Lucy Munro. Shakespeare in the Theatre: The King's Men. London: Bloomsbury, 2020. Pp 239. Hardback [pounds sterling]67.50. ISBN: 9781474262613. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474262606.
Lucy Munro's Shakespeare in the Theatre: The King's Men is an incisive, engaging, imaginative, and accessible book that deserves a place on the bookshelves and reading lists of all Shakespeare scholars. Beginning with the King's Men's formation in 1603 and ending with the company's reception in the civil war and interregnum period, the book examines the interaction between Shakespeare's plays, their enterprising performers, and the wider dramatic repertory. In a preface, Munro places the actors who made up the King's Men firmly at the centre of her study, arguing that their collaborative efforts helped to produce 'various versions' (xviii) of Shakespeare rather than a single, monolithic entity. Her elegant study, evoking the structure of a play, moves through a prologue, five chapters, four interludes, and an epilogue, traversing subjects including race, gender, and sexuality (areas often overlooked by standard accounts of theatre history), while drawing on documentary evidence including cast lists, court records, and royal proclamations.
Like the King's Men themselves, Munro weighs up the different challenges of court and commercial performance. Her solution is to dedicate the prologue and interludes to court performance, saving the much longer chapters for discussion of playhouse performance. Rather than marginalizing court performance, Munro's structural decision arguably demonstrates that court performance was integral to the King's Men. Each interlude builds on its preceding chapter, helping to cohere the overall study.
In a move characteristic of the book as a whole, Munro's first chapter focuses not directly on Shakespeare, or his plays, but on the actors who performed them. Identifying three main kinds of actor--leading men, like Richard Burbage; comic specialists, like Robert Armin; and apprentices, tasked with performing women and juvenile roles--the chapter shows how the different parts played by a given actor might inform one another. Keeping Shakespeare in the...