Timothy Read

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Timothy Read (fl. 16261647) was a comic actor of the Caroline era, and one of the most famous and popular performers of his generation. [1]

Floruit, abbreviated fl., Latin for "he/she flourished", denotes a date or period during which a person was known to have been alive or active. In English, the word may also be used as a noun indicating the time when someone "flourished".

Caroline era

The Caroline or Carolean era refers to the era in English and Scottish history during the Stuart period (1603–1714) that coincided with the reign of Charles I (1625–1642), Carolus being Latin for Charles. The Caroline era followed the Jacobean era, the reign of Charles's father James I & VI (1603–1625); it was followed by the Wars of the three Kingdoms (1642–1651) and the English Interregnum (1651–1660).


As with many other performers of his historical era, nothing is known of Read's early life. The first evidence of his career comes in 1626, when he played Cardona, a woman's role, in James Shirley's The Wedding with Queen Henrietta's Men. Read appears to have spent the early 1630s with the King's Revels Men, but returned to the Queen Henrietta's company after the bubonic plague epidemic of 163637, when personnel of the two troupes combined. With the Queen's company, Read played Buzzard in Richard Brome's The English Moor , [2] perhaps in 1637.

James Shirley 17th-century English poet and playwright

James Shirley was an English dramatist.

The Wedding is a Caroline era stage play, a comedy written by James Shirley. Published in 1629, it was the first of Shirley's plays to appear in print. An early comedy of manners, it is set in the fashionable world of genteel London society in Shirley's day.

Queen Henrietta's Men was an important playing company or troupe of actors in Caroline era in London. At their peak of popularity, Queen Henrietta's Men were the second leading troupe of the day, after only the King's Men.

He won his fame as a dancer. Performances in English Renaissance theatre, even tragedies, ended with a clown dancing a jig, and Read was one of a long line of comics, reaching from Richard Tarlton through John Shank, who earned a large and welcoming audience through this practice.

English Renaissance theatre theatre of England between 1562 and 1642

English Renaissance theatre—also known as Renaissance English theatre and Elizabethan theatre—refers to the theatre of England between 1562 and 1642.

Richard Tarlton British actor and clown of the Elizabethan era

Richard Tarlton or Tarleton, was an English actor of the Elizabethan era. He was the most famous clown of his era, known for his extempore comic doggerel verse, which came to be known as "Tarltons". He helped to turn Elizabethan theatre into a form of mass entertainment paving the way for the Shakespearean stage. After his death many witticisms and pranks were attributed to him and were published as Tarlton's Jests.

John Shank was an actor in English Renaissance theatre, a leading comedian in the King's Men during the 1620s and 1630s.

One of the best indices of Read's fame occurs in The Stage Player's Complaint, a pamphlet printed in 1641. The pamphlet presents the two leading comic actors of the day, Andrew Cane and Timothy Read, in a dialogue about the difficulties of the clowning life. (The summer of 1641 saw another theatre closure due to plague.) In the pamphlet, Cane, renowned for his clever repartee, is called Quick; Read, famous for his fast feet, is called Light. The text of the Complaint seems to indicate that Read was then a member of the King's Men, though scholars have disputed the point. [3]

Andrew Cane — also Kayne, Kene, Keine, and other variants — was a comic actor in late Jacobean and Caroline era London. In his own generation he was a leading comedian and dancer, and one of the famous and popular performers of his time.

The King's Men was the acting company to which William Shakespeare (1564–1616) belonged for most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, they became The King's Men in 1603 when King James I ascended the throne and became the company's patron.

The Puritan authorities of London closed the theatres in 1642, at the start of the English Civil War; but the actors continued to perform, when and where they could. Read was among the players arrested on 6 October 1647, during a performance of Beaumont and Fletcher's A King and No King at the Salisbury Court Theatre.

In September 1642 the Long Parliament ordered a closure of the London theatres. The order cited the current "times of humiliation" and their incompatibility with "public stage-plays", representative of "lascivious Mirth and Levity". The ban, which was not completely effective, was reinforced by an Act of 11 February 1648. It provided for the treatment of actors as rogues, the demolition of theatre seating, and fines for spectators.

English Civil War series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over, principally, the manner of England's governance. The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

Beaumont and Fletcher were the English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, who collaborated in their writing during the reign of James I of England.

Read's end is mysterious; but his continuing fame is demonstrated by allusions to him, in works from his own and the next generation. In the Praeludium of The Careless Shepherdess (published 1656), one speaker says,

The Careless Shepherdess is a Jacobean era stage play, a pastoral tragicomedy generally attributed to Thomas Goffe. Its 1656 publication is noteworthy for the introduction of the first general catalogue of the dramas of English Renaissance theatre ever attempted.

I never saw Reade peeping through the curtain,
But ravishing joy entered my heart. [4]

The burials of two Read children, a son and daughter, are recorded in the parish records of St. Giles, Cripplegate, in 1645 and 1646. [5]

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  1. Edwin Nunzeger, A Dictionary of Actors and of Others Associated with the Representation of Plays in England before 1642, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1929; pp. 291-2.
  2. Matthew Steggle, Richard Brome: Place and Politics on the Caroline Stage, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2004; p. 121.
  3. G. E. Bentley, "Records of Players in the Parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate," Papers of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 44 No. 3 (September 1929), pp. 789-826; see p. 817.
  4. R. A. Foakes, "Playhouses and players," in The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, A. R. Braunmiller and Michael Hattaway, eds., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003: p. 45.
  5. Bentley, p. 816.