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Chambers on the Revels Office and Elizabethan Theater History


Our reliance on E. K. Chambers’ analysis of the royal household and Revels Office in The Elizabethan Stage (1923) has made it difficult to imagine alternative scenarios for the startling changes in Elizabeth’s revels during her reign. Enough groundbreaking research has been conducted by historians over the past several decades to thoroughly revise Chambers’s ideas on these subjects. Changes in the organization of the royal household after Mary’s accession reconfigured the relationship between the Lord Chamberlain and the Master of the Revels. Reforms initiated in the Revels Office beginning in 1573 were prompted by concerns about mismanagement and the exorbitant expense of the revels when the Council adopted cost-saving measures and Sussex and Burghley solidified their acquisition of responsibilities previously exercised by Henry VIII’s Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. Reforms initiated by Lords Howard and Hunsdon continued to be introduced after Sussex’s death died in 1583. The principal plan between 1573 and 1603 was to outsource the production of ordinary entertainments, mainly plays, to a select group of favored companies patronized by the queen, members of her family, and her close personal friends. As a result, the production responsibilities of the Revels Office were gradually curtailed. The Jacobean and Caroline Revels accounts make it clear that the Revels Office provided only supplementary assistance at court productions, mainly for plays by favored companies, a system used until Herbert closed the Office in 1642.

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