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EDWARD ALLEYN (1566-1626)

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Edward Alleyn. Actor, born in London, 1566; died 1626; appears first in theatrical records under the date of 1586, when he figures as one of the Earl of Worcester's players. Six years later, Thomas Nash is found writing of him, in Pierce Penilesse, that "not Roscius nor Esope, those tragedians admyred before Christ was born, could ever performe more in action than famous Ned Allen." In 1592 he married a stepdaughter of Philip Henslowe, whose partner he became. In the following year he joined Lord Strange's actors in a provincial tour, returning to London in 1594, and performing there till 1597, when he "left playing for a time." In 1600 he built, in conjunction with Henslowe, the Fortune Theatre, which was thereupon occupied by the Lord Admiral's company, headed by Alleyn himself. In 1605, he purchased the estate of Dulwich, and eight years later began the erection of the "College of God's Gift," which has done so much to hand his name down to posterity, and which was formally incorporated in 1619. The charity thus founded consisted of a master, warden, four fellows, six poor brothers, six poor sisters, and twelve poor scholars; the endowment comprising, in addition to the Dulwich estate, property in Lambeth and Bishops-gate, and the Fortune Theatre, of which Alleyln had obtained the freehold in 1610. In 1623 Alleyn married again, the lady being a daughter of the poet Donne.

Of the last few years of his life little is known. It is certain that he played Barabas, Tamburlaine, and Faustus in Marlowe's famous dramas, and it is thought that he played Orlando in the Orlando Furioso of Greene. T. Heywood wrote of him, in his Apology for Actors, as "in his time the most worthy, famous Maister Edward Alleyn." He also described him as "Proteus for shapes, and Roscius for a tongue." Fuller says: "He was the Roscius of our age, so acting to the life that he made any part (especially a majestic one) to become him." Baker wrote of him and Burbage as "two such actors as no age must ever look to see the like." Ben Jonson's tribute to Alleyn is well known:

"If Rome so great, and in here wisest age,
Fear'd not to boast the glories of her stage,
As sckilful Roscius, and grave Æsop, men,
Yet crown'd with honours, as with riches, then;
Who had no less a trumpet of their name
Than Cicero, whose every breath was fame;
How can so great example die in me,
That, Alleyn, I should pause to publish thee?
Who both their graces in thyself hast more
Outstript than they did all that went before;
And present worth in all dost so contract,
As others speak, but only thou dost act.
Wear this renown. 'Tis just, that who did give
So many poets life, by one should live."

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