Child actors

The popularity of child actors

Hamlet also mentions the popularity of child actors. 

More on child actors: From the beginning of the sixteenth century, choristers from the Chapel Royal at Windsor, and later from St. Paul's Cathedral, took part in pageants at court.

Later, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, these groups formed companies of professional child actors, the most famous of which was The Children of the Chapel. In 1597, Richard Burbage leased the Blackfriars theatre to the Children of the Chapel who performed many plays by important playwrights such as Webster and Jonson.

Adult actors threatened

Child actors were a real issue for Shakespeare and his theatre company. Shakespeare feels them to be a threat to older actors. In Act II scene ii of Hamlet the Players describe how they have been pushed out of their usual haunts by just such a company: ‘There is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for ‘t. These are now the fashion.' 

More on the threat to adult actors: ‘Eyases' are young hawks, so Shakespeare clearly sees these children as predators, feeding off and despoiling the previous success of an adult company.
By 1613, however, children's companies were no longer so popular in England.


The population of London was still closely knit enough for the theatre of Shakespeare's day to have a profound impact on the whole of society, much as television drama does today. It was a powerful medium to entertain, unite popular sentiment and provoke thought, something that ‘everybody talked about'. 

In Hamlet we see Shakespeare as an accomplished dramatist, skilfully wielding this power and playing with the concepts of ‘acting' and ‘reality' with which his audience were so familiar.

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