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993), 145-58.
  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. Four volumes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Foakes, R. A., editor. Henslowe's Diary. 2nd edition; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage. 1574-1642. 2nd edition; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Teesdale, Edmund, The Queen’s Gunstonemaker, being an account of Ralph Hogge, Elizabethan Ironmaster & Gunfounder, Lindel Publishing, Seaford, 1984.

External links

  • - Rose Theatre

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