Biographical Index of English Drama Before 1660
David J Kathman               e-mail:


This is an annotated list of all people known to have been involved in dramatic activities in England before 1660. The list includes:

Biographies in some of these categories, particularly playwrights and actors, have been gathered in earlier works of theatre history, most notably E. K. Chambers's Elizabethan Stage (1923), G. E. Bentley's Jacobean and Caroline Stage (1941-68), and Edwin Nungezer's Dictionary of Actors (1929). But these works, however thorough in their own time, are decades out of date, and this index focuses largely (though not exclusively) on research published since Chambers, Bentley, and Nungezer.

Many people in other categories, such as patrons, masque performers, and musicians, have been the subject of biographies in general reference works, or in reference works dealing with areas other than drama (such as the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians). My intention here is to focus specifically on such people's dramatic activities, however minor these may seem in the person's life as a whole. It is useful to know, for example, that Cardinal Wolsey patronized a playing company, that magician John Dee directed a comedy at Cambridge, that the composer John Dowland and his son Robert both performed in masques and entertainments, and that the ill-fated Duke of Buckingham danced in at least three court masques.

This index is a prolegomenon to a more ambitious work, namely a Biographical Dictonary of English Drama Before 1660. That work will flesh out the index entries with narrative biographies for each person, along with further details such as exact birth and death dates, education and apprenticeships, and lists of works by playwrights. I have made this index available to the online scholarly community so that scholars can use the information it contains without having to wait for the full Dictionary; however, I also hope that those using the Index will inform me of any errors or omissions, so that the final product can be as accurate and complete as possible.

Readers may notice the absence in this index of that greatest of biographical resources, the Dictionary of National Biography. This was a deliberate decision, made for a number of reasons. The original DNB is more than a century old, and most of its entries have been superceded by subsequent research; this is especially true of theatre people, about whom our knowledge has advanced exponentially in the past century. More importantly, a completely revised and updated version of the DNB, to be called the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, is being published by Oxford University Press in 2004. Earlier versions of the present index have been used by the Oxford DNB editors in their reseach, and I myself wrote 37 entries for the new DNB, most of them on people included here. Once the new Oxford DNB is published, its entries will be indexed here; until then, I have not felt it necessary to index entries in the original DNB, which will soon be obsolete.

The following notes concerning the format of the entries may be useful.

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