UW News

August 1, 2017

English professor William Streitberger honored for book on Queen Elizabeth I’s Revels Office

UW News

"The Masters of Revels and Elizabeth I's Court Theatre" by William Streitberger, UW professor of English, was published in 2016 by Oxford University Press. Streitberger is recipient of the 2017 David Bevington Award, from the Medieval and Renaisance Drama Society,

“The Masters of Revels and Elizabeth I’s Court Theatre” by William Streitberger, UW professor of English, was published in 2016 by Oxford University Press.Oxford University Press

William Streitberger, longtime University of Washington professor of English and a scholar of 16th and 17th-century history, literature and drama, has been honored by the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society for his book “The Masters of Revels and Elizabeth I’s Court Theatre.” The book — decades in the making — was published in 2016 by Oxford University Press.

Streitberger is recipient of the 2017 David Bevington Award, which the association bestows each year to the author of the best new book in early drama studies, along with a cash award of $500.

The book explores the lives and work of those serving as Master of the Revels, who in the Elizabethan England of the 16th century oversaw entertainments put on for the crown. Anyone involved in production of plays for court, the reference website “Shakespeare Online” states, “knew that the Master of Revels was the man to impress and fear, for he auditioned acting troupes, selected the plays they would perform, and controlled the scenery and costumes to be used in each production.”

Streitberger’s book, the publisher’s abstract says, reconsiders the biographies of the masters and the conduct of their duties, re-examines the development of the Revels Office and its productions “and explores its relationship to the developing commercial theater.”

Before 1572, such revels were “principally in-house productions” funded by the government, the abstract states. But by the mid-1590s that had ended and the Revels Office had become largely a business enterprise funded by ticket sales at permanent London theaters.

One reviewer said the conclusions Streitberger reaches in the book “significantly revise many longstanding assumptions about the Office of the Revels, those who administered it, and its transformation.” Another reviewer called it “a singular and welcome achievement.”

Streitberger is the author of six books and dozens of articles, his principle research focus being early drama, and entertainment of the Tudor and Stuart courts of England. He answered a couple of questions about the book.

What relationship did William Shakespeare have with the Masters of Revels of his time, and how did it affect his work?

William Streitberger

William Streitberger

William Streitberger: “I argue that the Master of the Revels worked very closely with Shakespeare’s company to produce plays at court after 1594. In return for this the Privy Council [a body of advisers to the crown] protected the company’s interest in their public theaters, from which they earned an income sufficient to underwrite the costs of their court productions.”

What traces, if any, of the Master of Revel’s Office or its work remain in British culture?

“The Puritan government closed all theaters in England for a period of nearly 20 years. When they reopened in 1660 at the Restoration of Charles II, the last Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert, attempted to reassert his rights to the office but with little success. He died in 1673, and the patent was not renewed.

“From 1581 the Masters of the Revels were also censors of plays and licenses of theaters — duties that eventually were taken over by the Lord Chamberlain. The legal requirement that plays be submitted for censorship and license before being performed in public remained in effect for close to 400 years. It was finally abolished on September 26, 1968.”

Brian Reed, UW English Department chair, calls this work “a major undertaking — the sort of sustained, patient scholarship that people will rely on for decades to come.” How long did it take to complete, and what was research like for such a book?  

“After I completed my dissertation in 1973 I wanted to write a little book on Elizabeth I’s Masters of the Revels, but discovered that the primary research needed to undertake the project had not been done.

“Remedying these gaps required years of painstaking research, examining thousands of documents in the complicated and often chaotic collections of government financial records and documents between the late 15th and early 17th centuries in the National Archives of the United Kingdom, in the extensive manuscript collections of the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, as well as in local record offices, and in private manuscript collections.

“In all it took over 45 years of research and preliminary publications to produce ‘The Masters of the Revels and Elizabeth I’s Court Theatre.’

The David Bevington Award is named for a distinguished scholar who is now professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Chicago.


For more information about William Streitberger, his work or this book, contact him at 206-685-9893 or streitwr@uw.edu.